My cell phone started ringing before I stopped for my morning coffee in downtown Floyd Tuesday. When I got to the studio, several voice mails awaited. Even more would be waiting at home. Amy said the phone started ringing early. She looked at the caller ID on the first call and saw it was The New York Times and went back to sleep.
By noon, the list of calls demanding to talk to me included the Times, The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia, several television stations, three talk-radio shows and some who left only their name and number.
All this over a column I wrote for Capitol Hill Blue that morning. In it, I discussed encounters with Virginia Sen. George Allen over the years and listed, in detail, two occasions where I heard him use racial slurs against Afro-Americans.
Spend any length of time around George Allen and you quickly discover heâ€™s a racist, a bigot and a homophobe. During a sabbatical from journalism I worked in Republican politics and couldnâ€™t avoid the rampant racism of Allen or too many other members of the Grand Old Party. Such intolerance contributed heavily to my reasons for leaving political work.
The reporters wanted more details and comment on a report put out by the Allen people that claimed that (1) I never worked in GOP politics, (2) had a hard-on for President George W. Bush as well as anyone Republican and (3) was on the payroll of the Democratic party.
I laughed when one reporter forwarded me the claims from the Allen campaign, all contained in an email from Dick Wadhams, Allenâ€™s campaign manager. I know Dick. We worked together on some projects while I was with Eddie Mahe’s business and political consulting firm in Washington (which later merged with the Foley, Lardner law firm). Dick’s list of innuendoes, distortions and outright lies about me were just the kind “evade the issue” response I would have drafted when I was running campaigns and my candidate got caught doing something stupid.
Politics is not a game for sissies. Itâ€™s a nasty business. Dick was following one of the oldest rules of the game: When the facts are against you, pound the table and call the other side names. He claimed I was a shill for Allenâ€™s opponent, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb. Thatâ€™s his job. Because too many people have now come forward with stories about Allen’s racism, Dick’s only recourse is to try and discredit the source even though he knows for a fact that I don’t work for Webb or anyone connected with him. His attacks are right out of the GOP political handbook. The online magazine, Slate, once called Dick “Karl Rove’s heir apparent.” Alexandar Starr wrote: “The 49-year-old operative comes across as an aging country boy, but he is renowned for running nasty and effective campaigns.”
I understand what Dick is doing and why he has to do it. It’s just the reality of politics. His claim, however, that I cooked this thing up with Steve Jarding, a friend I see once a year when we do a gig together at The Washington Center for Politics and Journalism, was so ridiculous that no reporter bought into it
Am I offended? Nah. Politics is a business. I probably would have tried the same thing had I been in Dick’s shoes. When I played in that arena, I was good at it and won most of the elections I worked. That’s why I ended up running the largest political action operation in the nation for five years at The National Association of Realtors. But I soon tired of the gamesmanship, the duplicity and the absence of truth in elections.
When I left politics and returned to journalism, I vowed not to write about what I saw and heard while working inside the system unless an elected official or candidate played fast and loose with the facts. As an insider for 10 years I saw and heard a lot. When George Allen claimed Monday he had never used a racial epithet, I decided to write about the times I heard him do so. I donâ€™t like politicians who lie: which means, of course, that I donâ€™t like most politicians.
Most reporters who called on Tuesday wanted to draw me into a pissing contest with the Allen campaign. They wanted me to fire back at Dick because such name-calling makes good copy. I told each that I donâ€™t do interviews or appear on radio or TV talk shows. When I refused to play their game, some got testy.
â€œIf you donâ€™t talk to me then I wonâ€™t reprint what you wrote,â€ said one.
I laughed and asked: â€œAnd your point is?â€ He hung up.
I donâ€™t write to get my name in The New York Times, on the Associated Press Wire or the pages of The Washington Post. Been there, done that, got the clipping file. I also donâ€™t work for such news organizations. Also been there, also done that, also have the clippings. When I write for Capitol Hill Blue it is for the 500,000 plus readers who visit the site on an average month. They’re my audience, not the readers of any other web site or publication.
When I still worked fulltime as a journalist, reporters didnâ€™t call other reporters and ask them for their sources. We did our own legwork, developed our own sources and our own stories. We didnâ€™t have researchers doing the work for us.
There are dozens of people in Washington and Virginia who have heard George Allen use racial slurs. Some added comments to the story I wrote on Capitol Hill Blue on Tuesday and some used their names. I received emails from others.
Allenâ€™s campaign staff went into overdrive Tuesday to try and dis credit each and every source of information on their candidateâ€™s sordid and racist past. Thatâ€™s their job even though it will be next to impossible given the number of times Allen has lapsed into his racist ways and the number of people who saw and heard him each time it happened.
Now itâ€™s the job of reporters covering the campaign to do theirs and prove that George Allen is just another lying politician.