Conservative media invoke Wellstone memorial smear in predicting politicization of Kennedy's death

››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

Following Sen. Ted Kennedy's death, conservative media figures have returned to the smear that the memorial service for Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) became "a political rally" to suggest that progressives will excessively politicize Kennedy's death. But as now-Sen. Al Franken documented at length, the claim that Wellstone's memorial was politicized is a myth based on distortions propagated by the conservative media.

Conservative media invoke Wellstone smear in anticipation of Kennedy's service

Hannity on Kennedy's death: "a lot of this was the politicizing of -- remember Paul Wellstone's death?" Discussing Kennedy's death during his radio program, Sean Hannity asserted, "We've got The Wall Street Journal reporting -- and by the way, a lot of this was the politicizing of -- remember Paul Wellstone's death? You know, 'Let's do everything for Paul.' And we're now being implored to get behind Obamacare because it's what Ted Kennedy would have wanted." [The Sean Hannity Show, 8/26/09]

Savage fill-in Markowski on possible naming of health care bill after Kennedy: "It's political theater" like the "Wellstone memorial." Chris Markowski, filling in for Michael Savage on his radio program, took a caller who said that "if Ted Kennedy had wanted his name on this health care bill, I think that he would -- I would want to see where he said that in writing before he died. He had plenty of time." Markowski responded, in part, by asserting: "I don't think he's requested -- you got to understand, it's a show. OK? It's political theater. Like the Democrats thought that whole Wellstone memorial was going to -- it was going to force them to -- it was going to allow them to win the Senate race in Minnesota. This is political theater. It's a show." [The Savage Nation, 8/26/09]

Lopez on Kennedy's death: Wellstone service "turned into a political rally." The National Review Online's Kathyrn Jean Lopez wrote in an August 26 post to the blog The Corner titled "Re: The Politics of Ted Kennedy's Passing": "All politicos need to remember the Wellstone funeral when a well-known politician dies. Instead of memorializing his life, his service turned into a political rally. Some of the MSNBC coverage today I'm catching looks like a [sic] Obamacare convocation. Human life is about more than poltics. And politics isn't American Idol. Or, even, The Lion of the Senate."

Allahpundit "sure" Kennedy "eulogies won't be politicized at all." Hot Air blogger Allahpundit wrote in an August 26 tweet: "Looking forward to the Democratic line-up at TK's memorial service. I'm sure the eulogies won't be politicized at all."

Instapundit: "A Wellstone Memorial on steroids?" An August 26 post on Instapundit.com linked to a post by JammieWearingFool with the headline "A Wellstone Memorial on steroids? And how did that work out?" JammieWearingFool asserted in the post, written the same day, "While we have no doubt the Democrats will do all they can to exploit his death and will probably have a Wellstone memorial on steroids, we'll stay above that." The link on the words "Wellstone memorial" were to an October 30, 2002, Slate.com article describing Wellstone's memorial services as a "pep rally."

Noting "conservative talking point," Politico's Smith says "[i]t would seem odd to bar politics" from Kennedy's funeral. In an August 26 post, Politico's Ben Smith referred to the comments by Allahpundit and Instapundit as "a conservative talking point [that] is emerging to counter the the hope on the left that Kennedy's death will advance his cause of health care reform," and commented:

It would seem odd to bar politics from the funeral of an intensely political figure who took his causes so personally, but the Kennedy family, the White House, and Senate Democrats -- as well as their foes -- will be navigating complicated, and political, terrain in the days ahead, with real advantage to be won and lost on one of Kennedy's signature causes.

Franken debunked Wellstone smear in 2003 book

Al Franken: " 'This Was Not a Memorial to Paul Wellstone': A Case Study in Right-Wing Lies." In his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (Dutton, 2003), Franken wrote:

Paul died on October 25, 2002, when his plane went down in Northern Minnesota. Sheila; their daughter, Marcia; his driver, Will McLaughlin; two other close aides, Tom Lapic and Mary McEvoy; and two pilots died with him. Four days later, C-SPAN, along with almost every Minnesota TV and radio station, carried a hastily-put-together memorial service for Paul, Sheila, Marcia, Will, Tom, and Mary. I was there. It was a beautiful memorial, sometimes incredibly sad, sometimes funny, sometimes rowdy, and sometimes political. Some people watching on television were offended. Some people were moved. But the right saw an opening. They took moments out of context, lied about the rest, and used it as a political club to attack the Democrats. It won them the Senate election in Minnesota and probably in Missouri, which means it gave Republicans control of the Senate.

This chapter is a case study of how the right lies and viciously distorts. It is the story of how the right-wing media repeats its fabrications until they echo into the mainstream press. It is a story of pure cynicism in pursuit of power. It is the story of how the lying liars took the death of my friends and invented a myth that changed the 2002 elections. [Pages 178-179]

"[T]en-second clips" created partisan picture. Franken explained that a eulogy delivered by "Wellstone's best friend Rick Kahn," "[o]ne of the eight eulogies that night," included calling on the audience to "win this election for Paul Wellstone." Franken noted that to those who "only saw the ten-second clips that were later repeated and repeated on TV, it looked like Kahn and the crowd were just being foot-stompingly partisan -- that Wellstone's death was being used for political gain." Franken continued:

But Kahn's speech was also full of phrases like "[our] hearts are now shattered" and "tonight we are filled to overflowing with overwhelming grief and sorrow." This speech was coming from someone who was crushed by the deaths of his best friend, his best friend's wife, his best friend's daughter, and three other very close friends. Yeah, it had some inappropriate moments. But I assumed that people would understand, and cut the man a little slack. [Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Pages 183-185]

Speeches not vetted by memorial organizers. Franken included the following statement from Ann Mulholland, who helped plan the memorial:

We asked each family to choose someone to do the eulogy. At no point did it ever cross anyone's mind to read the speeches. The day before, the people from the hearing impaired group asked, "Do you have any of the speeches?" I just laughed. They wanted to type the speeches in for the closed captioning, but we just didn't have anything.

