This column is not about the governor’s underwear — though I won’t be surprised if I get accused of attacking the governor over her underwear.
It’s about the fine art of political “framing.” And it applies to the situation two years ago when The New Mexican and other news organizations revealed that Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration was using private email accounts to do government business in hopes of evading public records requests.
At the time, Democrats and Martinez critics tried to frame that as Martinez running a “shadow government.” But now Martinez and her supporters have turned it around. Forget the “shadow government,” it’s all about pervy liberals obsessed with the governor’s underwear.
The underwear flap — so to speak — began in December 2012. The Santa Fe Reporter wrote a piece on a huge cache of Martinez’s emails they received in a public records request from the Attorney General’s Office. (The leak later was traced to Martinez’s former campaign manager, now awaiting sentencing for illegally intercepting email and lying to the FBI about it.)
The story said that Attorney General Gary King, now the Democratic nominee for governor, “released the emails … without redacting anything, even purchases linked to Martinez’ [iTunes] account of Nickelback, Lifehouse and Kenny Chesney songs; Spanx undergarments; and the popular book 50 Shades of Grey. His office didn’t even withhold a Martinez staffer’s Wells Fargo checking account statements showing an overdrafted savings account.”
That was it, just a passing mention in a long story. If you’re willing to search through hundreds of pages of emails, you can find the Spanx order buried in the documents posted on the Reporter’s website.
The “governor’s underwear” order didn’t become an outright meme until months later. In September of last year, when the Reporter sued Martinez for alleged violations of public records law, the official comment from the Governor’s Office began, “It’s not a surprise that a left-wing weekly tabloid that published stolen emails containing the governor’s personal underwear order would file a baseless suit like this.”
In an April fundraising email, Martinez herself blasted the “same liberals who decry the ‘War on Women’ are more than happy to promote the same line of attack as those who stole my personal underwear order.”
I did a search of my email this week using the words “underwear” and “Spanx” and found eight news releases and fundraising appeals from the Martinez campaign and the state GOP, plus two statements from a spokesman for the Governor’s Office. There was just one email from King’s camp mentioning the subject, a rebuttal this week to the recent Martinez TV ad that brought up the underwear.
“Martinez clearly wanted [King] to protect her from potential repercussions by breaking New Mexico open records law,” King’s email said, “… apparently, the Spanx order wasn’t the only thing she wanted to hide.”
This resulted in an explosion from the Susana Twitter gang.
Rep. Monica Youngblood tweeted, “Gary King sinking to new lows attacking Gov. for wearing spanx is outrageous. Talk about War on Women.” Darren White retweeted that, adding the hashtag “#creepy.” Earlier, White tweeted that King “just attacked the governor for wearing spanx.”
Not one but three accounts associated with the Republican Governor’s Association chimed in. “Disgraceful: New Mexico Democrat Gary King attacks Gov. Susana Martinez on her underwear purchase,” one tweeted.
Almost lost in the outrage over the mentioning of the unmentionables was that in a news release about the underwear, the Martinez camp had a valid complaint.
While King’s “disgraceful” email didn’t “attack” Martinez for her undergarments, it did say that King did not seek the intercepted emails from any source. Martinez’s campaign produced an email from a King assistant requesting that Michael Corwin turn over all the emails to the Attorney General’s Office. Corwin had previously offered to turn over the emails he thought might be relevant to an investigation of the racino contract awarded to The Downs at Albuquerque. (So far no charges have risen out of that investigation.)
But it’s hard to take charges of King telling “an outright lie” seriously when, in the same release, Martinez’s people aren’t telling the truth about who has done more to publicize the governor’s underwear.