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The Business Council of Alabama (BCA), an organization made up of state Republicans and business figures, hires political consultant Karl Rove of Texas to help elect a slate of Republican candidates to the Alabama Supreme Court. Alabama’s Supreme Court has been comprised of Democrats for over a century. However, Rove worked to get a slate of Republicans elected to the Texas Supreme Court a few years ago, and the BCA feels he can do the same thing in Alabama. Of the four Republican candidates for the high court, the most important is retired Judge Perry O. Hooper, an icon among Alabama Republicans. He runs against Democratic incumbent Ernest “Sonny” Hornsby. Until now, judicial races in Alabama have been what Atlantic Monthly reporter Joshua Green will later call “low-key affairs,” with almost no campaigning and judicial candidates often just passing the seats from one to the next. Democrats often ran unopposed for the positions.
Statewide Campaign, 'Jackpot Justice' - Rove brings a harsh, confrontational strategy, characterizing Democrats as pawns of trial lawyers and telling voters tales of outrageous verdicts. Rove has Hooper and the other candidates focus on a single case, that of a wealthy Alabama doctor who sued the car manufacturer BMW after discovering that his new car had been damaged by acid rain before delivery and repainted, diminishing its resale value. The trial revealed that BMW had done this many times before, and rewarded the doctor with $4 million in punitive damages. Alabama Republican political consultant Bill Smith, trained by Rove, will later say: “It was the poster-child case of outrageous verdicts. Karl figured out the vocabulary on the BMW case and others like it that point out not just liberal behavior but outrageous decisions that make you mad as hell.” Hooper and the other judicial candidates campaign relentlessly throughout the state, harping on the case as an example of “jackpot justice” perpetuated by “wealthy personal-injury trial lawyers.” (Green will write that Rove coined those phrases and will use them effectively in other races and other areas.) Rove is also successful at convincing conservative Democrats to abandon their traditional support for Democratic candidates and vote for his Republican candidates. Rove also uses targeted, nuanced language to attract conservative voters. His candidates attack “liberal activist judges” and present themselves as “people who will strictly interpret the law and not rewrite it from the bench.” A Rove staffer will later explain that the term “activist judges” motivates all sorts of people for very different reasons. Green writes: “If you’re a religious conservative, he said, it means judges who established abortion rights or who interpret Massachusetts’s equal-protection clause as applying to gays. If you’re a business conservative, it means those who allow exorbitant jury awards. And in Alabama especially, the term conjures up those who forced integration.” The staffer continues, “The attraction of calling yourself a ‘strict constructionist’ [as Rove has his candidates label themselves] is that you can attract business conservatives, social conservatives, and moderates who simply want a reasonable standard of justice.”
'Dialing for Dollars' Television Ad - Rove highlights the fact that the Democratic justices routinely solicit campaign donations from trial lawyers, while downplaying the Republicans’ solicitations from business interests. He airs one particularly damaging “Dialing for Dollars” television ad, depicting a lawyer receiving an unwanted telephone solicitation from an actor portraying Hornsby. The ad implies that Hornsby will intervene on a case the lawyer has pending. The ad draws considerable attention and criticism, and is featured on NBC Nightly News. The campaign has the desired effect, and the race begins to tighten. Rove escalates, filling the airwaves with negative ads in the last two weeks of the campaign.
Recount, False Stories - When the results are tallied from the November 9 election, Hornsby wins the race for chief justice by an unofficial tally of 304 votes. Rove immediately calls for a recount. A former Rove staffer will later say: “Karl called the next morning. He said: ‘We came real close. You guys did a great job. But now we really need to rally around Perry Hooper. We’ve got a real good shot at this, but we need to win over the people of Alabama.‘… Our role was to try to keep people motivated about Perry Hooper’s election and then to undermine the other side’s support by casting them as liars, cheaters, stealers, immoral—all of that.” Rove successfully obtains the recount, and places campaign workers in each of the polling places to observe the counting, harass the election officials, and find evidence of “voter fraud.” Some legitimate errors are uncovered, such as a probate judge in one county erroneously excluding some 100 votes for Hooper, and voting machines in two other counties failing to tally all the votes. Rove spreads false stories throughout the state about poll watchers being threatened with arrest, probate judges locking themselves in their offices and refusing to meet with campaign workers, votes being cast in absentia on behalf of comatose nursing home patients, and Democrats caught in a cemetery writing down the names of dead people in order to cast votes for them by absentee ballot. On November 12, Hooper declares in a press conference, “We have endured lies in this campaign, but I’ll be damned if I will accept outright thievery.” By November 21, the unofficial tally has Hornsby ahead by only nine votes.
