May 21, 2019

Leaks, public inquiry and American politics

It’s hard to feel sorry for a man whose personal net worth exceeds the total real estate valuation of some Maine municipalities.

Sure, Bob Monks moved to his family’s ancestral state 27 years ago and spent record sums of money chasing after U.S. Senate seats held by Margaret Chase Smith and Ed Muskie, only to endure humiliating defeats. When he announced yet another Maine Senate candidacy, some joked that Glenn Close’s character in the movie “Fatal Attraction” was better grounded in reality.

GOP voters finally on Tuesday will say, “Give it up, Bob.”

Still, Monks hardly deserved to end up as the fall guy for this sorry saga we call a Republican U.S. Senate primary. Without substantive proof, Monks has been tarred and feathered for allegedly lowering Maine politics to a sleaze level never before experienced. All because of the admission that his campaign hired a Washington-based opposition research firm to look into rumors that John Hathaway, an opponent, was involved in a scandal six years ago in Alabama.

According to subsequent published reports in The Boston Globe and the Bangor Daily News, Hathaway was investigated — but never charged — by Alabama authorities for allegedly seducing a 12-year-old baby sitter and continuing to have sex with her over an 18-month period.

First of all, this was not a new benchmark for sleazy Maine campaign tactics. It’s just the first one to break into print.

Some years ago, a Democratic candidate for governor led Bangor Daily News columnist Kent Ward, former Managing Editor Mel Stone, and me to a trailer park in Orono to interview a woman who claimed she attended meetings where top GOP officials discussed the use of bribes and break-ins to defeat a Democratic-led referendum campaign. The woman passed an initial state police lie detector test. So did the GOP officials.

As we were trying to make heads or tails of the controversy, the woman confessed to me that she was the gubernatorial candidate’s mistress. State police put her back on the polygraph and concluded she was a brilliant liar.

Frankly, a lot of what you read in the newspapers comes from “leaks.” In Washington, most originate with bureaucrats and congressional staffers. You, the taxpayer, finance this system.

The technology of leaks is getting very sophisticated. Many reporters post their e-mail addresses on the Internet. No more trips to darkened parking garages. Deep Throat can download his dirt from cyberspace — and remain anonymous if he chooses.

Monks swears that neither he nor his staff planted the baby-sitter story in the media. Steve Campbell of the Portland Press Herald said his source was somebody he believes had no direct connection to the Monks campaign. That person also is believed to be the Globe’s source.

Take your hat off to Hathaway.

I doubt there are more than a handful of politicians in America who have won elections after being branded by credible media reports as an alleged child molester.

Hathaway moved up in the polls after the baby-sitter allegations became known to voters. It’s more than likely Hathaway will finish ahead of Monks in Tuesday’s GOP primary. Susan Collins, the former aide to Sen. William S. Cohen, appears headed for a comfortable victory. She managed to stay above the Monks-Hathaway fray.

In fact, Monks has been far more forthcoming than Hathaway in dealing with the controversy. During his first meeting with the Globe and Press Herald, Hathaway denied ever being investigated by Alabama authorities. Officials said there was an investigation, which is ongoing.

At a press conference last Wednesday, virtually every statement made by Hathaway about the incident proved to be inaccurate when checked by reporters.

But there was Hathaway at the center of the storm, almost before the ink was dry on the baby-sitter news stories, launching television and radio commercials that branded Monks a congenital “liar” throughout his quarter-century of Maine politics.

“Hathaway turned reality upside down,” said an incredulous Monks staffer. “Does anybody remember he’s the alleged child molester?”

Most likely, nobody is going to know with certainty who leaked the baby-sitter story. Good reporters always protect their confidential sources. That question produced the most dramatic scene of the campaign, though.

“Why don’t you come clean [about the private detective]?” Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz demanded. The remark prompted 6-foot-6-inch-tall Monks to charge off the podium in Nemitz’s direction asserting, “What do you mean I’m not coming clean?”

All of which raises an interesting question.

Many state GOP officials now confess they were aware of the baby-sitter rumors long before the media disclosures.

What were they thinking?

Some strategy — let’s nominate the guy for U.S. senator and let Joe Brennan beat his brains out with this story.

The Alabama investigators are Democrats. Like it or not, Hathaway is a “Dead Man Walking” regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

Ask Oregon Republicans about that predicament. They’re stuck with incumbent Rep. Wes Cooley, who has been caught fabricating a Korean War combat record and who has reportedly kept his marriage secret for nearly a decade so his wife could continue to draw military survivor’s pay from her previous husband. Give that seat to Democrats.

Campaigns are supposed to be about examination. That’s when the media and opposition shake out charlatans and false pretenders.

It’s a little messy. But that’s the way the Founding Fathers wanted it.


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