Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Candidate, Same Old Spin

Recently, first-time candidate for Texas House District 102 Stefani Carter was caught plagiarizing lines from Barack Obama for her own stump speech. The wording of Carter's speech was thoroughly covered by many, but today I want to look at her side's defense against the charges of plagiarism and resume padding. It exhibits just as much political spin as her stump speech that got her in trouble.

After the jump, a case of political spin deconstructed.

The Dallas Morning News quotes from both Carter and Dallas County Republican Party Jonathan Neerman defending Carter.

Neerman says, "This is small ball." Notice he doesn't deny the charges. He downplays the significance of the offense, without admitting to an offense at all.

Neerman is offended that Democrats point out that the fellowship that Carter touts was in reality only an internship, an internship "for which minority students are given preference." Neerman accuses Democrats of implying that Carter received the internship because she is black. Notice he doesn't deny the charge of resume padding. He seeks to turn the tables on Democrats by playing the race card. Now, I have no doubt that Carter is talented and deserved the internship, but the fact is, race was reportedly a stated factor in choosing the winner of this particular internship. I can understand why Carter doesn't want to play up this preference, especially as a GOP candidate. Still affirmative action is affirmative action. Carter should own up to it at least, even if it bugs her to have benefited from it. To deny it smacks of dishonesty.

Carter herself says, "What does Carol Kent think I did at the Heritage Foundation? Did she think I was a janitor?" This rebuttal packs quite a few non sequiturs in a short space. Non sequiturs are stock in trade for professional politicians. Ask them one question, they'll answer something else. In this case, no one said they thought Carter was a janitor. They said she was an intern. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with being a janitor, either, for that matter, and Carter's answer smacks of elitism. But the fact remains that Carter was an intern when she claimed to be a fellow. That's resume padding. Furthermore, the charge of resume padding was not made by Carol Kent. It was the Lone Star Project that uncovered Carter's resume padding, not Carol Kent. Carter's response tries to make Carol Kent the subject of the story to avoid having to address the charge of resume padding.

Finally, in response to charges that she lifted lines from Barack Obama's speech to to the 2004 Democratic Convention, Carter replies, "No party has a copyright on the American dream." This is another non sequitur, a clever one at that. No one claimed that Barack Obama has a copyright on the American dream. Copyrights don't apply to dreams. They do apply to original expressions of ideas. Obama's words were original. Carter's were not. Carter went to Harvard Law School, where she supposedly studied copyright law, so I have to conclude she's deliberately confusing the issue to avoid having to admit to plagiarism. Carter's rebuttal accomplishes two things simultaneously. It distracts from the charge of plagiarism by misconstruing what plagiarism is, while reinforcing what Carter was trying to do in the first place -- associate herself in voters' minds with a very young, just starting out, Barack Obama. A neat trick if she can pull it off.

Carter reportedly utilizes Murphy Turner Associates to help run her campaign. Murphy Turner is a political PR firm that takes pride in excelling at negative advertising. It's unknown whether Carter wrote her campaign speech herself or if Murphy Turner had a hand in it. It's also unknown how much coaching Carter received from either Murphy Turner or GOP chairman Neerman in how to respond to the charges of plagiarism and resume padding. The responses by Neerman and Carter have the feel of the slick spin of profession politicians. If this is how Stefani Carter is running her first campaign, I hate to think of the kind of politician she might grow into if she wins a seat in Austin and she serves a few terms with the pros there.

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