Columns » John Brummett

Plum out of context

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On Tuesday, a lawyer for Mike Beebe’s campaign sent a letter to television stations asking that they stop airing a commercial because it tells falsehoods about Beebe, and, by mere incidental sideswipe, this columnist.

They tell me that politics isn’t beanbag. Both sides spin and overstate, especially here at the end.

I’ve written so much truth about Arkansas politics for so long that both sides could easily lift a passage here and there, and, in the immortal words of the late, great Frank White, “blow it plum out of context.”

So, I hesitate to pick out one side — the Republican side — and call it a liar.

But events behoove me to do something. I think I’ll just lay out the facts and let you decide.

A supposedly “independent” group that in reality is a Republican hit squad has been airing a television commercial trying to morph the uncorrupt Mike Beebe into the corrupt Nick Wilson. It has to do with that children’s legal defense scandal that Wilson spearheaded and for which he eventually got himself thrown in jail.

The commercial says a newspaper said Beebe was “embedded in disdainful behavior.” That quote is flashed on the screen with the logo of the Little Rock daily, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Viewers might have reason to assume that the quote was by the paper institutionally, either in straight news reporting or a formal editorial representing the official opinion of the newspaper.

Actually, though, the quote comes from one of the paper’s former personal opinion columnists.

The quote is from a column I wrote back in 1997 when I worked for that paper.

Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll take a little space and quote the first four paragraphs of that particular column. I’ll take just a moment simply to explain that, at the time, Beebe was pondering a challenge to Mike Huckabee that he decided not to make.

Here goes, quoting myself from nearly a decade ago:

“State Sen. Mike Beebe of Searcy golfed Thursday with Bill Clinton out at Chenal. Perhaps the president advised him between mulligans on how to overcome overwhelming political odds and withstand the innuendo of scandal based on peripheral associations.

“The latest legislative outrage — the most recently exposed insiders’ raid on your money — has worrisome implications for Arkansas Democrats who were beginning to sidle up to Beebe as their challenger to Gov. Mike Huckabee’s election next year.

“Beebe has formed a gubernatorial exploratory committee, raised a lot of money swiftly in $100 increments and won a thoroughly favorable front-page biographical article in the statewide press. But now comes ‘Lawyergate,’ advancing the personable litigator to an upper-level course in the perils of electoral politics.

“That Beebe is probably specifically innocent is nearly beside the point. It may not be fair that now he’ll have to run with Nick Wilson and Jim Guy Tucker around his neck. But we’re talking about politics after all, and fairness doesn’t apply. Beebe is embedded in the periphery of disdainful behavior, and the perception is ripe for exploitation.”

That’s it.

I ask you one thing: Did a newspaper say Beebe was embedded in disdainful behavior, or did one of its former personal opinion columnists say that despite Beebe’s likely innocence, he found himself embedded not in disdainful behavior, but the periphery thereof, and vulnerable not to fair and factual attack, but to innuendo and exploitation; and is it not a fact that this current commercial misquotes the column in question by conspicuously extracting three of the personal opinion columnists’ key words, those being “the” and “periphery” and “of?”

Thank you for your fair and objective consideration of the lie these sorry rascals have told on me.

At least it was grown-ups doing the talking.

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