Don't tell anyone where you got it, but I heard...

I have a love/hate relationship with this blog thing.

I’m a terrible political junkie. I eat it all up with a spoon. I read this stuff vociferously, and I make sure my less technologically adept friends are “in the know” with the latest gossip that comes across on the weblogs. I also have people blabbing their heads off to me on stuff – some of it I wish I could plain un-hear. (No! I want plausible deniability on this! I’m not listening…. La la la! Imagine me with ears covered).

In other words, I want to know. I have to know.

So I read the weblogs. But as you read much of the things on them, you have to consider, how much is legitimate discourse, and how much is baiting the hook for a rumor campaign (Okay, I'm going to segue into lecture here).

Rumor campaigns have been used to effect in South Dakota in the past. Sometimes the information is legitimate, but mostly it’s pure garbage.

The most historical example that has been related to me is a story that during the Kneip/FarrarGubernatorial race, a couple of the Kneip people would travel incognito from small town tavern to tavern (or café), and they would sit down. After sitting, one would query the other loudly as to “had they heard about the Governor’s personal improprieties”, and they’d go on at length, and then leave to plant the rumor in the next town.

So the stories go, this might have been a factor in Farrar losing the race. Don’t worry, he got over it just fine. I worked for him (at least his company) for a couple of years. Since losing the election, his company continues to grow, and he’s still vibrant and active in his 90’s, competing in Ironman triathalons. Pretty nice guy, too.

I’ve had rumor campaigns conducted against my candidates a couple of times. Once, I was involved in a local race where we were an unknown commodity running against a “local name” (see prior post on that topic) in a primary. We knew it would be an uphill battle, and we kicked our butts hustling for votes, and taking on the other guy head on.

Days before the election, the opposing candidate’s wife started calling her friends and mentioning that my candidate was not faithful to his wife, which was garbage. It took us some time to track down someone who would allow their name to be used, and with their permission, we called the candidate’s wife at her place of work where she was making the calls, and pointed out that this person said she had called, and would she please clarify where she got the information? It shut it down right there.

Ultimately, we lost by 75 votes (Sometime I’ll discuss why in a post about “claiming to be something you are not”). In retrospect, I wish we could have done a press release on it too. But, it was too late for an adequate response via the media.

Another time a rumor campaign was trying to start, and we did have media response time, I was in Rapid City working for the local county party office. Out of the blue one afternoon, I had a candidate calling me in tears. Her opponent was calling her husband’s ex-wife asking for dirt on my candidate. I said “We’re going to address this now!” And we did to excellent effect.

I came up with a “good government pledge” attesting that my candidate was going to run on the issues and leave dirty negative personal attacks out. I made a certificate (slightly misquoting Lincoln’s “Of the people” quote), with a place for both candidates to sign. And we had a press conference, with the ex-wife who happened to be on good terms with her ex and the candidate. My candidate signed the pledge on camera, and challenged her opponent to do the same. It was a complete dog and pony show. We made the TV news for a couple of days, and our actions showed the opposing candidate why you don’t try to bring a pointed stick to a gun fight. It destroyed her opponent’s campaign. It was personally embarrassing for him, and it was a major contributor to his losing badly.

Aside from my rambling, how is this a lesson in the war college?

The lesson you should take away from this is that “In the light of day, cockroaches scatter.” If you are facing a rumor campaign - if it’s only a rumor - make it public, and call the messenger a dirty rat. Generally, you can turn a dirty negative attack back on your opponent, and make it explode in their face.

Considering the release of questionable information yourself? The risks in a rumor campaign are not worth the reward. Remind yourself of it. And repeat it. All political activists can – and do - forget this in the pursuit of victory. We’re trained to dig out minutia and to make mountains out of molehills. Sometimes, it causes us to keep both eyes searching so closely through the microscope we’re ignoring the ceiling beam about to bonk us on the head.

So, take the lesson. If you get caught not listening to it, it may cost you some egg on your face. Hopefully, it won’t be on television.


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