The media long knives come out for Herschel Walker

AP Photo/Butch Dill, File

On Tuesday, Georgia’s voters will vote in their state’s primary contests, and on the GOP side, NFL legend Herschel Walker still seems to be a solid favorite in the polls to be the Senate nominee. Predictably, the media has been lining up stories to undermine Walker’s chances for a seat in the upper chamber. And to be fair, Walker has made it fairly easy for them to hit him because of a series of rookie mistakes. The latest target selected by the Associated Press is his long relationship with a group named Patriot Support. Walker has brought up his role in the organization many times on the campaign trail, describing it as a charity that helps thousands of veterans who are dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues. And that is indeed the stated mission of the organization. But the reality is a bit more complicated.

Herschel Walker, the football legend and leading Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, often boasts of his work helping service members and veterans struggling with mental health.

In interviews and campaign appearances, the former Dallas Cowboy and Heisman Trophy winner takes credit for founding, co-founding and sometimes operating a program called Patriot Support. The program, he says, has taken him to military bases all over the world.

“About fifteen years ago, I started a program called Patriot Support,” Walker said in an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt last October. “People need to know I started a military program, a military program that treats (thousands) of soldiers a year,” he told Savannah TV station WTGS in February.

Walker frequently says that he either “founded” or “co-founded” Patriot Support, but that’s not remotely close to being true. The group was around for eleven years before he was hired by Universal Health Services Incorporated to be their celebrity spokesperson. He has traveled to many military bases to bolster support for the troops, but that was his primary role. He was not an actual executive responsible for the operation of the group. And he is paid more than $300,000 per year for his services.

Further, Patriot support is not a charity. It’s a for-profit organization that isn’t even rated by Charity Navigator and it’s faced accusations of actually ripping off veterans and overcharging the government. These are all facts that the media was able to suss out in a matter of minutes. A candidate with a more experienced staff would have warned Walker away from playing up his involvement with the group and told him to stick to just doing troop support appearances at military bases.

As the AP notes, this claim of having founded Patriot support wasn’t Walker’s first rookie mistake on the campaign trail. He has made claims about his success as a businessman in the private sector that were significantly exaggerated, to put it charitably. He has also repeatedly claimed to have graduated at the “top of his class” at the University of Georgia when, in reality, he never completed his degree or graduated.

Much like the claims about Patriot Support, all of these things were childishly easy for reporters to check and confront him with as a candidate. Pretty much every political candidate tries to fluff up their record as much as possible, but it’s generally through exaggerations, not outright falsehoods. And they need to have staffers who are capable of carefully vetting all of the people, organizations, and donors that are attached to the candidate’s name. If you don’t take those steps, your opponent will happily do it for you and feed that information to the media, particularly if you are running as a Republican.

With all of that said, the media’s overall treatment of Herschel Walker as a political candidate is worth noting, particularly compared to the sort of coverage he received as a football player and celebrity spokesman. Notice how nobody is talking about the “historic” nature of a successful Black man having a chance at a Senate seat. It’s not that Walker’s record and claims shouldn’t be examined. Since he decided to put himself forward as a Senate candidate, that has to be done. But the press is noticeably silent regarding Walker’s race compared to the way they celebrate whenever a minority Democrat starts rising in the polls or winning elections. To most reporters, Walker is just another Trump-endorsed Republican and they are on a mission to dig up as much dirt on him as they can.