Saturday, March 8, 2008


Heather Wilson's Campaign PR Ineptitude

Abusive Tactics Gave Vote-buying Story Legs

Photos by Mark Bralley

By Dennis Domrzalski

It was a horrible week for Heather Wilson’s U.S. Senate campaign.

Stories about the campaign’s alleged effort to buy votes and delegates at the state Republican Party’s pre-primary Bernalillo County conventions exploded across the Internet. So-called liberal bloggers picked up the story and spread it around the world.

The anti-Wilson venom spewed from Maine to Australia. And it was intense. In New Mexico the Wilson haters recalled her every misstep, from the heavy-handed attempt to pressure former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias into indicting Democrats before the 2006 November election, to her acting like a spoiled brat and throwing a fit when she was moved from the front of the New Mexico State Fair parade to a position further back.

It was vicious. Swept up in the damage were KKOB Radio and the state Republican Party. The station was blasted for caving to pressure from Wilson’s campaign and killing the vote-buying stories being aired by drive-time news anchor Laura MacCallum.

MacCallum resigned in protest. KKOB News Director Pat Allen became the laughingstock of the blogosphere, and probably the entire news world, when his memo to MacCallum on why he killed the stories hit the Internet on this blog. The memo suggested that MacCallum’s stories weren’t valid because bloggers hadn’t picked them up. One of the state’s biggest alleged news operation had ceded the news initiative to bloggers.

The state GOP looked stupid and corrupt for refusing to concede that it was wrong for campaigns to pay for people to show up at the conventions and vote for certain delegates to the party’s March 15 statewide nominating convention.

It was ugly, vicious, and for Wilson’s campaign, awful. She was smeared, attacked and ridiculed, while her opponent for the Republican nomination, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM, sat back and laughed. You could almost see people racing to vote for Pearce.

It was a disaster.

But the real disaster of it for Wilson’s campaign—the stunning disaster—is that it was all the campaign’s fault. It needn’t have happened. The tsunami of negative publicity that cashed into the campaign, the radio station and the party was all self-inflicted. It was the result of one of the biggest political PR blunders in the state’s history.

MacCallum’s stories, which were broadcast more than a week after the GOP conventions, weren’t going anywhere. They ran on Tuesday and Wednesday the week after the conventions. No one had picked them up—not print journalist, not TV talking heads, not bloggers. By Thursday of that week they would have ended and almost no one would have known that Wilson’s senate and Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White's campaigns were being accused of trying to buy votes and delegates.

Dave Cargo's Republican credentials--U.S. Rep. Manual Jr., R-NM, (left) and President Richard Nixon

But Wilson campaign spokeswoman Whitney Cheshire was too dumb to see it. Instead of letting a story fade into inconsequentiality, Cheshire resorted to ham-handed, abusive tactics. She called Allen to screech that the allegations made by former New Mexico Governor Dave Cargo weren’t true and that the stories had to be killed. State GOP flackster Scott Darnell also called the station to yell.

Allen caved, MacCallum quit, and the vote-buying story that would have faded away and that everyone would have forgotten became a huge story.

The ineptitude didn’t stop there. I called Cheshire to ask about Cargo’s allegations. I just needed a simple yes or no answer as to whether the campaign paid people to show up at the conventions. Her response was ridiculous and insulting. She said she needed a video or tape recording of Cargo before they would respond.

Whitney Cheshire behind Darren White

I explained Cargo’s allegations and asked again if they had paid people to attend the conventions—a simple question—and the response was the same. No comment would be made unless the campaign had a recording of Cargo making the allegations.

For a reporter, that was an outright refusal to answer the question. And when somebody refuses to answer a simple question, it says they’re guilty as charged.

Cheshire’s refusal to answer the simple question and Allen’s nutty memo spread over the Internet. The negative press poured in. The self-inflicted disaster ensued.

