August 26, 2006

Satire? Hit Piece?

Justin Katz

I'd like a specific answer, from Mayor Laffey, whether this (PDF) is satire:

There are many people who are too weak to live by any moral principles; they decide what is best by their own irrational whims and desires. These cowards attempt to justify their actions in two ways. Firstly, they try to bring others down to their way of life by exhorting them to compromise their values. Secondly, these moral milksops say that no one can be wholly good so please don't accuse me of being all bad. It is these same ingrates who belittle people who have clear, simple answers to the world's problems. They accuse others of seeing things in black and white, as if that was bad, impossible, or somehow wrong. What these poltroons are really saying is "Please don't discriminate between right and wrong."

Now, I'd be the first to express pretend astonishment that the Providence Journal would offer this particular college-age Laffey column as "a sample of a humor column by Stephen Laffey in a campus newspaper," rather than, say, the column from which Scott MacKay has drawn his first example, from which the headline was drawn, and on which Laffey was specifically using the humor defense. If the Providence Journal intended to prove that its pretense toward journalistic neutrality is merely a cover for aspirations toward status as a political force in this state, it could have comported itself no better.

That doesn't, however, excuse Laffey for taking the politically expedient route of disavowing all of his writing at the time. How refreshing it would be if the mayor would quickly put a larger sampling of his college columns on his Web site and explain what principles expressed therein were legitimately held and which were "over the top." Doing so might (one can only surmise) help to resolve some of the ambiguity that Rhode Island conservatives find in his persona.

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I belive the Projo probably picked that piece because it gives an in-depth insight to Laffey's approach to the world in his own words.

As for Laffey justiying his conservative credentials, I wouldn't hold your breath. He spent a couple of years leading up to the election to consolidate his conservative base. Now he needs moderates, not conservatives at this point and he'll do what it takes to get them.

Posted by: Anthony at August 26, 2006 8:16 PM

I wouldn't read to much into the word "all" ... I actually read the PDF piece that was available online, and it was rather well written, if I might say so. A lot of it was really on the mark. I just wish he's give some speeches based on that material today! It certainly should make conservatives feel a lot better about supporting Laffey, if they were having any doubts. Very Reaganesque.

Anyway, while I do understand the expediency of how he "disavowed" rather generically his writing (any writing that might be now deemed offensive to some), it might be too complicated for him to disavow some, and stand by others. His purpose I think was to avoid putting too much focus on any of it, as he doesn't want to provide more attention to this latest political dirty trick than need be. He's trying to stay on message.

Posted by: Will at August 27, 2006 4:03 AM

I understand that that's what he's doing, Will, but the question is raised: "too complicated" for whom?

The Projo sample piece does not strike me as humorous at all, which is suggestive of the possibility that some intention existed to undermine the claim that other pieces were humorous. It would reveal not a little integrity and political daring to produce the more controversial piece to provide the missing context.

(N.B. — Admittedly, I'm putting some weight on my assumption that the reason the Projo didn't provide the more controversial column in full was that context would mitigate the controversy.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 27, 2006 7:16 AM

Justin, it's all just too complicated for the voters. They aren't capable of understanding what Laffey was trying to say and they won't be able to distinguish what he columns he meant and what columns were just supposed to be funny. Forget that Laffey wrote anything and let's just move on....

Posted by: Anthony at August 27, 2006 8:31 AM

The ProJo published this Laffey story as an attempt to put pressure on Laffey pre-debate and to spark a fire of controversy for the Laffey campaign.
Thankfully it has not and will not work.
It is shameful for the ProJo to be publishing this irrevelant nonsense 2 weeks out from a primary.
It is clear the ProJo has a pro-Chafee agenda.
I've long ago grown tired of the ProJo's liberal agenda to the point where I cancelled my subscription many months ago.
I would advise/encourage all others to do the same.

Posted by: Tim at August 27, 2006 9:56 AM

Tim, so if you're Scott MacKay at the Journal, you wouldn't publish it?

Posted by: Anthony at August 27, 2006 11:14 AM


No I would not have printed this story dropped in my journalistic lap 2 weeks prior to a primary election by some "anonymous" person about something Steve Laffey (or a Linc Chafee or a Sheldon Whitehouse) wrote 20 plus years ago.
All media must way the pros and cons and basic fairness of any story they choose to run at election time.
This doesn't pass the fairness smell test but we are talking about the ProJo here. Scott MacKay is a well known liberal Democrat and union shill so always consider that when reading his stuff.

Posted by: Tim at August 27, 2006 3:00 PM

"Scott MacKay is a well known liberal Democrat and union shill "

I agree with your characterization, Tim. So that makes MacKay a Whitehouse guy. And therefore, in theory, he wants Laffey to win the GOP primary. But then, why didn't he pretend he did not receive or refuse to release (for the many reasons stated on this blog) the Laffey papers? Did his dislike of Laffey exceed his desire to help Whitehouse?

