Lessons learned fromm controversy over earmarks

Friday, August 24, 2007

In case you needed a reminder of the power -- and danger -- of e-mail, the recent flap over Sen. Ben Nelson's earmark of funding for a software company that has a McCook office should serve the purpose.

It was also a disappointing glimpse into how childish and petty some congressional staffers can be.

The Gazette and other Nebraska dailies had noticed some unusual e-mails from the office of Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, criticizing Nelson's use of earmarks for funding 21st Century Systems, which not only employs his son, but has a presence in his home town.

Earmarks are certainly a practice that's open to question -- Sen. Nelson's office has done the same for some spending that has benefited Coburns' state as well.

But one click of the wrong button proved embarrassing for the Oklahoman and his spokesman, John Hart, who wrote that a newspaper article about the earmark would "shut that f--- up. Tomorrow we can announce the launch of the probe.

In another e-mail, " I can't wait to send an In Case You Missed It to Nebraska press that will be forwarded to a-- face."

Another Coburn staffer added to the mess, hitting "Reply All" and joking that questions could be referred to Nelson's hair dresser and his son's parole officer. While Nelson has had notable hair of various colors, his son has never had a parole officer.

It's dangerous enough to use such language in private -- just ask the late Richard Nixon. But in this day of instant communication, sending such sentiments by e-mail -- and to the wrong people, as Hart did, can ruin a political operative's reputation quickly.

Coburn's staff immediately apologized, but the damage was already done.

One positive result, perhaps, is that the senator's staff will clam up for a while.

A better result would be that more of us would keep such language to ourselves.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: