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Opinion: Innuendo: Bad politics

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A few months ago congressional candidate Tommy Sowers stopped by the Southeast Missourian offices to introduce himself. Over the past few months, I've met with him a couple of times. He has a distinguished background, asks important questions -- and is sharp. He is also highly aggressive in attacking his opponent. This style has shown itself in his media tactics as well.

During one of his visits, I cautioned that attacking his likely opponent, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, for items beyond her control could be a double-edged sword, especially if he were elected. And attacking her with distortions was unhelpful to a working democracy. Unfortunately, since that time the attacks have continued unabated.

Sowers' strategy is not unique. It is commonplace within American politics, and that is a shame. It's also a reason that our American democracy isn't working as well as it could be. Irresponsible negative attacks may help win elections, but they destroy the environment for governing.

This week, people close to the Emerson campaign crossed the line in mudslinging too. In a paid election letter to this newspaper, a writer who once worked for Emerson's husband called into question Sowers' sexuality. The innuendo used was repugnant.

The writer actually seemed to be pressing two points: 1) Look at where Sowers is raising his money and from whom and 2) the innuendo. The first point is legitimate, and Sowers has asked the same about Emerson and where her money comes from (disclosure: some came from me in 2009).

The second point -- the innuendo -- is unfair and inappropriate. I will admit: I don't see that sexual orientation has anything to do with whether a person is qualified for Congress. The same is true about race, sex, religion or national background. Each of these items is part of an individual's identity, but in themselves they are basically meaningless. Whether a person is Sikh, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon or atheist, the more important characteristics are their governing philosophy, wisdom, integrity and work ethic.

My guess is that I may be a minority in this position, however, especially in the 8th District, which is what makes the paid election letter repugnant. The innuendo is artfully done and clearly intentional. And it is the type of political tactic that is disgraceful, because it's not about what is true or not, it's about scoring a campaign point regardless of the truth.

All the parties -- Republican, Democrat and Independent -- should be better than such tactics. I'm afraid, though, we're in for a long, hot summer of mudslinging. Maybe the candidates will prove me wrong.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.


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Josh Bill works for Jo Ann Emerson? No, he doesn't. Will any private citizen that submits a letter about a candidate be associated with one candidate or the other throughout this campaign? Just for reference purposes here is the letter that Mr. Rust is talking about.

http://www.semissourian.com/story/164143...

-- Posted by northside8 on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 9:52 AM

Mr. Rust, I share your opinion that where a person came from, their religious affiliation or their sexual preferences make them fit for political office.

Unfortunately mudslinging, slander and outright character assassination have been part of politics since the beginning of time and I don't see politicians putting away their favorite toys any time soon.

-- Posted by redpen on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 10:15 AM

Jon,

Was the link that northside8 posted the letter in question? The reason I ask is because usually when the letters to the editor are paid for there is a disclaimer somewhere mentioning this.

If the link is to the letter in question, (and this is one of those chin touching HMMMM kinda questions), why did you print it in your newspaper?

I don't have the right to ask this question on such matters as the Missourian is your newspaper, but...

-- Posted by Lumpy on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 10:23 AM

My column does not indicate that Josh Bill works for the Emerson campaign. It says: "This week, people close to the Emerson campaign crossed the line in mudslinging too. In a paid election letter to this newspaper, a writer who once worked for Emerson's husband..."

Your question: "Will any private citizen that submits a letter about a candidate be associated with one candidate or the other"...is fair. If Emerson's campaign -- or the letter writer -- wants to respond that he's not associated or close in any way, they may do that. But he was a former chief of staff for Bill Emerson.

-- Posted by Jon_K_Rust_PUBLISHER on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 10:36 AM

You know, I read the letter, and although my alarms were going off causing me to read the letter very carefully, I did not get the innuendo the way you imply. Agreed, others might and maybe that was the intent, so I see why your alarms sounding. However, aren't facts facts? I thought the point was that Tommy Sowers was heavily supported by DC operatives and that maybe he wasn't quite what he has led us to believe in that regard. Gay friends, gay supporters - to assume most of us here can't deal with that is more a condemnation of us. Afterall, the Hollywood crowd brings much of that to one party or the other. And the Republican National Committee OK'ing entertainment in a strip bar surely attracted much adieu about nothing. I did not/do not think Tommy Sowers sexual orientation means much of anything - I just don't think he qualifies as a viable candidate for elected office. And I'll take any information I can get.

-- Posted by blogbudsman on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 10:43 AM

Paid election letter playing the gay angle against an Iraqi War Vet with two bronze stars?

It's June. There's a Republican primary coming up with Bob Parker, a rancher.

Brokeback Campaign Strategy in Team Emerson.

Mike Glodo

PS: The Congresswoman held a "Ladies Spa Afternoon" in Georgetown here in 2008. http://www.ilodayspa.com/gallery_dc_2004...

His hair is perfect. Totally MO-8.

-- Posted by 2manyInsiders on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 11:38 AM

Vandevan, your question will cause us to review whether we should change signage on the online postings of paid letters. Here is the official policy: "If paid by another entity, that information must be stated properly according to election laws. Payment for the appropriate amount must be received before a Paid Election Letter will be published. Paid Election Letters must include the writer's complete mailing address, which will be published with the letter as required by Missouri election laws."

Where you have seen the "Paid by..." line in the online version of the letter, it is because the letter was paid for by another entity than the letter writer. When the letter is paid for by the writer, a full address is printed, but no "paid by" line as it was thought to be understood that the writer paid for it. In print, this is clear. Online, paid letters show up in two places...under Letters...and under Paid Letters...so maybe it's not so clear. We'll review whether to add some sort of identification to the format of the paid online letter itself so there is no confusion.

-- Posted by Jon_K_Rust_PUBLISHER on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 11:48 AM

So Jon K. Rust just told everyone about "innuendo" that very few people have heard or would take seriously.

Is it still innuendo or is it news printed in the semissourian?

It is s shame that an Iraq war hero, a man who could work any where in the world and make millions, but instead came back to his home district to continue to SERVE his country, is treated like this.

SHAME ON YOU JON RUST!

Shame on your publication. I am sorry your staff has to write on the same paper that you do.

You forgot to say that Mr. Sowers, excuse me MAJOR SOWERS, is not an...

Arsonist

Drug dealer

Communist

Serial Killer

Cubs fan

Barbie doll collector

911 Truther

Oxycontin addict

Pimp

Used car salesman

Leper

Child abuser

or Burglar.

Mr. Sowers is not for sale to the highest bidder.

He did not vote to bail out Wall St.

He did not vote to subsidies oil companies who are making record profits.

He did not vote to start two wars, quadruple the national debt or torture and illegally wiretap our citizens.

He is a veteran, a teacher, a leader, and the next congressman from Missouri's 8th congressional district.

You know it and so does Ms. Emerson.

Write about that.

-- Posted by Markham on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 11:52 AM

Absolutely saw Mr. Rust's point after reading the letter.

-- Posted by doggone on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 12:07 PM

First of all, I am not going to refer to the writer of the innuendo as "Mr. Bill." I will refer to him as "Josh" even though I don't know him or his proclivities. All I do know is that he, or perhaps one of his friends on TEAM Emerson, must have found it titillating to peruse their little map of gay hot spots in Washington, D.C.. Maybe Josh travels there frequently, or maybe some old acquaintance back there sent him his map? I just don't know.

The reason I don't want to call Josh Mr. Bill is that the only Mr. Bill I do know is Mr. Larry Bill, candidate for Congress in Missouri's 8th District and he is a gentleman based on what I've seen.

My feeling? Team Emerson has somehow managed to "jump the shark" with this one and is sorely in need of adult supervision. Perhaps they can get back to the campaign now. A good place to start would be with a robust debate with Bob Parker. I think Mrs. Emerson would do quite well at such an event, showing her true skill as a real thespian!

Thanks for setting the record straight, Mr. Rust.

-- Posted by DCisnot4me on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 12:29 PM

FROM THE PUBLISHER

Regarding vandevan's comment:

To avoid confusion, paid letters that appear online now include the tag: This is a paid election letter. Click here to review our letters policy.

-- Posted by Jon_K_Rust_PUBLISHER on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 2:11 PM

Mr. Rust,

I just wanted to thank you for your strong support of tolerance and diversity. I also am a voter in the Eighth District, and may be in the minority with you on this, but I couldn't agree more with your statement, "...I don't see that sexual orientation has anything to do with whether a person is qualified for Congress. The same is true about race, sex, religion or national background."

I also agree that the letter was clearly an innuendo and I found it disgusting.

-- Posted by deorleans on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 2:18 PM

Politics as usual. I can't believe anyone is surprised.

-- Posted by mutt_jdr on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 3:14 PM

Nightclub???? A pub, much like Schindlers. Tommy Sowers a good candidate and a good man. Which makes you wonder why a good man would expose himself to this type crap. But thank God they do.

-- Posted by bohica on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 3:17 PM

Josh Bill is a know-it-all pipsqueak. If I didn't know how arrogant he was, I wouldn't believe that he would have the nerve to try and slime a highly trained and decorated war hero such as Tommy Sowers.

Josh ran an aggressive campaign once for state representative from our district, and he failed miserably. The voters kicked his prissy behind to the curb. Too many of us knew him too well.

And, yes, he does visit D.C. a lot. He has an apartment there. Why does he know so much about its gay nightlife? Hmmmmmmmm.

-- Posted by grisgris on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 4:30 PM

All mudslinging aside...

A typical response to a negative message is to attack the messenger. No doubt Tommy and his campaign staff will do all they can to disparage the author. I, unlike grisgris,....have no idea who the author is and honestly, if he did know about DC's gay nightlife...it would give him even more credibility.

I think the point of the letter is something to think about. Whether Tommy runs with the gay community or not - the question must be asked...why would you have a fundraiser that promotes as much beer as you can drink until the tap runs dry at a gay night spot? Wise move for someone touted as sharp? Does that reflect what we want for our district?

Do we want someone who is so liberal in Congress? Do we want someone who thinks it is a good idea to have a fundraiser at a gay bar right in the middle of the "don't ask, don't tell" debate?

I actually think the author's questions are valid...not to question Sowers' sexuality....but to question his values and his judgment.

-- Posted by politicallogic on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 5:51 PM

It's just smoke & mirrors. All they wanted to do was plant the seed of doubt. and look at the ball roll.

-- Posted by mutt_jdr on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 8:14 PM

A paid letter to the editor? You don't sell political display ads? Keep paid letters out of your newspaper. Put a border around paid political comment and treat as you would any other display ad.

-- Posted by voyager on Thu, Jun 10, 2010, at 11:53 PM

Mr. Rust -

What a joke trying to take the high road on this. As the publisher, you have full discretion on running this paid letter. Your decision to do so is a hypocritical defacto endorsement of the very mud-slinging you attempt to protest.

Someone's gotta keep up the HBS slimeball reputation. Glad you're doing your part.

Clay Cowan

-- Posted by cbcowan on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 12:12 AM

Printing a paid election letter is not ethical. How you print these letters, even more so. A small blurb in italics at the bottom does not absolve your publication from this unethical behavior.

At a minimum, if you feel the publication is wrong, you should decline to print the letter and refund any money. Coming in later and saying that you found it repugnant doesn't absolve your publication from this unethical behavior.

No wonder publications such as yours are dying. Journalist integrity seems to be a thing of the past.

-- Posted by shelleyp on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 8:16 AM

As much as I would like to see a more conservative, Tea Party like candidate represent the Eigth District, I am appalled at Tommy Sower's attacks on Jo Ann Emerson. I was raised that a gentleman never attacks a lady...ever. Perhaps that tells us something about Sower's character.

-- Posted by WisdomSeeker on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 9:37 AM

WisdomSeeker: You need to seek some wisdom. When a person enters the political arena, gender becomes a moot issue. In my opinion there are no ladies or gentlemen in politics. They are just an "it". Fair game for anyone. I agree a gentleman does not attack a lady, but when does a lady cease to be a lady?