Posted by: SusanD at August 27, 2006 7:15 PM

One question that nobody has asked of Laffey is whether or not he has made anti-gay comments since his college days. Say in 2001?

Posted by: Anthony at August 27, 2006 7:18 PM


Wow, very impressive and well done.

If I didn't already have a g/f, I'd ask if you were single.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at August 27, 2006 8:05 PM


"I understand that that's what he's doing, Will, but the question is raised: "too complicated" for whom?"

Unfortunately, too complicated for most voters, who are no where near as engaged as people like us. That's not to say they are dumb -- they just have other things going on that they consider to be more important. Most voters have fairly short attention spans during election cycles -- probably as a result of hearing and seeing politicians ads too much -- and tend to take what they read or hear at face value, without really questioning any of it (kind of like "if it's in the newspaper, it must be true" syndrome). If Laffey allows this political blurp to take on any more importance than it deserves, then he is playing into his enemies hands, which might detract from his overall message, which he has been doing awfully well at getting across as of late. He can't be letting other people set the agenda that he wants to emphasize.

Unfortunately, most voters are not paying attention to nuance or putting things into their appropriate context, according to the time and place that they occured -- if they did, we wouldn't have a bumper sticker industry, would we? I wish I could say that many voters aren't like that, but I'd be lying if I stated otherwise.

A good example: I've actually had several people ask me (a Laffey supporter): "Why does Laffey want old people to die?" (after they've seen that Chafee TV ad). If course, I always explain that he doesn't, provide them the whole story about how a few words were taken out of context from a radio interview, and then spun around until they were no longer truthful, and then they usually understand that it's just politics at its worst and forget about it. While that's able to be refuted in a one on one setting rather effectively, unfortunately once "something" is out there, it's generally difficult to put the genie back in the bottle; i.e. the damage has been done. Basically, that's why politicans run negative ads, because to a certain extent, they work -- especially on people who've not been fully engaged in the campaigns.

It's just less complicated for him to dismiss something generally, than to give any of it credence specifically.

Posted by: Will at August 28, 2006 12:33 AM

Premise #1

These papers should have remained off the table. But like they say, “all is fair in love and war.”

The fact they exist is history. The fact they were resurrected right now is suspicious at best. To vet every paper, every opinion, and every philosophical position; and then classify each one as serious, humorous, satirical, sarcastic, or any number of specific or general perspectives would be the work of a serious biographer or academic scholar. MacKay, who if sincere and astute, should have realized this and held off until he could have read Laffey’s body of work and offered a wise commentary not just a quick stick in the eye. This is clearly opportunism at its worst.

Laffey could in no way respond (nor would he want to) to everything he ever wrote in college, at least not right now with only a couple of weeks to the Primary and the following general election. Its time to focus on the current battles. Not on the past. Humorous is generic enough a catch phrase to cover it all for now. I’m still smiling.

It would be one thing if someone were to display the volume of work for those who actually cared to learn what his positions were back then.

What has happened, on the other hand, is an opportunistic and unprofessional magnification of several well-chosen, juicy tidbits designed to damage Laffey personally as opposed to a less severe, well-documented or scholarly examination of a college student’s writings and where he stands now.

I once told a friend that political campaigns are like war, but even worse. With war you leave your family home and go off to fight. In politics you take your family with you into the carnage.

When you are close to the campaign process and you see these kinds of grotesque tactics being used in an all out assault to hold on to power it actually energizes you to fight harder, persevere longer, and pray even more confidently for victory.

And victory will only be sweeter knowing we defeated an enemy and not a friend.

J Mahn

PS. It will probably get worse before it gets better.

Posted by: Joe Mahn at August 28, 2006 12:39 AM

1. Laffey wrote the pieces when he was an adult.

2. An adult is responsible for his or her own actions.

3. Voters are also adults.

4. Adults have the right to vote.

5. Voters have the right to know information that allows them to forumlate their own opinions by rationally analyzing the available information.

Suggesting that the press hold back on providing voters information because it "is too complicated for most voters who are not as engaged as people like us" reeks of paternalism and sounds like something Fidel Castro might say.

Justin, I think Will's message is that you should accept it, follow Steve Laffey, and don't ask questions.

Posted by: Anthony at August 28, 2006 11:24 AM

What is the matter with you Chafee shills. Now you didn't happen to see Hardball on Friday did you??? Is THAT what this is all about? Are you afraid of the fact that Chris Matthews loved what Steve Laffey had to say?? And, you know damn well, that if Chris Matthews liked him, a lot of other independent/moderate/liberal leaning voters here in RI might, just might, think the same way. These are the very voters you were counting on to save Chafee. Are you finally coming to the realization that Laffey is right on the major issues of this campaign and these voters will agree with him on September 12, in a big way?
What this is really all about is the fact that Chafee is history and you know it! This issue represents the last desperate grasp of a dying campaign.

