If the allegations prove true – and the initial evidence seems pretty compelling – this will turn out to be yet another story of a blogger going off the rails and doing the wrong thing in pursuit of a story. According to recently breaking reports, blogger Clayton Thomas Kelly of Mississippi crossed all bounds of propriety by entering the nursing home room of the wife of Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) and photographing her for use in a political story.
A Pearl man who runs a political blog is accused of sneaking into a nursing home where U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife is bedridden and photographing her, then posting the image in a video political “hit piece” on the internet.
Madison Police arrested Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28, of Pearl on Friday night on a charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult. He’s being held on a $100,000 bond.
The police investigating the case put out a press release on the subject today.
The Madison Police Department received information on May 15th, 2014 concerning the possible exploitation of a vulnerable adult resident at Catherine’s Village located at 200 Dominican Drive in the City of Madison. As a result of the investigation, it was determined that Clayton Thomas Kelly – age 28 – of 3127 Greenfield Road Pearl, Ms had illegally and improperly obtained an image of a vulnerable adult resident without their consent for his own benefit. Clayton Kelly’s bond is set at $100,000.00 and he is currently being held at the Madison County Detention Center. The matter remains under investigation by the Madison Police Department.
Kelly’s blog is found here, but the political “hit piece” in question has since been removed.
It is important to note at this point that if there is no evidence suggesting that Kelly is in any way involved with the campaign of Chris McDaniel, currently in a heated primary battle with Senator Cochran, this shouldn’t affect the race. He seems to be an ardent supporter of McDaniel, as indicated by some previous blog posts (here and here) and photos, but that can be said of many people. Elected officials and candidates are, by definition, ultimately responsibile for not only their own actions, but those of their paid and/or appointed staff. But no candidate can control the irrational actions of deranged fans any more than Jodie Foster can be said to be responsible for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.
But is there more to the story? In an update from the Clarion-Ledger, Senator Cochran’s camp is raising an interesting question.
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s campaign is questioning how Chris McDaniel’s campaign manager, state Sen. Melanie Sojourner, apparently knew about Clayton Kelly’s arrest before news of him allegedly sneaking into Rose Cochran’s nursing home room and taking photos broke.
Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell said Sojourner left a voice mail message for Cochran campaign manager Kirk Sims at about 7:45 a.m. on Saturday, offering condolences over Kelly’s alleged actions and assurance McDaniel’s campaign doesn’t condone it. Russell said Sojourner indicated she had been concerned over the incident since Friday night.
Kelly was arrested Friday night. Police issued a press release about Kelly’s arrest late Friday night, but it and early news reports did not mention Rose Cochran, only a brief statement about his charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
A Clarion-Ledger article posted online at 9:24 a.m. broke the news about a connection between the arrest and the Cochrans.
This same article was later updated with a response from the McDaniel campaign:
“The McDaniel campaign found out about the break in when a local political blog posted about it at 11:40 p.m. last night. Senator McDaniel has denounced the break-in and called Senator Cochran to extend his condolences. It is unconscionable for the Cochran campaign and the liberal media to use the act of a sick individual to lob despicable accusations.”
The information still missing at the time of this posting is precisely which “local political blog” posted the information (with the Name of Cochran’s wife, I assume), since the local media didn’t have that detail until the next morning. The missing piece here – and this is purely speculation at this point – could be that the “local blog” in question was, in fact, Kelly’s blog. Since everyone seems to agree that the information had been posted there, and then removed, I suppose that’s possible. Of course, it would require a bit of luck on the part of McDaniel’s campaign manager to have just managed to catch the post on the blog between the time it was published and then pulled, but given the tendency of campaign workers to constantly monitor Google alerts for anything mentioning their opponent’s name, it’s not beyond the realm of the possible. (See Update below.)
If this claim about the phone message and its timing turns out to be true, it adds an entirely new element to the story, but we still need to hear from Sojourner, who isn’t commenting on it yet. If she did, in fact, know about this before the police released any details, including the identity of Cochran’s wife, somebody has some explaining to do and McDaniel will have to be on top of this immediately.
But either way it pans out, Kelly may serve as yet another important example and negative role model for citizen journalists. No matter what your motivation or desire to get into the mix of the political battlefield, there are boundaries which simply can not be crossed. I have no idea what would possess someone to think that invading the privacy of an elderly, bedridden woman suffering from dementia would be useful or a good idea in any way, but it appears that Mr. Kelly is about to learn a very expensive lesson on the subject.
Some similar sentiments from Doug Mataconis:
In the often combative history of American politics, I’ve got to say I don’t recall seeing anything quite like this. And while it was obviously not officially tied to the McDaniel campaign, it certainly seems to be a measure of the extent to which political debate in this country has descended into the gutter. NBC’s Chuck Todd summed it up well on Twitter this morning:
Politics should never become so rabid that crazy supporters do what happened to Sen. Cochran's wife.
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) May 17, 2014
Way over the line, whether the McDaniel campaign was involved or not.
UPDATE: (Jazz) The local blogger reporting on this story is saying that the offending video / pictures were posted either “two weeks ago” or April 26th, depending who you ask, so if that’s the case, the McDaniel camp couldn’t have found it in the way I surmised. Curiouser and curiouser, to quote one fable.