-- Posted by howdydoody on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 10:26 AM

Jon,

Just a friendly reminder. One of the parties in this race is Libertarian. To be precise, there may an independent candidate in this race but "independent" in this case will not be a party affiliation.

Thanks,

Greg Tlapek-Executive Director, Missouri Libertarian Party

-- Posted by GregTlapek on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 11:42 AM

Doesn't Mr. Sower's support the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?" He is no longer in the military, so he can feel free to tell the voters the truth on his sexuality. I particularly don't care, but since he seems to think that it is appropriate to discuss one's sexual preference in a professional setting in the military, surely he has no problem discussing his sexuality on the campaign trail. Like I said, I care not either way. But it appears to be an issue so why not just tell the truth either way?

-- Posted by thekid on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 11:48 AM

"It's also a reason that our American democracy isn't working as well as it could be. Irresponsible negative attacks may help win elections, but they destroy the environment for governing."

Jon, you're being too kind! To sum it up, WASHINGTON'S BROKE!

-- Posted by Rocket_Surgeon on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 12:06 PM

Mr. Rust,

Yes, the mudslinging has started. This newspaper is fully responsible for helping spread it. If this letter so offended you, what about the recent letter by Commisioner Jones that you printed. He made several bold claims about Purcell that were completely unfounded. To use your own words: " The innuendo used was repugnant". I guess your friends get different treatment from everyone else. No wonder your newspaper is dying. Maybe, if your paper wasn't so obviously biased in favor of republicans, you would have more subscriptions.

-- Posted by riregrist on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 12:51 PM

There are several reasons these publications hurt the people of southeast Missouri. First, consider the initial accusation: that Tommy Sowers is dishonest, bad for the military, bad for our district, and possibly homosexual. I met Tommy and his lovely fiancÚ at an event last fall, and he explained his background and ideology to me. He's a native Missourian who attended a prestigious university and went into the military, becoming a member of the elite Green Beret program. I could tell Tommy was ready for this race immediately, because he told me right away that if we disagreed, he'd be upfront and honest about it. Tommy has completed some of the most difficult challenges in the military, and been in charge of real American lives overseas. He's also taught at two of the most rigorous universities in the nation. On top of that impressive resume, he's entirely down to Earth, and a man of terrific integrity; that sounds like exactly what this district needs to me. But let's take a moment to examine the other side of the equation: the Emerson campaign. Jo Ann Emerson claims to be pro gun, like Sowers, yet Sowers is the only one to have handled a gun in a combat setting. I know that I would trust the judgment of a Green Beret before that of Emerson. She claims to be pro life, like Sowers, yet she has consistently voted against some of the most life saving programs in the country: cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, voting against closing the donut hole, and continuing to deny the residents of our district health care, even though we have one of the highest rates of uninsured citizens in the country. She claims to be economically conservative, like Sowers, yet she voted in favor of the Washington bank bailout and consistently touts the stimulus, even as her constituents live in one of the ten poorest districts in the nation. Finally, she feels that despite the great progress we've made on civil rights, that it is still acceptable to discriminate in our military. Then, she went on to question Sowers' military service, claiming he never led anybody. Unlike Emerson, whose leadership experience consists entirely of lobbyists, Sowers has handled an entire special forces team in Iraq and Kosovo. Once more, I'm going to trust the military man before the Washington insider. With a record like Emerson's, you have to reconsider what is really "beyond her control." Tommy Sowers isn't slinging any mud; he's cleaning off what Emerson's 14 years have left. Let Jo Ann Emerson continue fighting for her own Washington interests, but outside of Congress. Let's send a real Missourian, Tommy Sowers, to finally represent our needs.

-- Posted by Ryan_Nely on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 2:58 PM

Take a look at http://firedupmissouri.com/content/pathe... and you will see the bar is not a gay bar or in a gay neighborhood. The research the Emerson team did was wrong. Given that, why do you think Sowers is gay? Because he is single? And why does it matter? The entire article is a lie. No wonder they had to pay to have it published.