The carnage didn’t stop there. Rather than making a case that the payments were some kind of noble deed—Republicans scooping poor people off the streets and giving them a chance to participate in Democracy—GOP operatives tried to smear and destroy Cargo, who is a true New Mexico hero. Read it again: Dave Cargo is a New Mexico hero. There is no one in this state who has battled longer and harder to expose corruption. No one!

Rather than admitting they were wrong, party operatives, with the help of lapdog KKOB Radio Operations Manager Pat Frisch, tried to slime Cargo. Instead of answering the questions and talking about the sleaziness of letting campaigns pay for people to attend the nominating conventions, the GOP smearmeisters screamed that Cargo was once seen in the presence of Bill Clinton and that he had had his picture taken with the former president.

They pretty much accused the former governor of high treason for showing up at Hillary Clinton’s recent book signing in Albuquerque. The GOP ass-kissing Frisch refused to let Cargo talk when the 76-year-old former governor called into his talk show on Thursday. The way he treated Cargo was despicable and disgraceful.

On Friday, during the taping of the Eye on New Mexico TV talk show, Republican attorney Pat Rogers produced a magical invoice that said a party operative had paid Cargo’s $20 registration fee in 2004--four years earlier! The invoice was dated March 7, the day of the taping. Rogers also tried to smear Cargo with having attended Hillary’s book signing.

Rather than honestly addressing the issue, the state GOP—the club, the party, the gang, the would-be empire—tried to kill the messenger.

It didn’t work.

By the week’s end, Wilson’s campaign admitted that it had paid the convention entrance fees for five people. But it was too late. They had already shot themselves in the head.

The would-be empire and Wilson’s campaign behaved like the power-obsessed elitists they are, and it backfired. The blogosphere hit back. The gatekeepers in the traditional media were blown away.

It isn’t all bad, though, for the non-answering Cheshire and the GOP smear-job operatives. With their abusive, sleazy and self-destructive tactics they’ve proven themselves worthy.

Worthy of jobs in Hillary Clinton’s campaign.


The Voice said...

Thank you Dennis,

You are blowing holes in Heather Vader's seemingly invincible cloak. Thanks to bloggers such as yourself, her Rovian brand of BS is coming to public attention.

I admire your tenacity and find it appalling that a journalist like 'Heath-bar Hausman' would be willing to sully his good name over a friendship with the Cheshire cat who got him to do thenews-laundering for Heather and company. Hopefully the public will realize what the blowhard drama queen and her intended replacement the lackey, 'durn' White are up to. One might conclude that durn might understand that vote-buying is against the law - he is after all Bernalillo County's Sherrif.

Contrary to Haussman's contention that this is a non-story, that in his opinion would go nowhere; it has gone from no-where to now-here.

I agree Pat Allen is a spineless wussy who deserves to be exposed for the biased boot-licker that he is.

I have seen how Heather's minions have atttempted to discredit you with their cowardly 'anonymous' postings here and elsewhere. You have fared quite well.

I find it curious how they can post freely on your blog and BradBlog - anonymously but your voices are censored on their blogs. I'm talking about Bruno Hauptmann's Las Cruces blog which makes bloviated calls for journalistic integrity while simultaneously ignoring the proverbial plank in Heath's eye.

How can a man who is so intimately connected to Heather's staff member (the Cheshire cat) fail to make mention of her previous history of blogging on his site and not see the glaring potential for conflict of interest?

Keep up the good work Dennis - your journalistic integrity is refreshing. People such as yourself and BradBlog are great examples of the only remaining protection the public has against the corporate-controlled faux-news. We need your voice because they stand up to the confederation of parrots who pass off the fear & smear Orwellian rubbish and call it 'fair & balanced' news.


Anonymous said...

Dennis I love that piece! Spot on an well written. Sorry but I never knew you had it in you. Well guess what... You've got me hooked. F-brilliant is now on my regular reading roster. We've got to find a way for fine journalists like yourself and Laura MacCallum to make a living doing this. Kindest regards!

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