Jim Ryun discovers the Interwebs

The National Review writes an analysis of the impact of the internet on the 2008 election, but focuses entirely on the impact of Googlebombing in one race, Jim Ryun’s loss to Nancy Boyda. My guess is that the reporter and Drew Ryun met at a party, and started talking about the evils of the internets. A few days later, this emerged:

Obviously, the 2006 midterms went very well for Democrats, though there’s no way to quantify the contribution of Google bombing to the Democrats’ electoral success, especially amidst all the G.O.P. scandal and other national developments heading up to that election. But it can’t be discounted either.

A good case study is Kansas Congressman Jim Ryun, who lost a narrow election for his seat in 2006 and was one of the candidates subject to the netroots Google-bombing attack. “When a campaign goes wrong and a five-term incumbent loses, there are a whole lot of things that have gone wrong. So was the Google bombing the sole reason we lost? No. Was it a part of it? Yes, but how big a part I don’t know,” said Drew Ryun, the former congressman’s son and himself a former deputy director in the grassroots division of the Republican National Committee.

Since I was the one who suggested the article used in the Googlebombing of Jim Ryun, I’m obviously pleased at the idea that such a simple thing could have been decisive in what some consider the largest upset of the 2006 elections. Jim Ryun, in the pages of an earlier National Review, argued that he lost because he and his party “betrayed our principles” and “lost the majority” because they “were viewed as unethical.” I expect Nancy Boyda would argue that people wanted a change from the failed policies of the last six years, and her campaign did a pretty good job of reaching those people.

Aside from bizarre overplaying of the importance of Googlebombing, there was one big error in the article. Hemingway refers to the article used to Googlebomb Ryun as “an unsubstantive hit piece from the Topeka paper on whether or not Ryun merely forgot or actively lied about living on the same Capitol Hill street as scandal-beleaguered Congressman Mark Foley.”

No, no, a thousand times, no.


The article, headlined “Ryun’s story on Foley changes” is problematic for Ryun in several ways. The headline itself indicates that the story is about a change in his story, not a mere dispute over the notoriously faulty Republican memory.

The piece in question, which the NRO doesn’t actually link to, is about Jim Ryun’s blatant attempts to hide a simple and easily verified piece of information. When the Foley scandal first broke, it was observed that Jim Ryun’s house was right across the street from Foley’s house. Reporters mentioned that to Ryun, and he responded “I know that only because somebody has mentioned that, too, already.” In other words, that he didn’t know who lived across the street from him until some third party mentioned it a few years after they became neighbors.

That alone was problematic. Even if it were true, it would confirm that Ryun had “gone DC.” After all, folks in small town Kansas know who their neighbors are. They don’t necessarily endorse everything that goes on in the neighborhood, but they recognize their neighbors at the store, and certainly know if their neighbor works in the same business as they do. Ryun’s half-million dollar house was a sign that he’d lost touch with his roots. Not only didn’t he find it plausible and even acceptable that he wouldn’t know his neighbors, but the circumstances in which he obtained the house were, at best, questionable. He bought it from a lobbying group tied to felon Jack Abramoff and indicted felon Tom Delay; Delay called the house his “Safe House.” And even though the market had skyrocketed while they owned the house, they sold it to him at a loss. The Foley scandal reminded people about that odd set of facts. Regarding the house

Then folks like yours truly found that Ryun had previously participated in a “D Street Block Party,” along with several of his neighbors who also happened to be members of Congress. And Mark Foley was another part of that fundraiser.

Ryun insisted at that point that the events weren’t jointly planned. Then a copy of the invitation itself came out, clearly showing all five members on the same page, with Ryun right next to Foley.

And that is why the title of the piece in question, a title the NRO never bothers quoting, is “Ryun’s story on Foley changes.” Because he kept telling a different story. And just as the public were surprised that “[d]espite a decade of Washington under his belt, Ryun struggled to explain how a seasoned lawmaker could innocently find himself mentioned in the same breath as Abramoff, Buckham and DeLay,” they were also surprised that he couldn’t innocently explain his living across the street from Foley (despite the fact that innocent explanations seemed pretty obvious).

Those were all part of the reason I proposed using that article as part of the Googlebomb. But there was a bigger reason.

In the course of explaining how the teetotaling Ryun had signed on to a fundraiser involving alcohol and Mark Foley, Ryun spokesman Jeffrey Black told the newspaper “We’re in the business of raising money to get our message out.”

I felt that anyone interested in evaluating their options in 2006 deserved to know that the incumbent Congressman thought his “business” was “raising money” and “getting our message out.” Voters who thought a congresscritter’s business was improving the state of the nation and looking out for the interests of the district in Congress deserved to know that one candidate had different priorities.

Now the NRO may not think it’s newsworthy for a politician to be more interested in his own political hide than in the people’s business, but Kansas voters obviously disagreed. And I, for one, am glad.

Comments

  1. #1 ally
    September 19, 2007

    Darn them internets… the google has really started to jam up the republican tubes.

  2. #2 W. Kevin Vicklund
    September 20, 2007

    Nice job, Josh! If the guy had simply said “Yeah, I’d almost forgotten he lives across the street – he and I don’t usually travel in the same circles” the story would have never even made the news.

  3. #3 Dirk
    September 20, 2007

    Josh – this is becoming a theme for the Ryuns. Check out “Ryun cites coverage in failed campaign” from last January: http://cjonline.com/stories/012607/loc_141710132.shtml

    I wonder how the copy of that invitation ended up in the hands of Cap Journal reporter Chris Moon…?

