Great article in POLITICO today. I am glad to know that what I have been telling friends and family privately was again right on as to how the political world is changes due to instant news, 24/7 infotainment passed as news, and blogs. I explain at the end of this article as to why I feel all of this is important.
The Huffington Post dispatched a reporter to Texas this summer to investigate rumors about Rick Perry’s personal life, hoping for an irresistible story about hypocrisy.
Enter L. Lin Wood Jr.
Retained by Perry’s gubernatorial campaign committee, the acclaimed libel lawyer fired off a letter to the website in August, threatening to sue if the story ran – an aggressive response even for a candidate whose aides later admitted they entered “Def Con 9” mode when long-circulating rumors began to swirl anew as Perry prepared to run for president.
The Huffington Post’s founder Arianna Huffington said recently the website didn’t spike the story because of Wood’s letter, but because there was “simply no there there.”
Still, Wood’s behind-the-scenes work for Perry – and his more public efforts last month to shoot down allegations of sexual impropriety leveled at former Perry rival Herman Cain — suggest there’s an appetite among high-profile campaigns for a more aggressive response to damaging stories. And though some Washington scandal veterans argue Wood’s confrontational approach— which blends litigation-style PR with legal threats and actual lawsuits — is better suited for Hollywood and supermarket tabloid stories, others predict the demand for those services will only expand as scandals increasingly dominate political coverage that spreads rapidly online.
“I’m not out looking for business,” Wood told POLITICO. “But I think that any candidate for public office would be well advised to have the benefit of an experienced opinion on whether a particular article or a particular accusation might rise to the level of being actionable defamation, because I’m afraid that the environment is such that this type of reporting is not going to get better. I’m afraid that it’s only going to get worse.”
Wood is also representing failed Senate candidate Jeff Greene, who lost a Democratic primary in Florida last year, and is suing newspapers over stories that linked him to a real estate scheme. In a letter sent in the heat of the campaign to the St. Petersburg Times, Wood called their story “journalistic fiction” and suggested he would file a lawsuit for “many millions of dollars unless the Times immediately corrects its libel” by retracting the story.
Wood’s past clients show his work had been mostly outside politics until recently. I predict with Wood going out on his own now in a boutique law office we might see him more on the political stage and it would be smart to hire him before the other guy does is my motto.
Wood’s past clients include Democratic Rep. Gary Condit, in the reporting of the death of intern Chandra Levy. Wood became the star Libel Litigator in the country when he made his reputation by helping exonerate Richard Jewell. Wood went on to represent clients in a host of high-profile cases, including the parents of JonBenét Ramsey, the young woman who accused basketball star Kobe Bryant of sexual assault and of course multiple lawsuits in the Anna Nicole Smith saga.
Ray Sullivan, a Perry spokesman, told POLITICO that the governor’s team decided to hire Wood in August when “we got wind that” Huffington Post — which he described dismissively as “a liberal web-based media outlet” — “seemed intent on quickly writing lies about the governor, and we were concerned about the speed at which those lies could be published online.” Sullivan characterization of the situation matches one outlined in more detail in an ebook by Mike Allen and Evan Thomas, which explained that Perry’s aides were “distressed to learn that Jason Cherkis, a Huffington Post reporter, was in Austin prowling around on a story that had been gossiped about for years in the Texas capital: is Perry gay?”
The rumors included “a detailed story about a supposed assignation with a former [male] state official,” wrote Allen and Thomas.
Wood “authored one strongly worded letter to the media outlet, which never replied and never wrote the story,” Sullivan told POLITICO. Wood “did this one thing and that’s it. We never told him to stop and he’s not billing us now as far as I know. The purpose for which he has been retained is completed,” Sullivan said.
Arianna Huffington, president of The Huffington Post Media Group, told POLITICO that the decision not to run a story had nothing to do with the letter. “We looked at what we had; we realized that it was not a publishable story, and it was over,” she said. “The story was already killed before we got the letter from Lin Wood. I never even read the letter.” She added: “If we feel good about a story or stories, we run them, no matter what the legal threat. That’s not an issue. We have a great legal department and have no problem taking on legal challenges.”
