Saturday, October 14, 2006

Stealing signs

This isn't a post about baseball or football.
Nope, it's about the only adult sport there truly is -- politics.
Every year in every political campaign, somebody whines about campaign signs being torn down by the "opponents" and you sometimes get complaints that the losers and the winners leave their signs up too long after the campaign.
Mark Sanford has a billboard up on I-77 from the 2002 campaign that never, ever came down, but that's an extreme example. It’s in good shape, so it’s not litter. That’s a political decision.
Rarely, rarely do you hear anything good come of sign stealing. Almost never do you hear about something coming of it on the "criminal" level.
I've been covering politics for a long time, and the sign stealing is the issue of the infantile and moronic. And that goes on both sides of a campaign.
Almost always, the ones stealing signs are, as I said, infantile and moronic.
But on the flip side of the coin, the candidates or campaigners who complain about sign stealing are also infantile and moronic.
Case in point -- the following e-mail was sent out to a few newspapers.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
From: "joe st. john"
Date: Fri, October 13, 2006 11:35 pm

From: Mr Wayne Wilkinson
CC: Mike Harrison
Subject: Please write Mike Harrison, editor of the Fort Mill Times asking why he won't investigate the thousands of dollars in Ralph Norman signs being stolen every week in Fort Mill and Rock Hill.
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2006 14:12:14 -0700 (PDT)
Friends and Fort Mill Residents; We are all aware of the media bias that works against conservatives at a national level. We are familiar with Dan Rather and his "antics" during the 2004 Presidential Race. We know about the bias of the New York Times and that the national media sat on the Mark Foley story until just four weeks before the mid-term elections. But are you aware that in our local congressional race (Ralph Norman v. John Spratt) that there are many issues going unreported by our local media? The local media has been quick to jump on Ralph Norman because Wachovia Bank is using illegal workers to build on property owned by Warren Norman Company.
This isn't even a Warren Norman project, it's a Wachovia project with their contractors and sub-contractors. But this isn't what the "drive by" media reported. They seem to have their own version of the truth.

(Edited to remove two different claims about Spratt’s family that have no proof included.)

Friends, we can't even get the Fort Mill Times to report about the thousands of dollars of campaign signs being stolen every week. During this campaign season, there have been seven 4'x8' campaign signs ($45 each) stolen from the hill just 200 yards from the paper's offices on Main Street. That is just one location. Again, the Norman campaign has had thousands of dollars in signs stolen while Congressman Spratt's go untouched. Some say that signs being stolen is just part of election year politics and to an extent it is... but when there is clearly an organized effort to steal signs from the same locations every week - signs that are being purchased through your campaign contributions... we need to say "enough is enough, the media needs to report the truth". We need your help - e-mail or call Mike Harrison, editor of the Fort Mill Times, asking why he won't cover this story.
Pass this message along to your friends and neighbors, ask the media to do their job. Mike's e-mail is news@fortmilltimes and his phone number is (803) 547-2353.
Wayne Wilkinson

