Article in Gazette reported on RNC chairman nominee Martinez, omitted past controversies

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The Gazette of Colorado Springs published an article about Florida U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez's nomination to become the chairman of the Republican National Committee that made no mention of controversies involving Martinez. Martinez's office was responsible for a memo touting the Terri Schiavo case as a "great political issue" for Republicans, and he came under scrutiny for his tactics during the 2004 U.S. Senate campaign.

On November 15, The Gazette of Colorado Springs published an abridged syndicated news article about President Bush's nomination of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) to succeed Ken Mehlman as chairman of the Republican National Committee that omitted any reference to past controversies involving Martinez. The article -- written by South Florida Sun-Sentinel Washington Bureau Chief William E. Gibson and attributed to McClatchy Newspapers -- reported that Martinez "vowed to reach out to Hispanics and other voters with a more inclusive message," but it failed to note that Martinez's office admitted to authoring a 2005 memo that touted the Terri Schiavo case as "a great political issue" for Republicans because it would excite "the pro-life base." The article also failed to note the controversial campaign tactics Martinez used during his 2004 Senate race.

As the article reported, "While refusing to become an 'attack dog,' Florida Sen. Mel Martinez accepted President Bush's nomination to lead the national Republican Party on Tuesday and vowed to reach out to Hispanics and other voters with a more inclusive message." The article further stated:

Martinez's selection is designed to project a sunny and immigration-friendly image for a party that suffered a series of defeats in last week's midterm congressional elections, which gave Democrats majority control of the House and Senate.

The nomination set off grumbling from some conservatives who fear the party may become too soft on immigration control and too quick to compromise with Democrats.

After meeting with Bush at the White House, Martinez called for a tone of civility in political debate and for bold ideas.

"It's a time when the acrimony and partisanship of the past should be put aside," he said, later adding: "I intend to be a voice but not an attack dog. I will challenge the other party with ideas but not the barbs of a daily campaign."

The article, however, did not mention Martinez's admission in April 2005 that his office had authored the memo touting the Terri Schiavo case as "a great political issue" that would excite "the pro-life base" of the Republican Party. The article also failed to note the controversy surrounding Martinez's campaign tactics in 2004. As Media Matters for America has noted (here and here), Martinez has been at the center of several controversies since running for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Media Matters further noted that in each case, Martinez shifted the blame to a staffer:

  • In March 2005, during the legal and congressional battles in the case of Terri Schiavo -- a Florida woman diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, whose feeding tube was ordered removed by a federal judge -- a "talking points" memo surfaced on Capitol Hill that encouraged Republican lawmakers to speak out on the matter, calling it "a great political issue because Senator [Bill] Nelson [D] of Florida has already refused to become a co-sponsor [of The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act] and this is a tough issue for Democrats." The document noted that "the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue."

    On April 7, 2005, following widespread and baseless speculation that Democrats had authored the memo, Martinez confirmed that his Senate office had produced the document. But Martinez denied having any previous knowledge of the memo, despite the fact that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Martinez had handed him the memo on the Senate floor. Martinez asserted that the memo had been written by one of his aides and claimed, "Until this afternoon, I had never seen it and had no idea a copy of it had ever been in my possession."

  • In the lead-up to the 2004 Florida senatorial primaries, Martinez's campaign mailed fliers to voters that referred to his Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, as "the new darling of the homosexual extremists," a reference to McCollum's support for federal hate-crime legislation. Further, Martinez reportedly used robocalls and other paid advertising to accuse McCollum of supporting "special rights" for homosexuals, such as same-sex marriage, and of catering to the "radical homosexual lobby."

    Gov. Jeb Bush ultimately called on Martinez to pull one such television advertisement and The St. Petersburg Times withdrew its endorsement of Martinez. "If Martinez failed to review the ads before they were sent out under his name, he was irresponsible," the Times editorial board wrote. "If he knew what was in the ads and is now trying to distance himself, he is being dishonest. Either way, Floridians deserve better in a U.S. senator." After he won the primary, Martinez apologized to McCollum for the "homosexual extremists" smear, blaming it on "a couple of young turks" in his campaign.

  • During the subsequent general election campaign, Martinez's campaign attacked former Attorney General Janet Reno -- who had campaigned for his Democratic opponent, Betty Castor -- claiming that Reno's Justice Department had used "armed thugs" to seize Cuban refugee Elián González and send him back to Cuba, thereby "'allowing Fidel Castro to have his way."

    Martinez apologized again after it was noted that he had previously featured one of the federal agents involved in the Gonzalez raid in a campaign ad attacking Castor as "soft" on terrorism. In apologizing to the agent, Martinez claimed the wording had been "a mistake by a staffer," as an October 13, 2004, Miami Herald article reported.

From the Gazette article attributed to McClatchy Newspapers, a longer version of which was originally published on November 15 in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

While refusing to become an "attack dog," Florida Sen. Mel Martinez accepted President Bush's nomination to lead the national Republican Party on Tuesday and vowed to reach out to Hispanics and other voters with a more inclusive message.

Martinez, a Cuban immigrant, promised to remain first of all a senator from Florida who reaches across the party divide to broker deals and enact legislation, such as an immigration overhaul and an energy bill.

Martinez's selection is designed to project a sunny and immigration-friendly image for a party that suffered a series of defeats in last week's midterm congressional elections, which gave Democrats majority control of the House and Senate.

The nomination set off grumbling from some conservatives who fear the party may become too soft on immigration control and too quick to compromise with Democrats.

After meeting with Bush at the White House, Martinez called for a tone of civility in political debate and for bold ideas.

"It's a time when the acrimony and partisanship of the past should be put aside," he said, later adding: "I intend to be a voice but not an attack dog. I will challenge the other party with ideas but not the barbs of a daily campaign."

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