Sept. 17, 2014

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones ...

Little did I know that what I figured was a relatively innocuous column about the Democrats’ problems in North Carolina, where the party will hold its national convention in early September, would generate such a flood of angry attacks.

“Dear Stuart,” emailed one man from Beulaville, N.C., “Your article about North Carolina’s political situation shows that you are missing a lot of what is going on in North Carolina. ... You completely failed to mention the obvious: A huge block [sic] of North Carolina voters are hate-filled racists who would never vote for a half-black candidate.”

Those of us who write or talk about politics for a living get more than our share of hate mail and criticism, and I guess that’s fine. If you are at all in the public eye, you better be willing to let folks who read you let off steam now and then.

I can easily ignore most attacks because they come from people I don’t know or don’t respect. But not all critics are equal, and not all criticisms should  simply be ignored.

I was recently attacked on a Charlotte network affiliate by Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. The item was picked up by Politico, which subsequently attached a misleading “update” to the item.

“With all due respect, I don’t think Stu Rothenberg has any idea what he’s talking about,” said Woodhouse, who went on to say that voters in November won’t remember the scandal that has embroiled the state Democratic Party or the Republican Speaker of the House.

I thought that his comment about the long-term effect of the scandal was reasonable, and I generally agree. But my column was more about the rationale for picking Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic convention than about anything else, and the chaos involving the state Democratic Party, I’m quite sure, isn’t quite what Democratic strategists were hoping for.

Of course, Woodhouse didn’t say anything about the state’s unemployment rate or the unpopularity of the sitting Democratic governor.

He also commented that I ignored the actual polls, which show President Barack Obama leading in the state. In fact, I alluded to them when I said that I thought the president was more likely than not to lose the state, “no matter what current polling shows.” It’s easy to say someone will win when they are ahead, but it’s harder to pick a candidate who is trailing.

I’ve dealt with Woodhouse on and off over the years — certainly I’m familiar with his work — and I know him to be a partisan attack dog who thinks everything Democrats do is right and everything Republicans do is wrong. Not every press person is that way, thankfully, but that’s apparently how Woodhouse sees his role.

But what got me angry was Politico’s so-called update, added to the piece after I declined to comment. “UPDATE: A colleague, siding with Woodhouse, forwards the following Rothenberg prediction for the 2010 elections: ‘But there are no signs of a dramatic rebound for the party, and the chance of Republicans winning control of either chamber in the 2010 midterm elections is zero. Not ‘close to zero.’ Not ‘slight’ or ‘small.’ Zero.’”

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