Conservatives are up in arms over an incident last night in which a Weekly Standard reporter who was pursuing Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley ended up on the ground — with ripped pants — after an altercation with a Coakley aide.
Here’s what seem to have happened, based on video of the incident, and several written accounts, including one by the reporter himself:Coakley, a Democrat, was in DC for a fundraiser at a Capitol Hill restaurant. After the event ended, she took a few questions from reporters on the street, then began walking away. John McCormack of the Weekly Standard followed her, asking why health-care industry lobbyists had been at the fundraiser. At that point, Michael Meehan, a veteran Democratic political consultant who is working for Coakley’s campaign appears to have shoved McCormack, in an effort to prevent him from getting to Coakley. The reporter tripped over a low fence and fell to the ground, causing what he has said was a ten-inch rip in his suit pants. Meehan helped him up, but continued to block his path to the candidate. Meehan has said that McCormack did not identify himself as a reporter when asked, causing Meehan to think that he might be a campaign operative for Scott Brown, Coakley’s GOP opponent.
McCormack is no stranger to confrontations with the campaigns he covers. The police were summoned last fall after McCormack pursued GOP moderate Dede Scozzafava to ask her a question about abortion. “[Scozzafava] got startled, that’s all,” the cop told McCormack, according to the reporter’s account. “It’s not like you’re in any trouble.”
As for the Meehan altercation, the main players seem to be willing to turn the page. In a statement today, Meehan acknowledged he was “a little too aggressive” in trying to shepherd Coakley to her car. And after writing his account of the incident, McCormack followed up by reporting that Meehan had called him and apologized. “Apology accepted,” wrote McCormack.
But some conservatives appear less willing to let bygones be bygones. Video of the brouhaha has been making the rounds on right-wing blogs today, under headlines like “Coakley Thug Roughs Up Weekly Standard Reporter.” And Republicans have called on Coakley to fire Meehan.
Some GOPers are even finding a way to invoke Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez. Meehan has been nominated to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees American broadcasting operations like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. And a Republican Hill aide told Politico that the GOP would try to make hay out of the episode during Meehan’s as-yet-unscheduled confirmation hearings. “The BBG works to promote freedom and stop abuse of the press overseas,” said the aide. “What kind of message does that send dictators in Iran and Venezuela if the U.S. promotes someone caught on tape assaulting reporters?”
Coakley was forced to respond to the incident today. She told the Boston Globe she didn’t know what happened, but added: “I do know that the Scott Brown stalkers who have followed me around, and the people at that press conference who were for very, I think, right-leaning publications were incredibly aggressive about trying to get in my face.”
Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general, had been expected to comfortably win the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy, but recent polls have shown her and Brown in a virtual dead heat.