There is a note at the bottom that will explain how I know what I'm about to say. But Mr. Wilkinson went to the Fort Mill Times and the editor there did indeed refuse to do a story on it.
After hearing Wilkinson out, he asked one question.
"Did you file a police report?"
Wilkinson had not and said he wasn't going to. The Fort Mill Times isn't going to do a story unless there is a police report.
It's not media bias nor a conspiracy against Norman. It's just journalistic responsibility.
Stealing "thousands of dollars" of signs is grand larceny, so one wonders why, if they are so upset about the theft of these signs, that they won't treat it as the thing they are alleging it to be -- the crime of theft?
This was forwarded to Joe St. Johns, who sent it out to a few newspaper. Two of the e-mail addresses in his list are no longer good. One of the persons doesn't even live in this state anymore. Another is the editor of the Florence newspaper, which is so remote I can't imagine why he was included. It is a paper in the same Congressional District, but it's about 100 miles away from Fort Mill.
Here's my experience with campaign signs in this particular race.
I covered the Chester County GOP meet the candidates meeting. Check it out here.
I didn't include one particular anecdote in that story, but a campaign worker for Norman was asked about signs getting stolen. They were "the big signs," the worker was told.
He very quickly said they had the same problem in "Rock Hill," and it was primarily the big signs.
Those signs were being knocked down not as a campaign prank, the young campaigner said, but because people want to steal the metal supports for the vinyl signs.
And he quickly said, "Same thing is happening to the Spratt campaign signs" of that type.
Given a perfect opportunity to whine and moan, the Norman campaign instead acted like it had been there before.
The complaint from Mr. Wilkinson is about more things than just the signs. Whether his complaints on the other issue are valid or not.
But his complaint about the Fort Mill Times is way off the mark.
If Wilkinson doesn't take the problem seriously enough to file a police report, why should the Fort Mill Times treat it seriously?
The Fort Mill Times has taken the issue of sign theft seriously in the past. It once ran a picture of a municipal council candidate in the paper. The picture showed the candidate stealing his opponent's signs. The police report that backed the story up noted the candidate's car was searched and his trunk loaded with his opponents signs.
It was exactly the problem that Wilkinson is complaining about, but it was a solid story, not some ephemeral allegation made only to the editor of a newspaper.
It was covered like any other crime would be covered.
A couple of other notes on campaign sign theft.
Danny Stacy, the successful GOP candidate for the S.C. House seat that includes both Chester and Cherokee counties made a joke about a similar complaint made by his opponent in the Republican primary for the House 29 seat. Marcia Duncan, his opponent, actually filed a police report in Cherokee County and said the crime was theft of "thousands of dollars" of signs.
He suggested that the signs may have cost that much to make, but they weren't WORTH that much. They are just paper and wooden stakes. He thought it was kind of childish.
Lastly, this one goes a while back, is way out of this area, but the candidate I have the most respect for on the sign issue is a guy named Richard Huggins.
Huggins ran for Barnwell County Council in the late '90s. I went over his campaign disclosure forms and saw he listed an expense of a few hundred dollars, paid to a guy to REMOVE his signs.
He paid a guy in advance to remove his signs after the election was over.
Best campaign money I've ever seen spent, because once the campaign is over, win or lose, the sign goes from being political speech to litter.
Wilkinson ought to take a cue from those others.
Sign theft is a joke to another candidate for S.C. House. It's something another candidate will spend money on to remove because any value they have disappears the day after the General Election.
But if he thinks it is serious enough, he then ought to do the serious first step. File a police report.
Until then, it's just whiny, crybaby political paranoia. The only person doing any “drive-by” anything is Wilkinson, expecting a newspaper to print a criminal allegation without filing a police report first.

A note
I sometimes tread a precarious line being married to whom I am married. It's more precarious for her than me.
But sometimes, things, like this, can be crystal clear.
I am the editor of The News & Reporter in Chester. My wife is currently on maternity leave, but she's the publisher of the Fort Mill Times.
There is no competitive overlap in our coverage areas, but her paper is owned by McClatchy Newspapers, which also owns The Evening Herald in Rock Hill, which purports to cover Chester County. It can get sticky for her sometimes.
But we actually (to use small town talk) take The Evening Herald as our daily newspaper. My wife and her paper are extremely focused on Fort Mill Township, and nobody covers that area better. I am not small-town oriented, however. I like to focus on at least the county level, so to find out what is going on in the county, we "take" The Herald.
Maybe we could subscribe to The Charlotte Observer, but it hasn't become a McClatchy paper editorially yet, and suffers from overblown sense of importance, relevance and other kinds of grandiosity. In a couple of years, it will have adjusted to the better way McClatchy does things.
And honestly, I live in South Carolina and don’t like anything about North Carolina, except for Ri-Ra’s Irish pub in downtown Charlotte.
That’s it.
So when I got an e-mail from these guys complaining about the Fort Mill Times, I just had to ask her what she knew. She told me what her editor told her. Mike's a good guy.
I haven’t talked to Mike, but my educated guess here is Mr. Wilkinson thinks he wasn’t taken seriously. My approach would be pretty much the same as Mike’s. My guess, again, is that it’s not Mike not taking Wilkinson seriously. I think Wilkinson isn't taking this "problem" seriously, because he's not doing what he ought to do, and filing the report.
Given the attitude of Norman's paid campaign staffer in Chester, which I hope reflects the campaign's attitude, I wonder if the Norman campaign knows whether they were shopping around a "They're stealing our signs" story, which most people take as a "BOO HOO" story.
One other thing I take very seriously is complaints about the "liberal media conspiracy," like the ones alleged in this letter.
I generally think such claims are a joke. I think there are some problems on the big level with CBS. But to paint a local community newspaper as part of the "liberal media elite" because of Dan Rather's unfortunate exit from the profession is intellectually tortured and impossible to prove. It is not true.
Unfortunate, such a conspiracy theory, while untrue, is impossible to disprove. The people who believe such things will take anything as an proof of their "theory."
But to perhaps head off at the pass such an accusation on my part, my newspaper has run just two letters of endorsement in this race, one during primary time and one more recently.
They were attack ads on Mr. Spratt, and they were written by Mr. St. John. Why someone from Fort Mill wants to let the people of Chester know he much he dislikes Mr. Spratt is beyond me.
We ran a letter from Spratt refuting Mr. St. John's claims in the first go-round. His second letter hasn't drawn a response.
St. John 1
Spratt refutes
St. John 2


Anonymous said...

