Into the muck

The fact that anyone – a candidate, someone acting on behalf of a candidate, someone attempting to smear a candidate, it doesn’t really matter – would ask a polling question like this: “Would your vote for Delegate be affected if you knew that Delegate [insert opponent’s name here] is a closet homosexual?” is a very serious matter, for a number of reasons, for anyone who cares about decency and ethics in politics. Let’s take a step back and try to look dispassionately at this telephone poll conducted in Lynn Chapman’s name.

Regarding the poll itself, a Chapman supporter at Too Conservative says this: “There is absolutely no way my original source would make this up.” Numerous reputable individuals of different political orientations have reported receiving the calls, and have corroborated the wording of the questions. Recipients who stayed on the line through the entire call were told that it was “paid for by the House Republican Campaign Committee and Chapman for Delegate.” The notion that this is a fabricated story is, at this point, a non-starter.

Rather, the issue is who is responsible. A variety of different explanations have been put forward by Chapman supporters:

  1. Some are saying that Mr. Chapman is an honorable guy who would never do something like this. This claim assumes a priori that the questions at issue would be devastating to a campaign revealed to have used them.
  2. The Chapman campaign itself categorically denies asking these questions, characterizes the poll reports as “rumor,” and accuses Delegate David Poisson of using the “rumor” to smear his character. This is in line with position 1) above.
  3. Some are saying that it was the “(Dick) Black Brigade” acting without Chapman’s knowledge or consent. Ditto.
  4. Some are saying that it was either the Poisson campaign or rogue Democrats in an act of political sabotage. Ditto.
  5. Some are saying that the poll never took place, that there were “two polls,” or that the respondents “misunderstood” the questions, and that the reports can be disregarded. Ditto.
  6. Some are saying that such questions are an example of “message testing” and are “a completely legitimate form of research” to determine the efficacy of raising particular issues in the course of the campaign. This position is based on a very different assumption about the appropriateness of the questions.
  7. Some are even saying that Chapman asked these questions because there must be some truth to their implications, and further suggest that the Poisson campaign is “smearing” the questions as a “push poll” because they are in damage control mode. Ditto.

As is readily apparent, Chapman’s supporters don’t even agree on whether or not this poll is something he needs to explain.

Now, let’s look at the press release. Chapman’s spokesman denies that he did or would ever ask such questions, calling them “offensive and inappropriate,” and claiming that the poll itself was only a rumor that someone (his opponent, by implication) made up in order to smear him.

Later, there was a shift. Perhaps the evidence that the poll did in fact happen became too overwhelming to pretend otherwise. According to Tammi Marcoullier, “Campaign manager Billy Kirkland was very clear that ‘the campaign’ did not ask offensive and inappropriate questions. ‘If supporters are doing this, we do not approve of it, nor are we in contact with anyone who is doing this,’ said Kirkland.”

So now, the Chapman campaign seems to be acknowledging that someone made these calls, and further suggesting that a supporter did this in Chapman’s name without his knowledge or consent. This is a rather serious (and legally actionable) matter, whether it was done by “supporters” or by someone else in an act of sabotage. As this commenter on Too Conservative notes:

[I]f my campaign didn’t do anything wrong, I would be livid that someone out there was committing an ongoing fraud specifically designed to damage my reputation. I would be contacting the very people who were contacted and “polled” to facilitate getting their phone records for a criminal investigation.

But it doesn’t seem like any of the above are happening, which leaves us to wonder: Why?

Exactly. Additionally, if he is a gentleman, Mr. Chapman needs to acknowledge the gross disregard shown for Mr. Poisson’s family – even if he is not responsible for it. To leave standing the current press release, which is nothing more than a boilerplate, unsubstantiated swat at his opponent, makes him look terribly insincere, and as if he just wants this matter to go away.

This much we know: Someone, in the misguided belief that calling someone gay is a smear, maligned a man’s fidelity to his partner and family. Sad as it is, there are apparently still some politicians in this community who are willing to sink this low to turn out a narrow wedge of voters so stupid that they would vote solely on the basis of a candidate’s sexual orientation. They don’t care who they hurt, as long as they can squeak out a “victory.” Is Lynn Chapman one of them? If it turns out that he is, he needs to be sent packing.

That kind of foul behavior simply doesn’t belong in this community.

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6 Responses to Into the muck

  1. Va Blogger says:

    I still don’t think there is sufficient proof to say with 100% certainty that the poll was conducted as reported. You may disagree, but I don’t consider someone posted on a blog to be a legitimate, verifiable source. That person may trust his source 100%, but why I should I trust that person 100%? Loudoun Insider claims to know a person who swears it happened. Here is another poster who swears the questions were more innocent. Which one should we believe? Why should we believe either of them?

