In media's latest softball interview with GOP chairman, CBS4's Benemann ignored Wadhams' history of negative campaigning


In an interview with Colorado Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams, KCNC CBS4's Jim Benemann broached the subject of negative campaigning but completely ignored Wadhams' well-known use of such tactics. Benemann also left unchallenged Wadhams' claims about former U.S. Sen. George Allen's use of a racial slur during his failed 2006 re-election bid, which Wadhams managed.

In an interview aired during the March 14 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 10 p.m., Jim Benemann lobbed softball questions to newly elected Colorado Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams and -- although he broached the topic of negative campaigning -- failed to question Wadhams about his widely reported history of negative tactics. Benemann also allowed Wadhams, who managed former U.S. Sen. George Allen's (R-VA) failed 2006 re-election campaign, to misrepresent the campaign's response to Allen's use of a racial slur. An article published March 14 on the CBS4 website reflected this same light-handed and uncritical questioning of Wadhams.

During the broadcast, Benemann recounted some of Wadhams' successful campaigns, touched upon the subject of negative campaigning, and mentioned a 2006 Washington Monthly profile of Wadhams, but did not explore Wadhams' history of using techniques that have earned him a reputation for playing dirty. As The Denver Post noted: "Wadhams is politically brutal enough to be considered a Republican hitman."

From the March 14 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 10 p.m.:

BENEMANN: Wadhams has run successful campaigns for Colorado Senator Wayne Allard and Governor Bill Owens. Now, as the newly elected head of the state's Republican Party, Wadhams wants to turn an increasingly blue Colorado back to bright red -- starting with the race for Allard's seat.

BENEMANN: I've heard the possibility that this Senate race could be a 20 million-dollar race.

WADHAMS: I think that's right.

BENEMANN: And I'm sure that a lot of the voters are thinking, "Ugh, so many negative ads! Turn 'em off." How do you keep it from becoming a free-for-all and staying on message?

WADHAMS: The campaign and the candidate have to continue to, to state who they are, what they stand for.


WADHAMS: And they have to be able to do it in terms that the voters understand and can, can rally around that.

BENEMANN: Wadhams acknowledges the Republicans have slipped, locally and nationally.

WADHAMS: The message has been frayed, no doubt about it.

BENEMANN: Wadhams has often been described as a potential heir apparent to Karl Rove, the national Republican strategist credited with putting George W. Bush in the White House.

BENEMANN: The Washington Monthly wrote of you last fall, quote, "The mercurial Wadhams can shift from amiable to antagonistic in an instant." An instant, Dick. Is that true?

WADHAMS: I enjoy being aggressive when we need to be to drive home our point. Some famous philosopher said one time, "Politics ain't beanbag." And it's not. It's a, it's a -- it's a tough environment.

BENEMANN: I think it was you that said that.

WADHAMS: [Laughs] It might have been. I don't know.

BENEMANN: Wadhams says he won't be managing any campaigns in the near future. His focus will be on getting Coloradans to elect a Republican U.S. senator next year and more GOP legislators.

As Colorado Media Matters has noted, The Washington Monthly's September 2006 profile of Wadhams provided a litany of examples in which Wadhams has "taken ... low blows to new heights, combining blistering verbal assaults, nasty wedge issues, and general loud-mouthing in an astonishingly effective manner." Although Benemann mentioned the article, he omitted its characterization that "Wadhams's most effective innovations involved media manipulation."

In an exchange about Allen's failed Senate re-election bid, Benemann allowed Wadhams to claim that Allen had apologized for using the racial slur "macaca," but Benemann did not mention that during the campaign, Wadhams denied Allen had uttered a slur:

BENEMANN: Despite their minority status in the legislature, Republicans still intend to be heard. They're being energized by new Republican state chairman Dick Wadhams. He cut his teeth in Colorado politics. And he's back. More recently, Wadhams orchestrated Republican John Thune's Senate upset in South Dakota over Tom Daschle in '04. But last November, he failed to save Senator George Allen's campaign in Virginia, after Allen used a racial slur.

BENEMANN: Obviously, the candidate said "macaca."


BENEMANN: But what brought him down? Was it the media?

WADHAMS: It was an inappropriate comment. And he took responsibility for it; he apologized for it. But -- but the fact is, in the heat of the campaign, he could never get out from under it.

Allen used the word "macaca" to refer to a staffer from his opponent's campaign, as Colorado Media Matters has noted. The Washington Post reported on August 15, 2006, that Wadhams, in response to questions raised over Allen's use of the term "macaca," "dismissed the issue with an expletive and insisted the senator has 'nothing to apologize for.' " In an August 19, 2006, campaign memo, Wadhams also accused "[his opponent's] campaign and the news media" of "[l]iterally putting words into Senator Allen's mouth that he did not say (by speculating, defining and attributing meanings and motives that simply are not true)."

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