Absentee Ballots Challenged in Court - Hornsby’s campaign fights to include some 2,000 late-arriving absentee ballots that had been excluded, and the campaign goes public with the claim of a man who says his son, serving overseas in the military, is in danger of having his absentee ballot not counted. A Rove staffer will later say: “The last marching order we had from Karl was: ‘Make sure you continue to talk this up. The only way we’re going to be successful is if the Alabama public continues to care about it.’” Initially, a judge rules that the absentee ballots should be counted, and Hooper and Rove, knowing the absentee ballots will give Hornsby the votes he needs to win, take the case to federal court while Rove shellacks the state with advertisements accusing Hornsby of trying to steal the election. The Hooper campaign files lawsuits against each and every probate judge, circuit clerk, and sheriff in Alabama, alleging discrimination. The Alabama Supreme Court, stocked with Democrats, orders the absentee ballots to be counted, while the federal court continues to consider the matter.
Republican Declared Winner - In October 1995, a federal appeals court rules that the absentee ballots cannot be counted, and orders Alabama to certify Hooper as chief justice. Hornsby’s campaign appeals to the US Supreme Court, but the high court refuses to overturn the verdict. With the absentee ballots discarded, Hooper wins the vote tally by 262 votes. Hooper will later tell a reporter, “That Karl Rove was a very impressive fellow.” (Green 11/2004)
Author Sheldon Rampton, an expert on public relations and propaganda, observes that the Bush administration uses what he calls “the framework of a ‘propaganda model’ of communication” in releasing information to the public and coordinating communications between administration officials and outsiders (see Early 2002 and Beyond, January 2003, and March 6, 2003). Rampton says such a model’s “strategies and assumptions are fundamentally contrary to a democratic model.… The goal of the propaganda model is simply to achieve efficient indoctrination, and it therefore tends to regard the assumptions of the democratic model as inconvenient obstacles to efficient communication.”
Inherent Contradictions - Rampton notes that using the propaganda model as a communications strategy on such a large scale is impossible in the long term. One problem the Bush administration is facing is in countering the growing disaffection with the US among other nations while simultaneously refusing to listen to criticism from these nations. He cites as examples Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s contemptuous dismissal of European opponents to the Iraq invasion as members of “old Europe” (see January 22, 2003), and Bush’s dismissal of recent worldwide protests with over 11 million participants by saying he doesn’t “decide policy based upon a focus group.” Rampton writes, “Bush’s statement speaks volumes about his inability to think outside the framework of a propaganda model of communication.” The Bush administration is an avid consumer of polls, though it goes to extraordinary lengths to give the impression that it does not. Columnist Joshua Green recently wrote that instead of using polls to determine policy, as the Clinton administration was often accused of doing, in the Bush White House, “[p]olicies are chosen beforehand [and] polls [are] used to spin them.… Because many of Bush’s policies aren’t necessarily popular with a majority of voters, [his pollsters’] job essentially consists of finding words to sell them to the public.” The administration has similar problems with spreading propaganda among foreign nations, particularly among Middle Eastern nations. Rampton writes: “The real problem with the Bush administration is that it doesn’t listen to anything but focus groups. It never thinks of public opinion as worth considering in its own right, and instead merely uses it to refine the message points that go out each day in its ‘Global Messenger’ emails” (see January 2003).
