Friday, March 31, 2006

Sauce For the Gander

I blogged recently about the seeming editorial vendetta by the Commercial Appeal, and Bartholomew Sullivan especially, against the Tennessee Republican Party through the person of neo-nazi James Hart. You can read those posts here, here and here. The Republicans are attempting to oust Hart from their primary ballot. There was no question to me that these stories were written so as to maximise the smear and draw significant attention to it.

Now we have a case from the other, Democratic, side by which to judge equality of treatment. I first heard about efforts by Democrats to oust two candidates from their own primaries from Jackson Baker at the Flyer.
As reported by blogger polar donkey (, who was iron-butted enough to stand the vigil, the Shelby County Democratic Party’s steering committee met in executive session for almost five hours Thursday night at the IBEW union hall and finally decided by a 5-3 vote to ask the Election Commission to decertify two candidates — J.W.Gibson and Johnny Hatcher – currently on the party’s May 2 primary ballot....

Both Gibson and Hatcher were designated for decertification because of prior Republican Party activities. Gibson’s departure from the Democratic ballot would leave only Derrick Harris as a party candidate, assuming that incumbent commissioner Walter Bailey, term-limited out by action of the state Supreme Court Wednesday, does not succeed in a possible federal court appeal. Several candidates would remain in the Democratic primary field for the seat Hatcher has been seeking.
I had missed this from the Appeal and it turns out most of this was reported this week, when the impetus for the story was Walter Bailey and his campaign to keep his County Commission seat.

Using the CA search function turned up three stories that I could find on this. Two (here and here) are actually about Bailey or his putative successor, long-time Democratic activist and State of Tennessee General Assembly pension beneficiary Sidney Chism. The part on the decerts is buried deep.

Try these excerpts:
In the race for Bailey's District 2, Position 1 seat, two candidates remain: business owner J.W. Gibson and Lifeblood manager Darrick Harris.

Some local Democrats are trying to remove Gibson from the Democratic primary ballot, citing his affiliation with the Republican Party.
That started at the seventeenth paragraph in the story. Or this one, which starts in the third-to-last paragraph:
The state ruling on changing the ballot would also impede an effort to get two Democratic commission candidates off the primary ballot.

Complaints have been lodged against candidates Gibson and Johnny Hatcher, citing their affiliation with the Republican Party. Hatcher is running for District 3, Position 1.
It's just a sideshow, a way to say they did report it if they are ever called on their inequity.

Only the first story focuses on the ballot removal, but because Walter Bailey is the hook.

Read all the stories and see what you think. The Republican ones are designed to make it clear that Hart is a nutjob hater and that the Republicans have been snuggling him to their breast, lo, these many years. The luridness and detail are intentionally hyped up. The Republicans are painted as harborers of evil who have to be prodded to do good.

But in a similar Democratic case, the decertifications are largely incidental to the stories. The focus is not on the party, but on something else. Details are short, langauge is plain, and little is repeated from story to story beyond the most basic elements. It's all business as usual.

Is this evidence of double standards in handling political stories? I think so. What do you think?

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Try this passage, also from the inimitable Jackson Baker, written before the Democratic Party action:

J.W. Gibson fundraiser at the Hunt-Phelan Home on Beale. A well-connected local businessman, Gibson, a Democrat, African American, and candidate for the county commission, boasted a diverse and influential sponsor list that included the likes of Beth Gallagher, Ron Belz, Harold Byrd, the Rev. James Netters, Robert Spence, and former Shelby County mayor Bill Morris. He is also being actively promoted by former Commercial Appeal columnist Susan Adler Thorp, currently doing TV commentary and working in business and public relations

Gibson's position is iffy by definition, a true gamble. He could be running in a three-man primary field against Derrick Harris and longtime incumbent Walter Bailey, or, if the state Supreme Court, which held hearings on the matter last week, upholds a 1994 countywide referendum in favor of term limits, against Harris alone.

It makes a difference how the cards fall, in that influential veteran Bailey, one of three plaintiffs in the current suit, would be heavily favored if he stays in. In case he does, both Gibson and Thorp came armed with an argument against his incumbency. Bailey has had a long and distinguished career, both said, but now it's time for fresh blood. "What can he do now that he hasn't accomplished in the 30 years he's had to do it?" asked Thorp rhetorically.

UPDATE: Gibson is suddenly under challenge by a number of Democrats (and, more importantly, by official Democratic Party organs)for having voted in Republican primaries since 1994 and for actually having served as an officer of the local GOP steering committee last year!

The party's Primary Board (which includes opponent Harris) was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to consider expunging Gibson from the primary ballot. Such a move would need to be ratified by either the county party or the state party, and the local party's steering committee was reportedly scheduled for an imminent emergency meeting.
Anyone want to enlighten me on the sudden interest in Gibson? Was it just an ill-timed move by Bailey that got steamrollered and rendered irrelevant by his Supreme Court loss? Or is Gibson a stealth Republican, even despite Baker's comments above and Gibson's fundraisers?

If you are a CA reader, you are, of course, out of luck here.

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