Posted by: Jim at August 28, 2006 12:58 PM

Anthony, I did NOT state that "the press hold back on providing voters information," so don't lie or use spin. What I said, is that Laffey should not do anything to allow a dirty tricks campaign engineered by the other side to gain any momentum, by giving this any more credibility than absolutely necessary. He's acknowledged it, put it in context, and moved on to heading towards victory.

Laffey is doing a superb job staying on message and on the offensive, so he does not need to justify himself to people like you, who want him to spend limited time and resources responding to something that is simply not relevant. If you want to start bringing up the college "doings" of the Senate candidates, you won't like it, trust me (snort, snort). You can spin it any way you like, however, I stated something that is completely true: most voters AREN'T as engaged in this as we are.

I don't care if anything sounds paternalistic, if it's true. Sometimes the truth is hard to take. If they were fully engaged, we'd be probably seeing a lot more comments from other folks here, nor would we be living in a state, that despite it's many good qualities, is little more than a cesspool of corruption. Most people have other areas where they put more importance on, than on politics -- certainly not on things that happened over twenty years ago that don't impact their lives today. Not everyone eats and breathes C-SPAN, talk radio, and blogs.

Posted by: Will at August 28, 2006 2:31 PM

Will, you seem to think that people aren't smart enough to handle the truth. Perhaps you didn't specifically say the Projo shouldn't have published the story, but others did. I shouldn't have attributed the press remark to you, but rather to Tim. I disagree and think voters should be provided with all information, provided it is not based on rumors and/or innuendo or involves a candidate's family members.

As for Chafee's college days, in my book that is fair game as well. He admitted to illegally using drugs during the last election, but if Laffey thinks bringing this fact up to Rhode Island voters would help inform them, than by all means, he should go right ahead. Laffey also brought up Chafee shoeing horses without the right paperwork in Canada when he was 23. Fine, let the people decide.

Personally, I think the only reason that Laffey hasn't brought up the drug use issue is because Chafee's numbers went up during his 2000 race when he addressed it honestly and got a plug on the Today show as a result.

Laffey and Chafee are public figures running for public office. He wrote these columns for a public newspaper. He was an adult.

If an 18 year old commits a crime, he is held responsible for its consequences. It's up to the people to decide whether to consider it in their decision-making process.

Someone obviously timed the mailing of Laffey's articles to the Projo. Does that mean that Laffey didn't write them? Does that mean that the Projo shouldn't have printed them? Of course not.

Contrary to Tim's beliefs, the Projo published the story on a Saturday which is probably its lowest circulation. If the Projo wanted to make this a big headline, they wouldn' have run it on a Saturday. The reporter also didn't ask whether or not Laffey has made similar comments after college. Laffey should be thankful for the kid-glove treatment.

Is this newsworthy? Judging by the number of media outlets that have picked up the story (Washington Post, LA Times, FOX, ABC, CBS as well as media in Canada, the UK and Australia), yes. (I got that from doing a search for Chafee Laffey on Google News).

If you choose to dismiss it as funny college hijinks, that's your choice. But others should be able to make their own decisions--even if they appear to be "complicated".

Posted by: Anthony at August 28, 2006 3:14 PM

How should we deal with Chafee's cocaine use, as an adult, while in college?

Posted by: Jim at August 28, 2006 3:58 PM

I'd say you address Chafee's coke use as Matt Lauer and Katie Couric did on the Today show during the 2000 election. Head on.

Posted by: Anthony at August 28, 2006 4:15 PM

And I never once remembering Chafee criticize the reporters who brought the topic up.

Posted by: Anthony at August 28, 2006 4:17 PM


Linc Chafee has as many fans in the Democratic party/union/media ranks as Laffey has enemies. Do not assume that helping out Whitehouse would supercede an attempted smear against Laffey given the level of hatred these folk possess. If you heard Bill Rappleye's comments today on Yorke's show during the 3 pm hour then you know exactly what I'm talking about vis-a-vis the media's obvious bias when it comes to Steve Laffey.
By the way Susan I do hope you can overcome this tremendous emotional upset in finding out the Bobby Oliveira is unavailable to you. lol

Posted by: Tim at August 28, 2006 7:05 PM

LAFFEY '06 is finished. Period. I'd love to see that punk Laffey attempt to realize his violent fantasies with these people -

Posted by: PDM at August 29, 2006 8:25 PM

LAFFEY '06 is finished. Period. I'd love to see that punk Laffey attempt to realize his violent fantasies with these people -

Posted by: PDM at August 29, 2006 8:25 PM

Guess ol' Steverino's been outed as a thug.
If Laffey does win, let's see the NRSC try to defend this. If a Chafee defeat makes the NRSC look bad, getting behind Laffey after all the atrillery they've fired at him will only make them look worse.

Posted by: Rhody at September 2, 2006 3:27 AM