By H.B. Elkins
In the rough-and-tumble world of politics, we’ve come to expect that the participants are going to get a little bloody in the process.
After all, when the future of the city, county, state or nation is at risk, candidates are going to do what they have to do in order to win.
Very little is off the table. From families to businesses to associates, just about every aspect of a politician’s life is open to scrutiny. Barack Obama’s pastor’s anti-American remarks made from the church pulpit are fair game, as are Rand Paul’s son’s alcohol problems.
But sometimes, innocent third parties get caught up in the crossfire, as has happened in this year’s Kentucky Republican gubernatorial primary. When that happens, perhaps it’s time to rethink just how zealously we pursue our political ambitions.
For several months, a blogger named Michael Adams has been pushing rumors that Commissioner of Agriculture and GOP gubernatorial candidate Jamie Comer assaulted a college girlfriend. It appears that Adams first heard the allegations on Topix.com, a bulletin board-type website where people anonymously post rumors and gossip that may or may not be true. Adams started a blog critical of Comer, and he eventually published the name of the alleged victim. There’s no evidence that Adams was working at the behest of any of Comer’s opponents.
Other bloggers picked up on the story and also named the ex-girlfriend in question, but the rumor bubbled under the surface until a Lexington Herald-Leader story revealed that Adams had contacted the Hal Heiner and Will T. Scott campaigns to push his story. That brought increased attention to the tale and pushed it squarely into the mainstream media and to the forefront of the campaign.
Although Adams, other bloggers and mainstream media reporters had been contacting the ex-girlfriend in an attempt to get her on the record, she didn’t want to have any part in the gubernatorial drama. In fact, Adams even told the Herald-Leader reporter that she had told him to leave her alone. But when the story hit the mainstream, she obviously felt compelled to speak out.
She wrote a letter to the Courier-Journal in which she confirmed the allegations that Comer had physically abused her, along with dropping a few other bombshells that won’t be helpful to his campaign. The Courier-Journal published a story based on her letter, along with an admonition from Comer’s lawyer promising a “devastating lawsuit” should the story be printed. The C-J’s editorial and legal teams must have been confident in the truth of her statements, or they would not have subjected themselves to a libel suit.
Comer addressed the matter the following day in a press conference, strongly denying the allegations and again threatening legal action. One wonders who’ll be named in the suit. Michael Adams, who’s relentlessly pushed the story for months and has shopped it not only to Comer’s GOP rivals, but to Attorney General Jack Conway, who will be the Democrats’ nominee? Joe Gerth, the Courier-Journal reporter who wrote the story and from whom Comer refused to take questions at his press conference? Or will he go so far as to sue the alleged victim of his abuse?
By all accounts, his ex-girlfriend didn’t want to participate in any of this. She no longer lives in Kentucky, and except for a modest donation to Heiner’s campaign, has not been involved in the gubernatorial race. She was dragged into it against her will by a third party with an agenda. In doing so, she claims, Adams caused a lot of bad memories to resurface. Adams even acknowledges as much, making a snarky post on his anti-Comer Facebook page saying he’s grateful for Kentucky heroines, even those who live in other states “who hate me b/c of I have done them wrong.”
Is this what our political scene has come to? Someone who’s intent on tearing down a candidacy pulls an innocent person into the fray, revictimizing her again?
When the story hit the mainstream, Comer immediately blamed Heiner. When interviewed for the Courier-Journal story, Comer’s lawyer made remarks critical of the ex-girlfriend. How about blaming Adams, who pulled both the woman and the Heiner campaign into this mess?
Because of Adams’ actions, a young woman who just wanted to be left alone became the focal point of a scandalous story. That doesn’t serve the political process well at all.
H.B. Elkins is a former award-winning Kentucky community newspaper editor who now works in public relations. All opinions expressed are his own and not those of his current employer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.