Self-Indoctrination - Rampton notes that while the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts often fail to produce the desired effects, at least to the degree desired, such persistent propaganda practices often have more success in “indoctrinating the propagandist themselves.… The discipline of ‘ensuring message consistency’ cannot hope to succeed at controlling the world’s perceptions of something as broad, sprawling, and contradictory as the Bush administration’s foreign policy. However, it may be successful at enabling people like George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to ignore the warnings coming from Europe and other quarters. As our leaders lose their ability to listen to critics, we face the danger that they will underestimate the risks and costs involved in going to war.” (Rampton 4/2003)
Several supporters of Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) throw Lauren Valle, a supporter of Paul’s opponent, Jack Conway, to the ground and deliberately stomp her head. The entire incident, which takes place minutes before a debate between Paul and Conway, is caught on camera; videos of the incident are quickly posted on the Internet. The incident occurs shortly after Valle, a member of the liberal political activism group MoveOn.org, pushes her way through a crowd of Paul supporters to approach Paul while he is still in a vehicle approaching the debate. Valle is wearing a blonde wig and carrying a sign that reads, “Rand Paul Republicorps: Member of the Month,” and her intention is to either present Paul with a mock “employee of the month award” from the fake “Republicorps” (misidentified in some news reports as “Republicore”) for his alleged support of large corporations, or to be photographed holding the sign near him. Initially, Valle is blocked from approaching Paul by a security guard and several Paul supporters. Some of the supporters pursue Valle around parked cars, until one of them trips her and sends her falling to the ground. Another supporter yanks the wig from her head. While she is down, two supporters hold her to the ground while a third stomps on her head, shoulder, and neck. While the incident is occurring, others in the crowd shout, “Get the cops!” A Lexington police spokesman will later say his department had not anticipated any violence at the debate. The spokesman, Lieutenant Edward Hart, says, “She [Valle] worked for MoveOn.org—was a contract employee sent to the debate with MoveOn.org for the purpose of getting a picture with Dr. Paul with the sign.” Valle initially refuses medical treatment, but is later hospitalized and diagnosed with a concussion and multiple sprains. She will later file an assault charge against at least one of her assailants. (Maxwell 10/25/2010; Stein 10/25/2010; Gerth and Steitzer 10/25/2010; Shahid 10/26/2010; Beutler 10/26/2010; Gerth 10/27/2010) Joshua Green, a senior editor of the Atlantic Monthly, calls the attack “truly awful.” (Green 10/25/2010) Police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts says, “[A]t this point there doesn’t seem to be anything to justify how this incident unfolded.” (Beutler 10/26/2010)
Lauren Valle's Account of the Incident - Valle later tells a reporter that she has been to other Paul campaign events, and says Paul’s staff members have “expressed their distaste for my work before.” She calls the assault “premeditated,” and explains: “[A]bout five minutes before Rand Paul’s car arrived they identified me and my partner, Alex [Giblin], who was with me. They surrounded me. There was five of them. They motioned to each other and got behind me. My partner Alex heard them say, ‘We are here to do crowd control, we might have to take someone out.’ When Rand Paul’s car arrived a couple of them stepped in front of me, so I stepped off the curb to get around them to get back out front. At that point they started grabbing for me and I ran all the way around the car with them in pursuit. The footage [referring to the video of the incident posted on a number of news Web sites and blogs] is after I’ve run all the way around the car and I’m in front of the car, and that is when they took me down. One or two people twisted my arms behind my back and took me down.… It was about two to three seconds after that that another person stomped on my head. And I lay there for 20 seconds or so, and my partner Alex came and got me up, and that’s the point where there is the media clip of me speaking.” Valle later says in response to reports that she was not struck on the head: “My memory of them is sort of that of a traumatized person. I think it was my head. My head is in a lot of pain today; my neck is kind of kinked. But I distinctly remember a blow to my head.” She says she was able to give interviews to reporters immediately after the assault because the pain started in earnest about 90 minutes later. “I was in severe shock,” she says. (Stein 10/26/2010; Shahid 10/26/2010; Sargent 10/26/2010)
