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Romney consultant Mike Murphy’s technical problems. Plus, the Globe finally notices Romney’s BYU connections.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2002 -- Does history repeat itself? Both the Globe and the Herald report a strange story about a faux pas by the Mitt Romney campaign for governor. Evidently, Romney’s campaign submitted a television spot that doctored the words of Democrat Shannon O’Brien at a recent debate. The ad quoted -- in her own voice -- O’Brien as saying "We’re not going out to get big dinosaurs from other states." Her real statement was much more lengthy and detailed.

Team Romney blames the ad on a mistake -- an ad agency sent the wrong tape to television stations. The O’Brien camp says dirty politics.

Whichever, it wasn’t good for Romney. But interestingly, this is not the first time Romney’s political consultant Michael Murphy has been plagued with technical problems in advertisements. Several months ago, a Republican operative told me the following story about Murphy’s work on behalf of Republican Rick Lazio who was then battling with Hillary Rodham Clinton for the New York Senate seat.

The Lazio camp planned a major ad trumpeting Lazio’s support for Israel -- a big issue in a race in which Clinton’s pro-Israel credentials were being questioned. One of the testimonials in the ad was from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was popular in those pre-September 11th days, albeit not as popular as today. The Lazio campaign planned a high profile press conference, at which Giuliani, who had been Clinton’s opponent in the race until he dropped out after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, would appear by Lazio’s side, and then the ad would be shown to reporters.

There was only one problem. Giuliani’s name was misspelled on the ad -- a mistake that could destroy whatever good was to come out of the spot. Handlers had to think quickly. They convened the press conference and showed the ad with camera crews filming it. And -- to the relief of the Lazio campaign -- nobody noticed the mistake (so much for sharp-eyed reporters). The handlers were still not done. Having already given out copies of the tarnished tape to reporters, they had to take it back with some excuse.

Murphy escaped embarrassment that time, but my Republican source issued a warning that now may be coming true. "It was sloppy work," he said. "His commercials sucked."


One additional comment. It’s nice to see the Boston Globe running a hard-hitting news story about Romney’s links to Brigham Young University, which requires students to consent to a strict honor code that bans gay sex -- and all extramarital sex, for that matter! Of course, the Phoenix first reported this story in April. Here’s what we said back then: "It was to honor his father that Romney donated $1 million to Brigham Young University, and in 1998, the school created the George Romney Institute of Public Management. BYU, from which Romney graduated in 1971, is a private Mormon institution that attempts to educate students in the spirit of the religion. The university has a strict honor code that regulates student behavior — from banning the use of caffeine and alcohol to forbidding private visits with members of the opposite sex. It also maintains strict limits on students’ sexual activities. In a category labeled "Sexual and Similar Misconduct," the university states that "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU affirm that sexual relationships outside the covenant of marriage are inappropriate." The code cites "extramarital relations," "promiscuity," and "homosexual conduct" as "inappropriate."

"Last year, the school suspended two students accused of honor-code violations because of gay activity, reports a March 29, 2001, Salt Lake Tribune story. One of the students was suspended for such activity as visiting an Internet gay chat room, kissing another man, and going on dates. The student denied the allegations. The scope of the honor code goes far beyond gay sex, though. BYU suspended undergraduate Julie Stoffer after she appeared on the MTV program The Real World. Her violation? Sleeping in the same home with men who were not her husband.

"The Romney campaign acknowledges the candidate’s involvement with BYU. "Any support Mitt has given BYU is to show gratitude for the education Mitt and his five sons received there," says [Romney spokesman Eric] Fehrnstrom, adding that Jim McMahon, the wild man former quarterback for the Chicago Bears, attended the school. Fehrnstrom doesn’t "know much about the honor code," he says. "So I don’t know how rigid their honor code is."

"For the school’s part, BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins says that while the school’s honor code strictly circumscribes the behavior of students — including homosexuality — it also makes that clear to prospective students, who must sign a pledge promising to abide by the code if they are admitted. "We make it extremely open," says Jenkins. "We want it to be their choice and an environment they want to live in. If it’s not, then it’s probably not the place for them." She confirmed that the students described in the Salt Lake Tribune and the participant in the MTV program The Real World were suspended, but she would not provide details about the incidents. It’s fair to note that, as Jenkins points out, that students sign the BYU code voluntarily. It’s also fair to point out that what plays well in Utah doesn’t play as well in Massachusetts."

It’s nice to see the Globe catching up.


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Issue Date: October 17, 2002
"Today's Jolt" archives: 2002  2001

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