What matters is how our representatives do just that, support and vote on issues that affect our poor and under-served area. What was missed in the last week is that Joanne Emerson voted against the bill for a 1.9% pay raise for the military and other small stipends to help military families move to serve. The gay stuff is just a sling fest to keep the real news off the radar. As Tommy says, he is running because "we are worth fighting for" and that includes the 70,000 veterans in the 8th district.

-- Posted by josietree on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 3:06 PM

Ryan, not sure what your definition of integrity is but he's lied about her three times in this paper and has been corrected by the Editor each time. There are a lot of good folks who've been in the military and there are some who are not so good. There are a lot of good college profs, and some that are not so good. What this race ought to be about are the people who live here and what their values are and who will best represent them.

-- Posted by northside8 on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 3:53 PM

Mr. Rust rightly criticizes the innuendo leveled against Mr. Sowers, but draws a false equivalence between the actions of the respective campaigns.

Politics is not beanbag toss. Tough criticism on the issues is not only appropriate, but a basic element of our democratic process.

If he is inclined to print baseless innuendo, Mr. Rust should say that it is a disgraceful behavior easily distinguishable from the substantive criticisms of the Sowers campaign.

-- Posted by allen23 on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 4:32 PM

If being single equals being gay, then watch out, Peter Kinder and Jason Crowell.

I wonder if thekid has ever asked them to "discuss their sexuality on the campaign trail."

-- Posted by grisgris on Fri, Jun 11, 2010, at 6:48 PM

Jon,

I hope that my post wasn't interpreted as being critical to your newspaper's paid letters to the editor policy. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in our political process. I also believe that your policy is very beneficial to candidates like me who do not have millions in our coffers (I don't even have a coffer) to spend on publicity, and that the price is very fair.

I will be sending a series of paid letters to the editor your way very soon. I hope that my letters generate some positive discussion and name recognition. Thanks!

-- Posted by Lumpy on Sat, Jun 12, 2010, at 8:31 AM

Greg T,

Thanks for reminding people that there is another choice at the ballot box this year.

I don't recall ever having this many options available in an election.

Look at the race for MO 8th CD Representative. The voters have a choice of a fresh Democrat that basically came out of nowhere and has generated an impressive amount of fund rasising and buzz - Tommy Sowers. The incumbent is being challenged in her own party by a fired up, bonafied tea party conservative - Bob Parker. Independent Larry Bill is another certified conservative that has undertaken the difficult task of getting enough signatures, one at a time, to even see his name on the ballot. And I am your freewheelin', anti-state / pro-free market, humble Libertarian candidate.

There shouldn't be any excuses for voters to stay home this year given their vast array of options. I don't want to hear any of that "voted for the lesser of two evils" crap.

It is an exciting time to be involved in our political process, and I am proud to be a part of it.

Rick Vandeven - Candidate for US Congress

Libertarian Party

-- Posted by Lumpy on Sat, Jun 12, 2010, at 8:57 AM

I don't understand why my comments get pulled and some of these others remain. Is Rudi Keller running the comment boards or what?

-- Posted by lumpy times 2 on Tue, Jun 15, 2010, at 9:33 AM

I find it astonishing that Josh Bill, who was falsely accused of three felonies and previously continued to work for a Member of Congress after he had been arrested for soliciting sex from a 16 year old boy, would resort to innuendo.

-- Posted by Freddy_Mercury on Tue, Jun 15, 2010, at 11:14 PM

We've lost focus on the shape our country is in and how it can be fixed. Not much talk about that. Seems like most of the candidates and blog contributors are more interested in trash about the candidates and their followers. We deserve what we get so don't complain if that's what most care about.

-- Posted by SEMO72a on Fri, Oct 15, 2010, at 4:37 PM


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Jon K. Rust
Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications. He serves on the board of directors for the Associated Press. A native of Cape Girardeau, he has lived and worked in New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Moscow, Russia.