  4. #4 d
    September 20, 2007

    Clearly, Ryun bungled this story. But I think we should at least talk about one other important fact.

    The Cap Journal ran this story in May about the Ryun townhouse and the party.

    http://cjonline.com/stories/052106/loc_ryunhome.shtml

    The reporter seems to have talked to Ryun about it in May. Since that is the case, Ryun’s story about being reminded about the party seems to make sense. AND, the Cap Journal already knew about the party and had reported on the party in May, meaning they were clearly just looking for a way to play “gotcha journalism” in October, like the party was a new revelation to them then, when it clearly wasn’t.

  5. #5 Josh Rosenau
    September 20, 2007

    D: I see your point, but I think it would be more valid to talk about what “the reporter” knew if the bylines of those stories matched. One hopes that the paper’s reporters talk to one another, but it’s a lot more excusable for a reporter to forget who lives across the street from someone than for that person to forget, and it’s particularly excusable for the reporter to forget to tell another reporter about it. Just sayin’.

    My sense that this wasn’t a hit on Ryun is bolstered by several observations. The CJ’s coverage was never considered terribly Boyda-friendly, as their ultimate endorsement in that race made clear, so I can’t see the editor running multiple stories about this out of spite.

    Finally, as Kevin said above, all Ryun had to do was say “Yeah, he lived across the street from me. So what? I didn’t like him, I didn’t know about his private life, and I certainly had no way of knowing what text messages he sent.” And everyone would have believed it. I wouldn’t have made a fuss over it, the Capital Journal wouldn’t have gotten multiple stories out of it, and none of those stories would have been headlined “Ryun’s story on Foley changes.” As Twain said: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

  6. #6 d
    September 24, 2007

    You’re right about what Ryun should have said.

    But if you read the quote, it kind of didn’t even make sense for what it was supposed to prove . . . so, the reporter should have asked for clarification on the spot. But, I’ve always thought the Cap Journal reporters were sub-par, so I’m not surprised.

    To follow up on your points, maybe the entire editorial board endorsed Ryun, but clearly the news editor would have seen and read both stories. Now, either that guy did not like Ryun and chose to let his reporter run with the story full knowing about the previous one, or he isn’t intelligent enough to have been made news editor.

    Anyway, as I said before, Ryun bungled this story . . . but considering all the facts, I’d say it was just that, a bungle, not some conspiratorial attempt at a cover up.

    I just wish we would have gotten someone better than Nancy Boyda out of the deal.

  7. #7 Josh Rosenau
    September 24, 2007

    In the instance of the Foley thing, I agree that there was nothing conspiratorial, just incompetence (itself a bad sign in a politician). In the house thing, his statements were a lot more cautious, and it’s hard not to read a lot into what he didn’t say. For instance, he said he never met particular people in his office, but didn’t say anything about meeting their lawyers or meeting them at a coffee shop, or in their offices. He was smart enough to issue non-denial denials when he needed to, which makes his handling of the Foley thing truly bizarre.

  8. #8 d
    September 25, 2007

    Interesting thought on the “non-denials” . . . what would matter is if he met with them in an official capacity, i.e. to discuss some official action (a vote on or pushing legislation) on their behalf.

    In the case of Bob Ney, there were clearly official acts he did on behalf of Abramoff in exchange for illegal or unethical gain.

    In Ryun’s case, there have been no allegations of official favors done, i.e. specific votes on legislation pushed by Abramoff or letters written to federal agencies to exert pressure to equal a quid pro quo.

    I would agree that Ryun got a good deal on the House, however, if it had indeed been converted into an office, and then had to be converted back into a house, there would have been a discount built into the price for the cost of doing so. Maybe it was a little bigger a discount because he was a Republican congressman, but in the absence of a quid pro quo, you have to assume there were other factors at work that made the group sell to Ryun quickly and in a private sale (maybe they needed the cash to pay other obligations, etc).

    Because the FBI was investigating all transactions associated with Abramoff and Abramoff agreed to name names in exchange for leniency, I would assume Ryun would have already had his house raided if he were under investigation. That hasn’t happened, which is fairly strong evidence there is nothing of subtance there.

    Anyway, it certainly made for great media and blog fodder at the time. These were the final blows needed to knock him out of office . . . I’m interested to see if the Republicans will nominate him to face Boyda for a third time.

  9. #9 Earnest Savundra
    September 25, 2007

    sorry if I’m speaking out of place – but just want to put a good word in for googlebombing which could be a great tool for democracy and evens out the power of the mass centralised media versus the blogosphere and distributed voices of the masses.

    have a look at my project http://goodbomb.com that systematises googlebombs and please please please give any suggestions

    Earnest

  10. #10 Site Ekle
    January 5, 2008

    the Cap Journal already knew about the party and had reported on the party in May, meaning they were clearly just looking for a way to play “gotcha journalism” in October, like the party was a new revelation to them then

  11. #11 Josh Rosenau
    January 8, 2008

    The party wasn’t new, but the Foley scandal was. Fundraising with an accused pedophile was a little different than fundraising. Then Ryun’s incompetent response turned a non-story into a story. If he had just said “He lived across the street, but I had no idea what he was doing,” that would have been the end of the story. But he lied, claiming he didn’t know who his neighbor was, when he had to know that there were public reports of their joint fundraising. Then he denied that it was joint fundraising, even though contrary evidence was readily available. The only thing he did wrong with any of that was that he lied, repeatedly.

Current ye@r *