The Stupidest Story You'll Read All Week

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 23 2012 5:44 PM

The Stupidest Story You'll Read All Week

The most charitable theory I can come up with for this McKay Coppins story: It's late August, we're all tired, there's nothing fresh to write before the Republican convention.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

This is a short story, but here's an even shorter version. The Obama campaign maintains a site/app/whatever called "Dashboard." It's new version of a campaign message board, basically. Anyone can sign up, post their ideas, find fellow travellers. A user named "Laurence De Palma" posted a short rant about Mormonism, suggesting that Obama backers exploit fears about the religion. In four days -- as Coppins's post makes clear, via a screenshot -- literally zero people "liked" the De Palma idea. But!

An Obama campaign aide, speaking on background, said the site is governed by a moderation policy that allows users to flag posts that are offensive or inappropriate, after which campaign moderators delete them. De Palma's Mormon post had been up for four days, and had not been flagged. When BuzzFeed asked the campaign for a response, the post was immediately removed.
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Are we following? A man who holds no proven role in the Obama campaign larger than signing up for a web site suggested an idea. No one endorsed the idea, but no one took it down, either -- actually, it's not clear that anyone saw the damn thing. And after Coppins sent in a query, the post with the bigoted idea was removed.

The story could end there, but Coppins -- who, like me, has apparently been unsuccessful reaching De Palma -- asked Romney spox Andrea Saul for a comment. She could have said "Why are you wasting my time asking for a comment on post that appeared on a website, written by a nobody?" But she responded!

The news concerning the Obama Campaign's dashboard containing language based on sowing religious division is deeply disturbing. There is no place in politics for this, and it must be addressed and put to an end.

The reject-and-denounce game is an old and boring one. I'm surprised to see Romney engage in it because, in the past, he has refused to play it with people who gave him material support. In January 2012, he won an endorsement from Donald Trump, months after Trump had established himself as a believer in debunked conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's birthplace. In May, after Trump spewed some more idiocy -- just as he was raffling off a dinner as a fundraiser for Romney's campaign -- Romney was asked about his supporter's birtherism. This was what he said:

You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.

So: Laurence De Palma wrote a blog post, about ways to campaign against Mormonism, that appeared on a section of Barack Obama's web site. The Romney campaign responded to this as something that "must be addressed and put to an end." Donald Trump endorsed Mitt Romney at a nationally televised event, and held a fundraiser for him -- a fundraiser promoted by Romney's campaign. While doing so, he suggested that the president was lying (and by extension forging documents) to cover up his foreign birth -- something that should raise questions about his legitimacy, and something that has already motivated some political activism by veterans who doubt that Obama's fit to command the military. Romney refused to address that, only saying that he would have to accept support from people who "don't agree with everything I believe in."

The whole story is so teeth-achingly stupid that it feels like a waste of time to spend more time talking about it. But it's probably worthwhile to point, laugh, and mock the idiocy of assigning comments on a campaign blog to the candidate running the campaign. Come on, now -- is this election so starved for jackassery that we need more fake umbrage and more nutpicking?

(Sidebar: From time to time, you'll hear Republicans fret that -- any day now -- Democrats are going to run a whisper campaign against Mormonism. That's definitely why there's attention paid when a Laurence De Palma pops off. But the zero pre-Buzzfeed attention paid to De Palma suggests that the whisper campaign isn't happening.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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