The “Special Olympics” dirty trick

Make a disgusting flyer, try to plant it on your opponent. When caught, just keep saying “The facts are the facts.”

Nick Confessore profiles the latest GOP dirty trick: the “Special Olympics” flyer. The details are too disgusting for me to want to recite them; just follow the link.

The Special Olympics folks seem to have been completely taken in: their press release buys into the Repubican narrative.

I just sent the following email to Kirsten Suto, the Special Olympics PR person:

Dear Kirsten Suto:

I publish a weblog. I’ve been posting on “dirty tricks” in the current election cycle. The one I’m looking into now is the apparent attempt by Republican operatives to plant a flyer making fun of the developmentally disabled and of the Special Olympics in the campaign office of a Democratic legislative candidate in Tennessee, Craig Fitzhugh.

Some details on how the trick was done are available here:

The most recent Associated Press story is here:

No one even claims to have seen the flyer in the Democrat’s campaign office, other than in the trash; the person pointed to by Republicans as having seen it there says that he got the flyer from someone else. The flyer could serve no conceivable political purpose for the Democrat, but serves an obvious one for his opponent.

The flyer received wide attention only when an account of it was posted on, a pro-Republican website, with a link to the Traditional Values Coalition, an extreme right-wing site specializing in gay-baiting whose operator, Lou Sheldon, has a history as a paid Republican campaign operative.

Republicans are now using it in mailings against the Democratic candidate.

So, as far as I can tell, there is no evidence whatever supporting the claim that the flyer was being distributed by Mr. Fitzhugh. He appears to be the innocent victim of a hoax.

Googling, I noticed your press release, which seems to fit the Republican storyline: it assumes, without saying so, that the flyer was a genuine attempt to attack President Bush, rather than a dirty trick designed to make the Democrat look bad. The demand for an apology in the press release seems, to an uniformed reader, to point at Craig Fitzhugh rather than to the people who planted the flyer in his campaign office and then made a fuss about it.

Do you have any reason to think that the flyer was genuine?

Very truly yours,

Mark Kleiman

Note Kirsten Suto appears to be one of the victims of this scam, not one of the perpetrators. Any emails to her should be exceedingly polite.

Update It turns out that Fitzhugh and his family are longtime Special Olympics supporters. But Bill Hobbs, for one, is not to be confused by the facts: if you notice that a lie is a lie, Hobbs thinks you have “descended into the fever swamp of baseless conspiracy theory.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

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