    I’ve seen various people posting their thoughts on the poll, but I have only read one account–the letter to the editor–that I can attach a name, and with it credibility, to. And it just so happens that this one person is a donor and supporter of David Poisson.

    When you cut out all of the speculation and look only at the rock-solid facts, you come away with a different perspective. I understand, especially for you, the defensive nature in which you made this entry. These questions are not appropriate, and even the allegation of them is a serious issue. However, what do we know for certain?

    1) A David Poisson donor wrote a LTE complaining about this, even going so far as labelling it a push poll, contradicting the stated policy of Venture Data.
    2) The allegation set off a swirl of rumors and speculation on the blogosphere, but none of which is verifiable. If I were writing a newspaper story on this issue, I couldn’t use “comment #67” as a reference. Generally, if Wikipedia wouldn’t accept it as a source, its standing on shaky ground.
    3) Poisson’s camp responded forcefully, denouncing the practice and blaming Chapman.
    4) Chapman denied ever conducting a poll asking these questions.

    You raised a point about Chapman’s press release, concluding that they admit the questions were asked, just not by them. I disagree. The key word in their press release is “IF”. “If supports are doing this, we do not approve”. They never said that they believe supporters were doing this. You already believed that this poll happened, so you interpreted the Chapman statement as a confirmation. It was not.

    So when you look only at the verifiable facts, there is nothing that we can conclude definitively. Two seperate polls is possible, but highly improbable. So either the poll happened as was alleged, and Chapman is a liar, liar, pants on fire, the poll happened but was not conducted by Chapman, or the poll did not happen as was alleged, and the Poisson donor is either mistaken or lying. Based on all of the facts that we know for certain, all three of these options are possible.

  2. David says:

    Here is Chapman’s position as of yesterday:

    Chapman denied involvement in such a poll in a statement issued Monday by his campaign.

    “However, it does appear that calls have been made to voters in the district that have been asking those questions,” Chapman stated in the release. “I do not know who is making the calls. It raises the prospect that they are being made by a third party pursuing their own agenda.

    “If the calls are being made by people who have the mistaken view that this tactic somehow helps my campaign, I want them to know that I am personally offended by such tactics,” he said. “Personal attack politics may generate votes, but it does not create an informed electorate, which is essential for good governance. I call on whoever is making these calls to cease and desist immediately.”

    As for your repeated “one source” assertion, I’ve already pointed out to you elsewhere that other verifiable sources have come forward, but you chose to ignore this information. You don’t even acknowledge that there is a second letter to the editor. As much as you don’t want it to be true, the evidence that the calls did indeed happen as reported is incontrovertible at this point. We can therefore discard your third scenario, and turn to considering the evidence for who might be responsible.

    I will say right from the get-go that the person who should be most intensely interested in getting to the bottom of this is Lynn Chapman. If it’s true that he had no knowledge of this, why is he not pursuing a criminal investigation? Isn’t it a serious violation for, as he puts it, “a third party pursuing their own agenda” to claim to be speaking for his campaign? I have to say I am unimpressed by Chapman’s pallid statement that “unsuccessful attempts were made” to find out who did this.

    This, I think, is the money quote: “Personal attack politics may generate votes.” There is no need to be coy. We know exactly who in this community thinks that gay-bashing is a substitute for legitimate campaigning: Dick Black, Eugene Delgaudio, Patricia Phillips, and their various hangers-on. Does Lynn Chapman want to expose and disassociate himself from this crew or not? It’s not a hard question, and so far he seems to be failing.

  3. Va Blogger says:

    Can you please point me in the direction of this second LTE?

    Again, my standard for believing someone is if I can attach a name and credibility to the statement.

  4. David says:

    There are two letters in the Connection, here and here.

    They were both called by Venture Data, as was Deborah Hawk, who was told that the pollster would only speak with “the man of the house.” If you had followed the link to the Loudoun Extra blog you would have known all this days ago.

    I agree with you in that it’s unlikely that there were two entirely different polls. That just defies reason. Polls like this are expensive.

    As for Venture Data’s explicit statement that they do not engage in “push polling,” this is disingenuousness at its finest. They define “push poll” on their website here, and via this link to another survey research firm, saying “Our activities are strictly limited to conducting telephone survey research wherein we gather the opinions of a limited number of representative voters and deliver that data to our clients.”

    Fine, so they gathered the opinion of a limited number of representative voters as to whether their vote would be affected if they “knew that Delegate David Poisson is a closet homosexual,” and delivered the data to their client.

    What one calls this is of no particular import (I call it cowardly, sleazy and reprehensible, for what that’s worth). It was a poll that was intended to plant false information about an individual by name.

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