Tom Delay's Media War
Anyone who thought indicted Congressman Tom Delay would pass quietly into the night learned otherwise this week. The former House Majority Leader unleashed a full-scale assault against Travis County DA Ronnie Earle in court, on television and on the Internet. In so doing, Delay showed he is both ethically-challenged and media savvy.
The legal challenges came as a surprise to no one. Delay's attorney Dick DeGuerin began by filing a motion to dismiss the case against his client. Ronnie Earle raised the ante with a second, more serious indictment against Delay for money-laundering. For DeGuerin's next act, the Delay team subpoenaed Earle, claiming prosecutorial misconduct and improper intervention with the grand jury. In response, Earle understandably subpoenaed Delay's phone records.
But it is Delay's media strategy, encompassing news outlets, advertising, direct mail and his own web site that is so ground-breaking. With his indictment, Delay and Republican National Committee spokesmen took to the airwaves to decry a political attack by a DA who was a "partisan fanatic" seeking to "criminalize politics." Earlier this week, the Delay camp began airing television ads in Texas depicting Ronnie Earle as a vicious attack dog seeking to "make it a crime to be conservative, to support an agenda of lower taxes and less government." And now, the Delay campaign web site features not only a full-throated attack on Earle, but asks site visitors to contribute and "Stand with Tom."
There can no doubt that Delay's mobilization of the conservative commentariat has been complete. His fellow travelers in the media are clearly singing from the same hymnal. For example, as early as April 2005, Delay was attacking the "left-wing syndicate" for "the criminalization of politics." On October 3rd, Delay ally and Karl Rove PlameGate confidant Robert Novak penned a column not coincidentally called "Criminalizing Politics." An October 14th segment on Fox News, always a reliable appendage of the Republican Party, featured host Stuart Varney and Republican strategist Cheri Jacobist pressed guest David Corn of The Nation on Ronnie Earle's "criminalization of politics."
It is too early to judge the success of Tom Delay's strategy to fight his indictment in the court of public opinion rather than in a court of law. Early indications are not promising for the former exterminator who came to Washington promising to bring a "biblical worldview" to government. Nationally, a majority of those expressing an opinion believe Delay probably engaged in wrong-doing. And of those surveyed in his 22nd district in Texas, 48% disapprove of Delay and 40% now think he should resign from Congress.
For more background on the Tom Delay ethics imbroglio, visit the Tom Delay Scandal Resource Center.