Lin Wood’s work for Cain went differently. He began work more than a week after POLITICO first revealed that two women had received financial payouts after accusing Cain of sexual harassment. Additional accusations of harassment followed, as did an allegation from an Atlanta woman named Ginger White that she’d had a 13-year affair with Cain. L Lin Wood labeled all the allegations “lies,” urged women considering making additional allegations to “think twice” and wrote a letter to White’s lawyer asking for her phone records to “ascertain whether the decision to grant interviews was politically motivated and to determine whether she has received or [been] promised money for participating.” Wood also investigated the backgrounds of White and at least one supporter of another Cain accuser, and highlighted their financial problems, which he asserted the media had willfully ignored.
“What I find naive is the failure on the part of members of the media to be asking the tough questions of the accuser, someone who has obviously a troubled past, who has an incentive potentially financially to go out and to make these kinds of unfounded accusations,” Wood told Piers Morgan in an interview on CNN a few days after White went public about her alleged affair with Cain. “Why don’t you look at yourself, Piers, and the members of your media and recognize that you in fact and the media are participating in the deterioration of our political process?” In that interview if I remember correctly Wood never brought out the scandal consuming the U. K at the moment of illegal wire tapping which involves even Morgan’s previous employer.
Wood told POLITICO he has had “informal conversations or communications” with the lawyers for Sharon Bialek, who accused Cain of harassment, and White, “but there have been no formal demands made under applicable statutes at this point in time.”
Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said he “really enjoyed working with Mr. Wood,” who he said talked with “several individuals in leadership positions” on the campaign. But Gordon stressed that the lawyer worked for Cain personally and not the campaign, which would have been required to disclose payments to him.
Don’t be surprised if more defamation specialists like Wood get involved in politics, Richard Painter predicted, adding “accusations – and how to deal with them both in offense and defense – is an important part of the political game. This will be more common. It is most unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.”
Political lawyers serve their clients well by trying to block damaging stories from running and by seeking to stop the spread of those that do, said Trevor Potter, who was the top lawyer for [John] McCain’s presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2008. “In my experience, it is not unusual to hire lawyers and to have them intervene with news media to essentially litigate a story in the hopes that it can be knocked down and proven unsubstantiated before it is printed,” said Potter. “And obviously, from the campaign standpoint, you don’t want to have an accuser out there doing a press tour day after day. On the other hand, if you can’t prove it’s false, that’s a political problem, not a legal problem.”
Wood told POLITICO that it’s not about politics for him, explaining “my representation of political figures in my career is not based on a political ideology.”
Though he worked on Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign (recalling he was “extremely disappointed … to learn that in fact he was a crook”) and contributed to the presidential campaigns of Republicans John McCain and George W. Bush and Democrats John Edwards and Barack Obama, Wood said “I don’t claim to be a political person.”
The principles driving his work do not “vary based on whether it’s a presidential campaign or a senate campaign or a state campaign or even a non-political attack on someone’s reputation,” said Wood, who in his late teens spent about a year covering high school football and basketball for his hometown newspaper, The Macon News. “I just happen to take the view that the rules should be the same for public figures, political candidates, and even private individuals, and that is a rule that goes back and insists upon fundamental principles of journalism being adhered to by the media.”
Ah you have to wonder if Bush would have been a one term president if John Kerry had been smart enough to hire Lin Wood BEFORE the swift boat ads took hold?
This is offense PR at it’s best, and as explained in Lin Wood’s own words he is not about political ideology. In today’s instant stories online in some cases without a scintilla of evidence I have long said we would not have had great presidents in the past like Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. Wood sees where there is a need and will continue to fill that need in my opinion for years to come in the political arena. You can’t blame Wood’s belief in Nixon, I often say I voted for the guy both times and he broke my heart. Nixon is probably the single one reason I am a moderate independent that normally splits my vote today.
Be sure and read the whole story at POLITICO and the well documented links in the article that will give you a lot of background on Perry, Cain and Wood. Wonder how the democrat Jeff Greene’s litigation is going?
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December 18, 2011
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