Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ankle-Biting Pundits, McCain, and Romney: Ethical, Maybe; But Truly Transparent?

When a political consultant acts like a political consultant, that's pretty much to be expected and there's not much interesting to say about it.

When a political consultant acts like what he is, but then pretends not to be acting that way, then something more interesting is going on.

And when what the political consultant really seems to be doing is playing religious politics on behalf of a client, but pretending not to be, then we have something really worth examining.

In response to my post below, noting that Patrick Hynes of Ankle-Biting Pundits is also a paid political consultant for John McCain, Mr. Hynes posted this comment here:
You don't know what you're talking about. I have defended Romney, the LDS church, the Prophet and the 12 Apostles. You are, simply, wrong:
In other words, "Who? Me? Playing the religion card? Never!"

The facts seem to be:

  • Mr. Hynes is regularly is putting out negative "buzz" about Mitt Romney.
  • Hynes is a consultant.
  • His business is to use the internet to shape public opinion for his clients.
  • John McCain is one of his clients.
You can draw your own conclusions.

With that in mind, a quick look at each of these URLs compels one of two conclusions: Either Hynes is trying to have a little joke on everyone, or he is, well, one disingenuous fellow.

In the first post referenced above, Hynes concludes:
So that we are clear, I don’t like Mitt Romney. I think he is a shifty, too-smooth-by-half political opportunist and I have felt this way since 1994 when I watched him tack leftward in a vein attempt to maintain his short-lived and possibly apocryphal lead over Sen. Ted Kennedy. Moreover, I generally distrust politicians whose positions on abortion are entirely dependent and what office they are presently seeking and which audience they are presently addressing. Nevertheless, I am a strong proponent of active faith in public life and Mitt Romney’s faith commitment qualifies him for high public office, it does not disqualify him; even if, as is the case, I believe his faith is misguided.

Oh yeah … and everyone knows by now that I work for McCain but that has no bearing on this post.
If that is a "defense" of Romney, I'd love to see what Hynes considers an attack. Of course, the disclosure removes any concern at all that a McCain paid consultant is getting this message out. (Doesn't it?)

The second post URL reveals these concluding paragraphs:
Finally, there is an interesting discussion over at about how journalists should even talk about this issue without coming off as ignorant and insulting to the Mormon faith, which contains some difficult doctrines that are inconsistent with Christianity, such as, as points out, a doctrine that holds that men can become gods and have their own universes of subjects in the afterlife.

And of course, the disclaimer.

Just so you know, loves to worry about Mormon doctrines that the blog's author thinks will disturb creedal Christians. How thoughtful of Hynes to "defend" Romney by referring his readers there! Of course, he drops into his post perhaps the most explosive and misunderstood such Mormon doctrine. All in a day's work of defending Mitt Romney, I guess. And after all, he did insert his disclaimer. (Did I mention that Hynes had to be "outed" as a consultant before he began adding a disclaimer to his posts? If you're like me, that fact doesn't increase your confidence in the credibility of his blogging.)

The third URL leads us to a more subtle post. This one's about the recent Boston Globe article that I fisked on the Article VI Blog:
If—and that if is an iffy one—the Romney camp and the LDS church collaborated on a pro-Romney fundraising scheme, as a chief Romney friend and consultant contends, the FEC should rebuke and fine the Romney campaign and the IRS should consider whether the Mormon Church deserves its tax exemption. But let us please end this talk of restricting the rights of high ranking Mormon individuals, be they Apostles or Prophets.

So, the open question of the day for our readers is: Do you believe the Prophet and the 12 Apostles of the Mormon Church should be allowed to engage in politics?

Disclosure: Yeah, I work for McCain. But I’m writing this post as someone who believes faith in public life is no threat to America and the Boston Globe has gone too far.

So: Hynes "defends" the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leaders by noting that if they did as the Globe reported (in a very thinly-supported article), the Church's tax exemption should come under scrutiny. Of course, losing that exemption would be the end of the Church as we know it, but don't forget, Hynes is defending the Church. As individuals, Church leaders can do what they want. Just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

Hynes is a hired professional. His job is to help McCain. His future livelihood depends in part on his success in doing that. So he's using his popular blog to get as much information out as he can that will undercut Romney and raise questions about him. This is offensive on two levels:

1. It's dishonest. If you're paid to convince readers not to vote for Romney, say so.

2. It's playing on religious prejudice. My guess is that Hynes knows very well what he's doing: Feeding the fires of anti-Mormon prejudice, or related fears or uncertainties. It's un-American and really quite disgusting. But Hynes does it with a certain elan and Clintonian brazenness, doesn't he?

