Profile: Manchester Union-Leader
Manchester Union-Leader was a participant or observer in the following events:
Edmund Muskie. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Less than two weeks before the New Hampshire presidential primary, the Manchester Union-Leader publishes a letter to the editor alleging that leading Democratic candidate and Maine senator Edmund Muskie approved a racial slur of Americans of French-Canadian descent (an important voting bloc in New Hampshire), and notes: “We have always known that Senator Muskie was a hypocrite. But we never expected to have it so clearly revealed as in this letter sent to us from Florida.” The crudely written letter becomes widely known as the “Canuck letter.” The next day, the paper’s publisher, William Loeb, publishes an attack on Muskie’s wife. An angry Muskie denounces the letter and the editorial, calling Loeb a “gutless coward,” and in the process apparently bursts into tears. The media focuses on Muskie’s tears, and the “weakness” it implies. As a result, Muskie’s standing in the polls begins to slip, and when votes are cast in New Hampshire, Muskie receives only 48% of the vote, far less than predicted. The letter is later found to have been a “dirty trick” of the Nixon campaign committee (see October 10, 1972), with White House communications official Ken Clawson admitting to actually writing the letter (see October 10, 1972). [Washington Post, 10/10/1972; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
View from 1987 - In 1987, David Broder, the author of the Washington Post story on the incident, recalls: “In retrospect, though, there were a few problems with the Muskie story. First, it is unclear whether Muskie did cry.… Melting snow from his hatless head filled his eyes, he said, and made him wipe his face… the senator believes that he was damaged more by the press and television coverage of the event than by his own actions… it is now clear that the incident should have been placed in a different context: Muskie was victimized by the classic dirty trick that had been engineered by agents of the distant and detached President Nixon. The Loeb editorial that had brought Muskie out in the snowstorm had been based on a letter forged by a White House staff member intent on destroying Muskie’s credibility. But we didn’t know that and we didn’t work hard enough to find out.… Had those facts been known, I might have described Muskie in different terms: not as a victim of his over-ambitious campaign strategy and his too-human temperament, but as the victim of a fraud, managed by operatives of a frightened and unscrupulous president. That story surely would have had a different impact…. Unwittingly, I did my part in the work of the Nixon operatives in helping destroy the credibility of the Muskie candidacy.”
Media Expectations - Broder will admit that the story falls neatly into a storyline many in the media want to report: “the unraveling of a presidential front-runner’s campaign.” Muskie has shown frequent bouts of anger; according to Broder, many reporters are just waiting for something to trigger Muskie into an outburst that will damage his candidacy. For himself, Muskie will describe his emotional reaction: “I was just g_ddamned mad and choked up over my anger.… [I]t was a bad scene, whatever it was.” [Washington Monthly, 2/1987]
Washington Post staff writer Marilyn Berger reports that the deputy director of White House communications, Ken W. Clawson, told her in regards to the infamous “Canuck letter” (see February 24-25, 1972) that sabotaged Democrat Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign, “I wrote the letter.” Berger says the conversation took place on September 25, over drinks at her apartment.
