I spoke with Bob Schaffer’s spokesman Dick Wadhams last week about his use of words like “ass” and “scumbag” when talking to the Rocky Mountain News about Mark Udall.
You know that Wadhams has a plan when using language like this, and so you believe him when he says, “I know exactly what I’m doing,” which is what he told me when asked about why he does this. He didn’t get into the details but you know he wants to get more media attention.
It worked Aug. 5, when Democrats objected to his use of the word “ass” (to describe the part of Democrat Mark Udall’s body up which the Schaffer campaign plans to “shove” 30-second ads) and the Rocky wrote a story about it. Here’s Schaffer’s original ass quote from the Rocky in a piece by Lynn Bartels.
You can debate whether Wadhams’ PR strategy makes sense. Will the vulgar language turn off swing voters? Or will it embed his talking points in their minds? I think it’s smart for the Dems to selectively respond to a harsh operative like Wadhams…-to spotlight his meanness, but who knows, really.
In any case, from a journalistic perspective, it’s definitely the right thing for reporters to quote Wadhams’ rather harsh language, even if the Rocky won’t spell out the dangerous word in the newspaper. The Rocky also quoted Wadhams May 2 using the word “scumbags” to describe an anti-Schaffer organization.
And when Dems object to Wadhams’ unusually strong language, reporters should cover this, too, as the Rocky did when the Dems objected to “ass.”
But reporters should also ask Schaffer whether his spokesperson, who speaks for Schaffer and presumably is controlled by Schaffer, has his blessing for using words like ass.
A Feb. 22 Rocky story by Bartels pointed out that when Wadhams worked John Thune’s campaign in South Dakota, Thune was asked directly about Wadhams behavior. Here’s an excerpt from the Rocky story.
In 2004, Wadhams went to South Dakota to manage the campaign for John Thune, who was trying to unseat Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. It was Wadhams who went after Daschle while Thune shook hands and smiled.
“Would I have said it that way?” Thune told The New York Times, after one of Wadhams’ responses. “Probably not. But that’s why I hired Dick.”
Below is an excerpt from my interview with Wadhams on this topic. I also quoted Wadhams in my Sat. Rocky Column.
Jason: I’m wondering if Congressman Schaffer approves your language? Wadhams: He approves of the aggressive way we are trying to draw contrasts with Boulder Liberal Mark Udall.Jason: Will you hook me up with the congressman to see if he approves of you using those words, ass and scumbag?Wadhams: You can try calling him if you want.Jason: OK. What’s his number? Wadhams: You know, Jason, you are a liberal partisan. You set yourself up as some kind of objective source. And, Jason, you and I both know you are liberal partisan Democrat.Jason: Not true. I try to be fair.Wadhams: I don’t consider you a legitimate reporter, Jason.Jason: You’ll see. I’m fair. Wadhams: Oh no you’re not. Your columns amuse me, but you are a partisan Democrat. Talking to you is like talking to the spokesman of the Democratic Party. We don’t have to talk to you.Jason: Well, I appreciate your talking to me.Wadhams: I don’t have to. I might as well be talking to the press secretary for the Democratic Party.Jason: That’s not true. I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Take that.