Reporting on Christine O'Donnell's Past: Fair Game?

Posted: Sep 13, 2010 1:12 PM
My friend John McCormack at The Weekly Standard wrote a piece over the weekend raising more questions about Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's past.  Its contents are interesting, regardless of one's preference in tomorrow's primary contest (which PPP indicates is a tossup):
Court documents obtained Saturday by THE WEEKLY STANDARD reveal surprising new details about the gender discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Christine O'Donnell in 2005 against her former employer, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative non-profit based in Delaware.* O'Donnell, who is now challenging moderate congressman Mike Castle in the September 14 Delaware GOP Senate primary, sought $6.95 million in damages. In a court complaint, she extensively detailed the "mental anguish" she suffered after allegedly being demoted and fired because of her gender. And, although she didn't have a bachelor's degree until this year, O'Donnell implied she was taking master's degree classes at Princeton University in 2003.

O'Donnell alleged in a July 1, 2005 complaint filed in district court that she had been demoted because ISI's conservative philosophy dictated that women must be subordinate to men. She claimed she was fired when she contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding her demotion. ISI told the Delaware News Journal that she had been "terminated for operating a for-profit business."

In the suit, O'Donnell claims she suffered severe anguish over her demotion, and sought professional "treatment for her distress":

According to O'Donnell's July 1, 2005 complaint submitted by herself:

Miss O’Donnell was and is profoundly humiliated by this demotion of being asked to perform clerical and administrative tasks, after appearing on national television as a media and public relations expert and spokeswoman, for a man who was hired straight out of college as ISI’s receptionist and clerical assistant, and whom she had been asked to train previously [emphasis in original]. [...]

For at least six months after being fired, Miss O’Donnell suffered enormous pain, cried frequently at the sense of personal loss and failure caused by ISI, and at the sense of injustice, and could not sleep at night, often wide-awake, replaying the whole scene in her mind, until 5:30 am, and has suffered from understandable and resulting depression.

"Miss O'Donnell's mother and sister both noticed and spontaneously told her at the time, prior to litigation, that she was differently [sic], and urged her to seek medical evaluation," according to the complaint.

According to an amended complaint filed by a lawyer on behalf of O'Donnell in September 2005 claimed that O'Donnell did, in fact, "seek treatment for her distress."

O'Donnell says she dropped the suit in 2008 due to excessive legal fees.

Blogger Dan Riehl, an O'Donnell supporter, all but calls McCormack a hatchet man for writing the piece, accusing him of engaging in the "politics of personal destruction" with the agenda of damaging O'Donnell.  (In the same post, Riehl raises worthwhile questions about Mike Castle's connections to chemical industry lobbyists).

Setting aside the question of motives (for the record, I do not question John's), isn't it a good thing for primary voters to have as complete a picture of their options as possible before nominating a candidate for an important general election?  Mike Castle has served in public life in Delaware for decades and has amassed a long voting record--elements of which are utterly odious to many conservatives, including me.  By contrast, Christine O'Donnell, Castle's primary rival, is a relatively unknown commodity.  If elements of the conservative blogosphere can dig up stories and ask serious questions about her past, her veracity, and her fitness for high office, don't you think, say, the DSCC might have access to all of that information, if not more?

The Weekly Standard's latest piece reports that Christine O'Donnell (a) filed--and withdrew--a gender discrimination lawsuit against a respected conservative organization, and (b) claimed in court documents that she was so tormented by her demotion at ISI that she became sleep-deprived and suffered from a depression so serious that she sought professional counseling.  Are these inconsequential facts? And if so, shouldn't it be up to the people of Delaware to come to that conclusion themselves?

It is every individual's prerogative to decide whom to support in an election, and for what reasons.  Some people may decide that a candidate's stance on the issues is the only germane factor for them.  Others assign varying degrees of importance to biography, resume, character, electability, etc.  I don't see how increased access to more pertinent information about any or all candidates impinges on anyone's ability to vote for their candidate of choice for whatever reason they see fit.  At what point did raising serious questions or reporting facts about any candidate become un-conservative or characteristic of "the ruling class"? 

If someone believes McCormack (or anyone else) has erred in his reporting or has engaged in libelous misstatement of fact, that person can, and should, present evidence to that end.  If proven wrong, any reporter or pundit worth his salt would promptly correct the record and apologize.  It is entirely healthy and productive for conservatives to engage in vigorous debates about issues, the future of the movement, and which politicians to support.  It is not helpful, however, to adopt the Alinsky/Obama tactic of attacking the bearer of unwelcome or inconvenient information for political reasons. 

If the PPP poll is to be believed, this race could go either way.  Republicans should rally around the winner of the primary, but Delaware's Republicans ought to make an informed decision when they vote tomorrow.  Informed decisions require information, even if it's information that some people may not like.