Woodward Skeptical - Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is initially dubious; Clawson, a former Post reporter, had joined the White House a mere three weeks before the letter was given to the Union-Leader. But Woodward remembers something a friend had told him about new White House aides being ordered to prove themselves by “screwing an enemy of the White House.” Perhaps the letter was Clawson’s rite of initiation, Woodward reasons. Berger says that Clawson saw nothing morally or ethically wrong with writing such a letter. “That’s politics, that’s the way things are,” he told her. Berger confirms the story during a hastily arranged lunch date with Clawson, but Clawson says he will deny it “on a stack of Bibles over his mother’s grave” if asked. In a phone call to Woodward, Clawson denies writing the letter, and claims that Berger is mistaken. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 136-141]
Alleged Author Never Located - The conservative newspaper publisher who printed the letter, William Loeb of the Manchester Union-Leader, says that the letter’s purported author, “Paul Davenport,” has never been located, and though he believes the letter to be authentic, he is now investigating the particulars of the letter because of a letter he has received that alleged someone else was paid $1,000 to assist with the “Canuck hoax.” The editor of the Union-Leader, B. J. McQuaid, says cryptically that Clawson had been “useful” to the paper in connection with the letter. [Washington Post, 10/10/1972]
President Reagan and Dartmouth Review editor Dinesh D’Souza, 1988. [Source: Exiled Online (.com)]The Dartmouth Review, a conservative weekly student newspaper funded by off-campus right-wing sources (see 1980), publishes a satirical piece called “Grin and Beirut,” that compares an Israeli settlement in West Beirut to a temporary structure just erected by Jewish students at Dartmouth to celebrate the harvest and saying it was built on “the West Bank of College Hall.” The structure, known as a sukkah, is where the students gather for meals during the eight-day Succoth holiday. “The Zionists have gone too far with the erection of a ceremonial ‘sukkah’ settlement on the West Bank of College Hall,” the Review writes. Two days later, unidentified vandals destroy the structure. Many Dartmouth students and faculty members believe the Review’s apparent anti-Semitism incited the vandalism, including a rabbi with the university. Even the conservative Manchester Union-Leader, one of New Hampshire’s staunchest press supporters of the Review, criticizes the Review for its writings. One of the article’s co-authors says he regrets writing the piece, and the Review publishes an apology saying that it is “committed to fighting not only vandalism but also the psychological bigotry that can precipitate it.” [Boston Globe, 10/5/1990; Dartmouth Free Press, 9/20/2006] In 2006, the Dartmouth Free Press will write that Review staffers may have destroyed the sukkah. The reporter will note that any contrition or commitment to “fighting vandalism [and] psychological bigotry” was not in evidence in later years, when Review staffers used sledgehammers to destroy shanties built by students as part of protests against apartheid in South Africa. [Dartmouth Free Press, 9/20/2006] The Review is currently edited by Dinesh D’Souza, who will go on to become a policy adviser in the Reagan administration and a prominent conservative speaker and pundit. [Know Your Right-Wing Speakers: Dinesh D'Souza, 2/25/2005]
Democratic Socialists of America logo. [Source: Social Democrats]The Drudge Report and other media sources falsely accuse the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a leftist political organization in New York, of “sending people to MN to illegally vote for [Senator Paul] Wellstone.” Wellstone, a Democrat, is running for re-election as senator for Minnesota. Drudge’s headline links to a fundraising appeal from the DSA that asks for donations to send students to help register voters in Minnesota. The Drudge Report is one of the most popular news sites on the Internet, receiving over 100 million visits in the last month. The appeal reads in part: “DSA’s national electoral project this year is the Minnesota Senate Election. Together with YDS, DSA’s Youth Section, we are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota. Minnesota is one of the few states that allow same day voter registration. We will therefore focus our energy on registering young people. Wellstone will need a high percentage of young people to register and vote for him if he is to stave off the campaign that Bush, the Republicans, and the Greens are waging against him. He is the Right’s Number One electoral target. Because we are focusing on issue based voter registration this electoral work can be supported by tax-deductible contributions. The DSA FUND is soliciting tax-deductible contributions to support this project. Contributions are needed to underwrite the costs of transportation as well as providing a stipend for expenses; housing is being donated.” The appeal states that the DSA wants to send students to register voters, a perfectly legal activity, though Spinsanity’s Bryan Keefer notes that the appeal is somewhat confusing in its wording. [Spinsanity, 10/16/2002; Spinsanity, 10/18/2002] The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: “Minnesota, which always ranks high in voter turnout, generally is considered one of the easiest states in which to vote. Voters must reside in the state for at least 20 days before the election, a deadline that passed on the day the league issued its press release. If not preregistered, qualified people can vote if they show proof of their residency at the polling place or have a registered voter from that precinct vouch for their residency.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 10/17/2002]
October 14 - The controversy begins with a press release from the Taxpayers League of Minnesota (TLM), a conservative advocacy group, that attacks the DSA’s voter registration effort as “one of the most transparent attempts to steal an election since the Daley machine ran Chicago politics.” The release mischaracterizes the DSA’s appeal as supposedly announcing the DSA’s intention to bring “ringers” in to Minnesota to vote, stating, “This is a transparent attempt to steal this election by using Minnesota’s liberal election laws to register out-of-state students to vote for Wellstone.”
October 15 - The DSA rewrites its appeal to read, “We will therefore focus our energy on registering young Minnesotans.”
