One of the fun things about watching politics is trying to figure out all of the perpetually moving parts. The ongoing quest to understand the human drama and unravel power dynamics is what makes politics the single greatest reality show in the history of mankind.
One such minor, but intriguing mystery hit me this past week regarding the Alaska GOP’s weekly newsletter Must Read Alaska.
You remember Must Read Alaska, right? It is the Alaska GOP publication the party used over the last year to deliver nasty and questionably sourced attacks on their political opponents. It was the subject of criticism by The Midnight Sun in March for crossing the line in claiming an inappropriate relationship between an elected Democrat and a legislative staffer. Party officials later admitted they had no proof to support the rumor.
Over the last few weeks, Must Read Alaska seemed to be moving in multiple directions all at once.
On one hand the party appeared to be distancing itself from the publication. Must Read Alaska has migrated from the official Alaska GOP website to a new site with a new logo, the “paid for by” notice indicating it was a party communication is now removed, and the “Must Read Alaska” name is now gone from the party’s website menu.
Further, the newsletter’s author, Suzanne Downing, now lists herself on her Facebook page as Editor at Must Read Alaska and not as Communication Director of the Alaska Republican Party.
On the other hand, Must Read Alaska continues to use party resources. It is still using the “Must Read Alaska” brand created by the party. It is still going out to the same email list as when it was an official party function. Some of its content continues to be posted word for word on the Alaska GOP website as official party communications as you can see here:
And, yes, Downing is still writing Must Read Alaska and being paid by the party at the same time.
Perhaps most notably, neither the Alaska GOP nor Downing have put out any notification that Must Read Alaska is no longer party affiliated, so it must still be, right?
I don’t appear to be the only one confused. Earlier this week Alaska Dispatch News’s Nat Herz ran an article on the special legislative session carrying this paragraph:
Whatever individual opinions people have about Herz I think we can all agree he is a reporter honestly interested in getting the facts straight. In this case, he is citing as an official party communication that has no legally required party disclaimer.
In an interview yesterday, new Alaska GOP Chairman Tuckerman Babcock made very clear that as he sees it Must Read Alaska no longer speaks for the party, “It is different than it was before I became chairman. It was something that the party sanctioned as part of its communications, but that is not the case today.”
Babcock went on to say the weekly email doesn’t fit his vision of what he wants the party to sound like, “I’m sure people of all stripes would benefit from reading it and pondering it, but it’s very different from official communications from the party.”
You could say Must Read Alaska has been disavowed.
But then why is the weekly email and website still using the party’s email list, Must Read Alaska brand, and co-mingling content? And why is no one telling readers or the media that it no longer speaks for the party?
Some political watchers I’ve talked with see all of this through conspiratorial eyes. They see it as the party’s new leadership trying to have their cake and eat it too. They get to have the harsh and snitty attacks on their political adversaries Downing provides while creating a thin veneer of deniability from the official party structure. In effect, the party would get to throw rocks and hide their hand.
I think that may be a fair characterization of what former party Vice-Chairman and current Communications Chairman Frank McQueary and Downing are doing, but I’m not sure it’s fair to put that on the party’s new elected leadership.
From talking to Babcock and Party Vice-Chairman Rick Whitbeck, I think most of these issues stem from Babcock’s inclination as a new Chairman to not lay down the law too hard and kill the publication to which Downing and McQueary have grown quite attached. As a result, instead of just stopping it, he is allowing them to come up with their own strategy to spin it off into a separate enterprise from the party.
That is a fair and admirable attempt at compromise, but if that is the case, there needs to be a much cleaner separation.
It is simply not fair to voters, the media, and most importantly registered Republicans, like me, to have any confusion about what is coming from the party and what is not. That clarity isn’t unreasonable to expect and shouldn’t be that hard for party leaders to provide.
Babcock should tell Downing and McQueary they need to create a newly branded enterprise with content that can not appear in official party communications and platforms. Any work on it must be done outside of the party’s offices and on Downing’s own time.
Most importantly, that new enterprise should not be allowed to use party resources, including the party email list that was the genesis of the one Downing is currently using. Lists (email, snail mail addresses, donors) are among the most valuable resources political parties possess. Allowing one to be used for this endeavour completely undermines any claim that Downing is truly engaging in a non-party activity.
It would be fair for Babcock to allow Downing to send one final email to that list saying “hey, we are doing this new thing over here. If you want to receive it go to this website and subscribe.” From there, Downing should be on her own to attract subscribers.
Finally, a press release and email notification should come from the party outlining these separations.
The party’s new leadership, while I believe well intentioned, must draw a much brighter line between what is coming from them and what isn’t.