I hesitate to add to the exposure that Hynes receives and thereby reward his questionable tactics, but the great thing about the blogosphere is its self-policing possibilities. A Google search reveals that Hynes has been criticized in the very recent past for manipulating the blogosphere on behalf of clients. The web page for New Media Strategics, Hynes' company, describes part of the company's business:
New Media Strategics offers its clients a higher level of service. Beyond “commenting on other people’s blogs,” president Patrick Hynes and his team design unique New Media communications plans for each NMS client.

Patrick Hynes is a blogger. He understands how bloggers receive and process information. What energizes them and, just as import, what turns them off. At the same time, Patrick Hynes and the NMS team bring a deep commitment to core message discipline and time-tested communications and marketing techniques.
. . .

Buzz Targeting™ – Often to persuade public opinion, you need to create a lot of noise to influence only a few people, sometimes only one person. Buzz Targeting™ uses blogging technology to reach decision makers and journalists with precision. Buzz Targeting™ is fast, effective, and measurable.

NMS Incubation™ – Building alliances with existing bloggers is important. But incubating new blogs that are friendly to your organization and supportive of your agenda generates a powerful echo chamber. Incubation™ develops some of the most talked about stories on the web.

. . .

Blog Releases – New Media Strategics conceptualizes, drafts, and delivers blog-friendly content (including podcasts and vodcasts) for placement on friendly or relevant blog venues.

So it seems that Hynes is simply providing for McCain the services his company advertises.

But back to the blogosphere. We shine the spotlight on deception and misdirection, we don't try to regulate it. On balance, it's more important for Hynes to be exposed than to try to deny him a big megaphone. The voters who count will smell garbage when it's put before them. The others who like what Hynes is doing would never vote for Romney anyway.

Enough. A cat is always going to act like a cat, and a scorpion will always act like a scorpion. Hynes is simply doing what he does. But I do have some questions:

  • Does John McCain know what Hynes is doing?

  • If so, does he approve of this sort of religious politics?

  • If he does, how much more of this charming behavior will we see as the campaign unfolds?

We're waiting to see.

Oh, yes, I have a disclaimer too: I'm a Romney supporter and have donated to his PAC. But I'm sure not being paid by him.

Update: This post also appears in full at Article VI Blog.


Blogger Harold C. Hutchison said...

I think McCain needs to be asked point-blank if he is going to push the "Mormon question" - with continual hammering on this issue. 

Posted by Harold C. Hutchison

Friday, October 27, 2006 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous DL said...

McCain, the bluster candidate, rules his MSM created universe by intimidation, disloyalty and manipulation of reality. The last thing the GOP needs is a man of dubious character - McCain, if elected will do more harm to the Party and the Country than all the Hillary's in the world. I seriously believe he has psych problems - I know he has morality problems. (Think Keating Five) I'm with Mitt on this one all the way 

Posted by DL

Monday, October 30, 2006 5:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim H said...

I do know quite a bit about the Mormon Church and the way they operate. The Mormon Church was in the middle of this. They have been involved in this type of thing in the past, three times of which I have personal knowledge.

There are some things that scare me about Romney's connection to the Mormon Church. First is their desire for blind obedience. Here are a couple of quotes from their current leaders:

"Obedience is a fundamental law of the gospel. It is not only the demonstration of our faith but also the foundation of our faith. Unquestioning obedience to the Lord indicates that a person has developed faith and trust in Him to the point where he or she considers all inspired instruction — whether it be recorded scripture or the words of modern prophets  — to be worthy of obedience."
- Elder Robert Oaks, "Believe All Things," Ensign, July 2005, page 30

"On this occasion I am not going to talk about the good or bad of Prohibition but rather of uncompromising loyalty to the Church." "How grateful, my brethren, I feel, how profoundly grateful for the tremendous faith of so many Latter-day Saints who, when facing a major decision on which the Church has taken a stand, align themselves with that position. And I am especially grateful to be able to say that among those who are loyal are men and women of achievement, of accomplishment, of education, of influence, of strength-highly intelligent and capable individuals."
- President Gordon B. Hinckley. "Loyalty," April Conference, 2003.
Now the oath of loyalty that he has made to the Mormon Church:

It is that you do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents and everything which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.
To my knowledge, they have not called on him to fulfill his committment, but there is no question about where his committment lies.

Posted by Jhuston

Monday, November 27, 2006 9:44:00 AM  

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