Thursday, June 23, 2011

Don't Blame You or Me...Blame The Guy Behind the Tree

I was interested in this item from Robert McCartney’s column from the Washington Post today.

“Schurick’s attorney, Peter Zeidenberg, suggested his side’s defense is to blame Henson. He said Schurick, a senior adviser of Ehrlich’s, only found out about the robocalls in late afternoon on Election Day and wasn’t able to vet them. ‘Mr. Schurick and the campaign relied on Mr. Henson’s expertise,’ Zeidenberg said. ‘They didn’t have an opportunity at 4:30 or 4:45 on Election Day to do test marketing.’”

Based on my experience working with him, I can easily believe Schurick did not know about the specifics of the call until the afternoon of Election Day.

Anyone who has ever worked with him can tell you his strengths lie in his creativity and experience rather than his organizational skills. Administrative tasks and routine follow-through activities often overwhelmed him.

Case in point: His State House voice mailbox – dubbed “The Black Hole of Annapolis” by some of us – was often filled with calls he never got around to returning.

I tend to be creatively oriented as well, so I make that point with empathy rather than judgment.

I also believe that the call wasn’t fully or properly vetted before it launched.

As I have written elsewhere, fielding the call makes no practical sense to even the most casual observer. The only reasonable explanation is that it was a strategic misfire resulting from the frenetic, last minute efforts of campaign aides more concerned about doing something instead of ensuring it was the right thing.

Still, I am not sure that the “we never got around to vetting it” excuse is going to work here.

“Test marketing” obviously bad ideas is not necessary. The deficiencies of the robocalls as a campaign strategy would have quickly been revealed had campaign aides asked one question: “What exactly are these calls supposed to accomplish?”

Failing to ask it does not absolve them of the blame for approving it anyway. It only makes their decision seem more reckless.

I don’t think chalking the whole thing up to deferring to Henson’s “expertise” is credible, either.

Henson’s reputation for pulling these racially-divisive kinds of election stunts was well-established when they hired him. They knew exactly what they were getting. And, paying him made them responsible for his eventual successes or failures.

If you hire Charles Manson as your gardener, are you really going to be surprised if he winds up killing your neighbor?  And, don’t you bear some of the responsibility for it as well?

In any event, it is going to be interesting to watch how this robo-drama plays out in the criminal court, and the court of public opinion, in the months ahead.


  1. I am not sure what you are suggesting here. If the indictment is true, it is clear that Schurick knew about the call and even heard it before it was placed.

    Look at paragraphs 36, 37 and 38 of the indictment. Schurick clearly not only knew about the calls before they were made, he listened to it.,0,5773184.htmlpage

    Reading the indictment, it is amazing that Massoni didn't get indicted. Unless of course he is cooperating.

  2. Anon @ 6/23 @ 14:57

    Yes, I read the indictment. And, if it is true, Schurick did indeed listen to the call.

    The purpose of the blog post was to look at two contentions Schurick's lawyer made: 1) Schurick did not know about the call until election day afternoon; and 2)the call had not been properly "vetted."

    I conclude that, if true, then neither contention is really relevant to the case.

    When Schurick knew about the call until election day isn't really important. The fact that he knew about it at all - and, indeed, listened to it - is.

    Schurick's failure to vet the call with a larger group, including those who could offer a legal opinion, is unfortunate for him but also irrelevant. Sounds like he listened to it and either quickly approved it or didn't disapprove it. When I worked for him in the State House, I took his non-commentary on various speeches I circulated to him as tacit approval.

    Of course, why he would approve it remains the biggest question hanging over this whole mess.