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.