On Monday night, our press guy said to me, "Oh my gosh -- this is going to be on TV. Should we be thinking about something?" By then, it was just kind of too late. [Page 192]

"Political" smear started by GOP operatives including former Rep. Weber, who later admitted "there was some very nice stuff" at the service. Franken wrote:

The morning after the memorial, I picked up the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and turned to the special section devoted to the event. It was titled "One Last Rally: Victims Remembered with Cheers and Tears," with a heartbreaking picture of Paul and Sheila's granddaughter, Cari, crying. There were two stories on the front page. One was about the event itself: "Overflow Crowd Pays Tribute to Wellstone." The other was about GOP spin: "Republicans Decry Service as Political." With the stories side by side, it was as if two different events had taken place. The real one, and the lie one.

Vin Weber was framing the Republican story line. "This was NOT a memorial to Paul Wellstone. This was a political event." Weber said that the event was a "complete, total, absolute sham" and accused the Democrats of "exploit[ing] Wellstone's memory totally, completely and shamelessly for political gain."

[...]

When I called Vin Weber to research this chapter, I asked him whether he had watched the whole event and whether he had seen any of the eulogies. He said, "Yeah, there was some very nice stuff." This candid Vin was a refreshing break from the lying Vin who talked to the Star Tribune in 2002. But Lying Vin had planted the story line: The memorial was a total sham, a political charade. [Pages 186-187]

Franken traces spin of memorial as "political event" through media. Franken documented the evolution in the media of the smear that Wellstone's memorial service was politicized. He traced the Republican spin of the memorial service as a "political event" from the Minneapolis Star Tribune to C-SPAN's Washington Journal to Rush Limbaugh and eventually to "the mainstream" with Tucker Carlson, who claimed on CNN's Crossfire that "a memorial service for the late Senator Paul Wellstone was hijacked by partisan zealots and turned into a political rally. Republican friends of Senator Wellstone were booed and shouted down as they tried to speak." But Franken undercut those claims in an interview with Carlson documented in the book. Under Franken's questioning, Carlson admitted he had not yet seen the tape of the memorial when he made those claims and was under the incorrect assumption that Kahn was not in fact Wellstone's best friend. Moreover, there were no "Republican friends of Wellstone" who spoke or attempted to speak at the funeral, a fact Carlson acknowledged in his conversations with Franken. Nonetheless, the myth that the memorial was a political event continued to spread throughout the media. [Pages 193-195]

Media similarly accused liberals of politicizing King's funeral, but ignored politicization of Reagan's

Media highlighted purportedly "partisan" funeral of Coretta Scott King. As Media Matters for America documented, the claims that King's funeral was "partisan" stemmed primarily from a tribute delivered by civil rights activist Rev. Joseph Lowery, which included a reference to prewar intelligence failures in Iraq, and one by former President Jimmy Carter, who made what many interpreted as a reference to President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program.

But media ignored political elements of Reagan's funeral. President Ronald Reagan's funeral did not provoke similar scrutiny, despite clear political overtones. For example, the media largely ignored the fact that no Democrats were invited to speak at either the funeral at the National Cathedral or at a ceremony held on Capitol Hill two days earlier.

Transcripts

From the August 26 broadcast of ABC Radio Networks' and Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:

HANNITY: And it is the degree to which the mainstream media has tried to, you know, not talk about his family, not talk about how he battled brain cancer, not talk about -- oh, well, some people did bring up the more controversial aspects of his life. But to the extent that it has been used by so many on the left to promote Obamacare, it is, you know -- that somehow, his death is added reason now to make its passage.

Now, I just -- we have Senator Byrd, according to the Politico, wants Democrats to rename the Obamacare bill after Ted Kennedy. I don't know if they want to call it "Kennedycare," and I'm not sure what the name is here, but -- "Ailing Senator Robert Byrd, one of only two to have served longer than Kennedy, suggests, in an emotional statement, renaming the pending health care legislation for the late Massachusetts senator. 'In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to the ideals, let us stop the shouting and name-calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform, which, I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American.' "

We've got The Wall Street Journal reporting -- and by the way, a lot of this was the politicizing of -- remember Paul Wellstone's death? You know, "Let's do everything for Paul." And we're now being implored to get behind Obamacare because it's what Ted Kennedy would have wanted.

From the August 26 broadcast of Talk Radio Network's The Savage Nation:

MARKOWSKI: We got Mike on the phone from Portland, Oregon. Mike, Welcome to The Savage Nation.

CALLER: Yeah, hello. My comment was that if Ted Kennedy had wanted his name on this health care bill, I think that he would -- I would want to see where he said that in writing before he died. He had plenty of time to say, "Hey" --

MARKOWSKI: I don't think he's requested -- you got to understand, it's a show. OK? It's political theater. Like the Democrats thought that whole Wellstone memorial was going to -- it was going to force them to -- it was going to allow them to win the Senate race in Minnesota. This is political theater. It's a show.

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