April 11 2013

Mother Jones Cooks Up a Nothingburger

Charlotte Hays

There are two things to be said about Mother Jones’ secretly-recorded tapes of Mitch McConnell’s strategists talking about ditzy Ashley Judd, who briefly considered challenging McConnell before Kentucky Democrats got cold feet:  (1.) The McConnell strategists said absolutely nothing about Ms. Judd that she hadn't revealed in her memoir, and (2.) making these secret tapes may have been a felony.

Sure, the mean old Republicans were going to use the material from Judd's memoir. But that's what politicians do: it is called campaigning.

I actually reviewed Judd's memoir, All That Is Bitter and Sweet, and found much of her life—to use an overused word—poignant.

I steered clear of her politics, with which, needless to say, I strongly diagrree. But it was impossible to read the book and not to feel sympathetic towards somebody who had such a rotten, screwed up family. She was a wounded bird with enormous acting talent (I loved her as Linda Porter in the Cole Porter flick). What was alarming was that Judd seemed to regard her activism as therapy—or recovery. This may not be the best basis for making wise political decisions.

I wrote:

Although Judd’s international activism on behalf of AIDS sufferers and trafficked women began before Shades of Hope, it is inextricably linked to her search for comfort and the meaning of her painful experiences. Like Princess Diana before her, she can identify with those she meets in desperate situations. While the world could probably get along without Judd’s take on the genocide in Rwanda, she does visit places most of us will never go. We see her in Third World brothels and holding two little boys rescued from a railway station in New Delhi. She lets these people speak for themselves. These vivid scenes are marred, however, by Judd’s emotionalism — too often the story is her feelings. She is so distraught at one point that she must call her yoga instructor in Hollywood.

We did not need this woman in the U.S. Senate.

But back to the tape: Mother Jones’ David Corn, who at long last made an impression by publishing the secretly-recorded “47 percent” tape that had such an effect on the Romney campaign, was clearly out to score again. But this time there is a potential legal problem.

It is illegal in Kentucky to record a meeting without getting approval from at least one participant. This means that unless a McConnell staffer was treacherous enough to allow the bugging, this was potentially a felony.

Corn says the tape was vetted by Mother Jones lawyers—now there’s a concept for you.

Ann Althouse, the legal blogger, raises the question of why Corn chose to go with the tape. He cited “newsworthiness,” despite the tape’s lack of news. It is a known fact that politicians have meetings to discuss flaws of their opponents—that is what McConnell’s team was doing. They didn’t sound particularly vicious in the snippets I heard. But I supposed anything you bill as “secret” can be peddled as damning: most people won’t listen to it.

Althouse writes:

Corn cites "newsworthiness":

“I think voters and citizens have a tremendous right to know almost as much as possible of the elected officials who come before them and ask for their votes,” he said. “I think people can decide for themselves how outrageous [McConnell’s] behavior is, but it gives you a glimpse inside his campaign’s thinking.”

That quote doesn't explain anything at all about why this particular audio is newsworthy. It's a generic statement that would justify publishing the secret recordings of the planning sessions of every political campaign! 

Since, there is absolutely zero particularity about why McConnell's campaign was the one Corn selected from the mini-flood of audio and video leaks that he hasn't vetted yet. One is forced to conclude that Corn wanted to get McConnell. That's a political standard, not the journalistic standard.

It's not "newsworthiness." It's partisanship.

Mother Jones, of course, is expected to be partisan.

If the mainstream press ignores the possibility that the recording was made illegally or pretends that there is actually something of interest on the tape, it will demonstrate its partisanship.

As for the contents of the tape, Ace of Spaces says it all, calling it a “Nothingburger recording.”

 

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