October 16 - Matt Drudge puts a link to the DSA appeal on the top of his Web site, the Drudge Report, with the headline, “Socialists Sending People to MN to illegally vote for Wellstone.” Talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners: “[DSA has] been caught. ‘We are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota’ is what it says on the Web site. It doesn’t say ‘We are mobilizing to bring out the young people who live in Minnesota to vote,’ it doesn’t say that.… And then it says: ‘By the way, did you know Minnesota is one of the few states that allows same-day voter registration? You can go in there and register and vote and split the same day, you can go home, you don’t even have to spend the night in Minnesota and freeze if you don’t want to, you can go in there and vote and leave.’” Fox News anchor Brit Hume repeats the accusation this evening, telling viewers, “The Democratic Socialists of America, which bill themselves as the largest socialist organization in the country, is raising tax-deductible money to send young people to the state of Minnesota, where they can take advantage of same-day registration to vote for the liberal incumbent Paul Wellstone.” The DSA removes the appeal from its Web site, saying that it has received enough donations and its donation system was being abused. Keefer writes: “Criminal allegations are [a] serious matter. Drudge’s casual assertions of illegal activity are wildly irresponsible, especially since they are directly contradicted by the story itself. One would think he would at least read the stories he links to carefully before summarizing them with such potentially libelous accusations.” [Spinsanity, 10/16/2002; Spinsanity, 10/18/2002]
October 17 - A Manchester Union-Leader editorial claims, “The Democratic Socialists of America, otherwise known simply as socialists, have organized a campaign to steal the US Senate election in Minnesota.” David Strom, the head of the Taxpayers League, tries to back away from the controversy, saying: “My tongue was placed firmly in my cheek. There are so few socialists left that they could meet in a phone booth.” Strom adds that “even if they themselves [the DSA] are not plotting some grand voter fraud,” the TLM merely wishes to demonstrate that the “laws that we have make it easy to commit fraud.” (The Star-Tribune notes that Strom’s organization is “funded largely by donors to conservative Republican candidates and causes.”) DSA national director Frank Llewellyn says that the TLM’s characterization of the DSA’s voter-registration efforts constitutes a “new sophisticated form of red-baiting.” Llewellyn says his group plans to send between 10 and 20 people to Minnesota to help organize support for Wellstone, and that no one from the DSA will actually try to vote. Wellstone’s campaign issues a statement saying it knows nothing about the group and does not approve of any attempts to register illegally. It also deplores the success of the TLM in ginning up a controversy where none exists, citing extensive coverage on local radio talk shows. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 10/17/2002; Spinsanity, 10/18/2002]
October 18 - The Wall Street Journal joins the fray, claiming in an editorial, “The Democratic Socialists of America recently posted an ad on their Web site inviting tax-deductible contributions to ‘bring young people to Minnesota’ to vote in the close US Senate race there.” Unlike Limbaugh and Hume, the Journal provides more information about the claim, quoting Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer about the concerns over voter fraud, and labeling the DSA ad “clear… advocacy.” The same day, Kiffmeyer’s office affirms that the DSA’s plans to bring in out-of-state students to register Minnesota voters is legal, but the organization needs to ensure that it does not cross the line into advocacy. Keefer writes: “While it is legitimate to ask whether the DSA’s advertisement constituted illegal advocacy, the ad was clearly intended to promote the registration of young voters likely to vote for Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, which is perfectly legal. Even the loose wording of the original statement does not excuse the false reports of planned voter fraud propagated by Drudge, Limbaugh, Hume, and others.” [Spinsanity, 10/16/2002; Spinsanity, 10/18/2002]
'Smear' - In 2003, liberal author and columnist Eric Alterman will write that “Drudge and Limbaugh combined, together with Brit Hume of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, to effect a smear against the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and by extension, the late Senator Wellstone’s re-election campaign.” (Wellstone will die in a plane crash on October 25.) Alterman will write that the incident contains “all the trademarks of the conservative echo-chamber effect, including unproven innuendo, inaccuracy, repeated cavalier use of unchecked facts, all in the service of a clear political/ideological goal.” [New York Times, 10/25/2002; Alterman, 2003, pp. 79-80]
Entity Tags: Paul Wellstone, Rush Limbaugh, Wall Street Journal, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Matt Drudge, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Manchester Union-Leader, Brit Hume, Mary Kiffmeyer, Bryan Keefer, Democratic Socialists of America, David Strom, Frank Llewellyn, Eric Alterman, Drudge Report
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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