“There (the editor) and the Naples Daily News go again, employing tried and true Saul Alinsky tactics right out of ‘Rules for Radicals’ against a U.S. House candidate that doesn’t fit your Associated Press news outlet’s agenda.”
This syntactically challenging quote is taken from an April 24 letter to the Naples Daily News. It was approved for publication by the same editor accused of “Rules for Radicals” tactics. The reference to this book and its author Saul Alinsky is aimed at insiders familiar with conservative shorthand.
For those who aren’t familiar, Alinsky was a leftist twentieth-century community organizer, whose work improved living conditions for ghetto residents in major American cities. Later in the letter, the writer lists several of the rules in Alinsky’s book. Here’s #12: “’Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.’ Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.”
Wait a minute. The “target” is being “cut off” from his support network?
Like so many before and no doubt after him, this writer seems not to grasp a simple truth: the engine of misdeeds as he sees them, the editor and his newspaper, have freely chosen to interpret their civic responsibility to include publication of criticism leveled against them. Otherwise, the criticism would never gain an audience bigger than the writer’s foursome drinking beer after golf.
The issue angering the writer has to do with three editorials related to a would-be Congressional candidate’s approach to campaigning. In the first editorial, the candidate is quoted as saying “we are getting our message across to people of all ages in modern ways.”
The most newsworthy of these modern ways was the purchase of web addresses that included the names of the candidate’s opponents. Why do this? In order to turn the addresses into websites attacking the opponents. Web surfers typing in the name of an opponent would be directed to these addresses, not just to his legitimate website, and would see a message attacking him.
Once it was exposed by the press, this approach to “getting our message across to people of all ages in modern ways” was not well received. When asked for an explanation, the candidate’s staff stonewalled: “We are not going to publicize our strategy to win this campaign, whether it is for the Internet, TV, radio or mail.” This best-defense-is-a-strong-offense approach was further underscored by the campaign’s chief spokesman: “We strategically acquired the tools and means to get out the truth about our liberal opponent. We believe in capitalism.”
How are voters to understand this? A belief in capitalism has guided a campaign strategy. This strategy involves the purchase of web addresses that include the names of opponents. The purpose is twofold: to prevent the opponents from getting the addresses, and then to use them for posting attack messages.
As negative pressure grew, the candidate rethought this strategy. In the third and final editorial, we learn he has generously decided to donate the purloined addresses to his opponents. Describing this decision as an “epiphany,” the editor offered his own impression: “Donate? Would that be the word for rounding up a pile of dog doo-doo for your foe to step in, then being found out and offering the pile as a gift to make nice? Good grief.”
What’s at issue in this story is not gotcha! journalism, or rules for radicals, and it goes well beyond exposing the moral blinders that one political opportunist has freely chosen to wear. It speaks to an issue of central importance to all those who claim to champion level playing fields, rules, fair play, etc.
The issue is a permanent one, having to do with maintaining vigilance regarding the means used to achieve ends. This vigilance is now being challenged by new technologies.
Grasping what’s at stake leads me to a pair of questions: First, for whom do I vote? Do I actually listen to debate, in order to learn which man or woman displays a quality of thought worthy of my respect? Or do I habitually dismiss criticism and vote by party, even if my party’s candidate uses cutting-edge manipulation and deception that smells of Watergate dirty tricks, but may still be legal?
The second question is rhetorical, because we all know or should know the answer: in the absence of a free press that does its best to keep all politicians honest, could there be any democracy at all?
Knister retired from full-time teaching in 2008. His second novel, “Just Bill,” is available in e-book and print form through Amazon. He can be reached at email@example.com.