So they shouldn't whine when hundreds of 4x8 signs are being stolen? Signs that are 70 bucks a shot?

Man that is a lot of money to lose.

These are not Yard Signs Sir. These are Big 4x8 Signs. Let me decide what is or is not an issue on my blog. Unless you can run my blog better than I can.


SGuilfoyle said...

Mr. Taylor has a blog of his own.

He runs the letter I received without comment there. Click here to check it out if you like.

He ran it in its entirety. There are allegations he runs that I would not put in my paper nor on my blog because there is no offer of proof.

Without such proof, it leaves the utterer of such remarks and the publisher of such remarks open to a legit libel suit.

I didn't say anything that would rise to the level of telling you what NOT to put on your blog.

I just said this isn't an issue. It's a joke.

Mr. Wilkinson wants to make out like this is the "liberal media conspiracy." He goes so far as to quote Rush Limbaugh's "Drive-by" media line.

Truth is, they thought they could slip an unsubstantiated allegation past the "little old" Fort Mill times, and instead, found a newspaper willing to hold to standards.

I suspect that the reason it is on your blog now is because it found no takers among the newspapers it was first e-mailed out to. Not because they are pro-Spratt. Just because they have standards.

In my blog post, put up very early last week, I gave a couple of reasons where this happens that have nothing to do with political hijinks.

A Norman campaign worker made a very adult response about this in Chester, saying it was happening to Spratt signs too.

Wilkinson once sat on the Fort Mill Times editorial board and ought to know better about their standards than to try and play a stunt like this. I wonder if the Norman campaign knows what he and Mr. St. John are up to?

if the campaign is as mature as I hope it is, given the comments from the worker at the Chester rally (he was young, but sounded mature) I bet they don't.

It's penny ante stuff you'd see in a race for dog-catcher.

Two more things. This also isn't coming from just anybody. Apparently the guy who sent the e-mail to me may have ties to the Norman campaign, not just as an "average" supporter.

And lastly, did they check with Fort Mill's code enforcer? There are rules about where signs can go, and the Fort Mill Times has already done a story about HIM pulling up signs.

And when he does it, he's as non-partisan as they come, and when he does it, he's ENFORCING the law.

There's a lot of reasons why this may be happening. That's another. But for ANYONE to jump to the conclusion that it's the "drive-by media" doing it's dirty old tricks doesn't know squat about the Fort Mill Times.

How long have YOU been reading it?

Swampygator said...

Well for starts Mr. Guilfoyle this has been an issue ever since the Mayor of Fort Mill took signs down on July 3rd, then we had signs taken down by town officials. I am not whinning about non issues here. All I wanted was someone to be honest about the elected officials and the town employees taken our signs down we really just wanted reasoning. Because of all the signs that are in the same place none of the other signs have been taken down not even Congressman Spratt's!!

I could care less really if there is a story done but the truth is that this is a targeted theft of only Mr. Norman signs! And the Editor knew they were missing on a regular basis.....Whicjh included elected officials and the people he hires!

Secondly, the marriage letter that was submitted was not an attack it was a letter pointing at the issues just like the list of quotes that were just recently sent in. These are facts that the people need to know since the congressman never shows up and answers to his constituents!

Lastly, I wanna close and congragulate you and your better half on the new arrival.... Send my best thank you!

SGuilfoyle said...

Unfortunately, I have no idea who sent that. SwampyGator didn't leave a reply option on.

Perhaps Mr. Wilkinson, perhaps Mr. St. John. If so, my thanks on the compliment on the baby.

Anonymous said...


You keep commenting on that Norman staffer in Chester. Wake up buddy that staffer was (drumroll please) ME!

You took what I said that night out of context. I was referring to a specific person who was taking signs.

The rest of the signs are being stolent and it is NOT happening to the Spratt campaign like it is happening to us.

I had to leave the campaign staff to focus on school and some issues with my girlfriend (who was soon to be fiance) so I took to the blogosphere. You misquoted me bigtime.

The fact is the signs are being stolen in Fort Mill systematically. As are they in Rock Hill. It is no longer the guy wanting the posts since the Norman camp changed what they put their signs up with. It IS a story to cover.