Three Paul Supporters Directly Participate in Assault - Valle’s assertion that there were “five” assailants is either inaccurate, or she is including people who chased her around the parked cars but did not throw her down and stomp her against the curb. The day after the assault, new footage is posted that clearly shows an assailant’s boot coming down forcefully on her head, neck, and shoulders. One of the two men holding Valle to the ground is wearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” button, a symbol widely associated with the “tea party” movement. (Beutler 10/26/2010; Bob Layton 10/26/2010) This man is later identified by local police officials as Mike Pezzano, a Paul supporter and gun rights advocate. The other man holding Valle down is not immediately identified. (Gerth 10/27/2010; TPMDC 10/27/2010)
Stomper Charged, Identified as Paul Campaign Coordinator and Donor - The Lexington police later identify the man who initially stomped Valle as Tim Profitt, the Paul campaign coordinator for Bourbon County. Profitt will issue an apology to Valle, though he claims the camera angle makes the assault seem more violent than it was. He will state, “I’m sorry that it came to that, and I apologize if it appeared overly forceful, but I was concerned about Rand’s safety.” Profitt will later demand an apology from Valle (see October 26-29, 2010), and will also blame the police for not intervening to keep Valle away from Paul. Police confirm that Profitt is given a criminal summons. (Stein 10/26/2010; Stein 10/26/2010; Alford 10/26/2010) He will be charged with fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail, a $500 fine, or a combination of both. (Kegley 10/30/2010) Profitt is also a campaign donor, having given approximately $1,900 to Paul’s campaign along with $600 from his wife. Paul’s campaign will later refuse to return the donation (see October 26, 2010). Profitt is later dropped as Paul’s campaign coordinator and banned from future events. Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton says, “The Paul campaign has disassociated itself with the individual who took part in this incident, and once again urges all activists—on both sides—to remember that their political passions should never manifest themselves in physical altercations of any kind.” (Alford 10/26/2010; Sargent 10/26/2010; McAuliff 10/26/2010) Profitt later tells a reporter that he did not actually stomp Valle, he was merely using his foot to keep her on the ground. He cannot bend over because of back problems, he says (see October 26-29, 2010). “[I]f she can hear this,” he says, “[a]ll I was trying to do was hold her until police could get her.” He goes on to state that he believes Valle was at the rally to “hurt Rand Paul.” (Dorsett 10/26/2010)
Statements Issued - Following the incident, Paul’s campaign issues this statement: “We understand that there was an altercation outside of the debate between supporters of both sides and that is incredibly unfortunate. Violence of any kind has no place in our civil discourse and we urge supporters on all sides to be civil to one another as tensions rise heading toward this very important election. We are relieved to hear that the woman in question was not injured.” Shortly thereafter, MoveOn issues its own statement, which reads: “We’re appalled at the violent incident that occurred at the Kentucky Senate debate last night. Numerous news reports clearly show that the young woman—a MoveOn supporter—was assaulted and pushed to the ground by Rand Paul supporters, where one man held her down while another stomped on her head. This kind of violence has no place in American society, much less at a peaceful political rally. Our first concern is obviously Lauren’s health and well being. She is recovering, and we will release more details as we have them. We are concerned that no arrests have yet been made, and we hope those responsible will be brought to justice quickly, and that Rand Paul will join us in condemning this horrible act.” The next day, Paul tells a Fox News interviewer: “We want everybody to be civil. We want this campaign to be about issues. I will tell you that when we arrived there was enormous passion on both sides. It really was something where you walk into a haze of lights flashing, people yelling and screaming, bumping up. And there was a bit of a crowd control problem. I don’t want anybody though to be involved in things that aren’t civil. I think this should always be about the issues. And it is an unusual situation to have so many people so passionate on both sides jockeying back and forth. And it wasn’t something that I liked or anybody liked about that situation. So I hope in the future it is going to be better.” Conway weighs in: “I was shocked to see video footage of a Rand Paul supporter stomping the head of a woman outside the debate last night. We can disagree on issues, and I don’t know what preceded the incident, but physical violence by a man against a woman must never be tolerated. It is my hope that steps have been taken to ensure this kind of thuggish behavior never happens again in this campaign.” (Stein 10/25/2010; Sargent 10/26/2010) The progressive news site TPMDC reports that Paul calls for civility, but refuses to explictly condemn the attack. (Beutler 10/26/2010) Conway later issues the following statement: “We are still waiting for Rand Paul to apologize to the victim of this attack. A boot stomp to the head of a woman is never appropriate. Rand should apologize to her, stop blaming others, and identify the others involved in this thuggish behavior and disassociate his campaign from them immediately.” (McAuliff 10/26/2010)
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