A Grinnell student's statements in last week's Scarlet & Black ignited a national media firestorm and even has the chance to influence the Democratic presidential race.
Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff '10 told the S&B that the question she asked at a Hillary Clinton event in Newton, Iowa, had been planted by a Clinton staffer. The article, entitled "Clinton aides plant student's question," was put online on Friday afternoon, and by that night, Gallo-Chasanoff 's report had been broadcast on the Fox News Channel and confirmed by the Clinton campaign.
But instead of playing itself out and being buried by coverage of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the story took on new life.
A second man came forward with a story of a Clinton staffer's attempt to plant a question with him in April, although the details of his story are still under dispute.
Additionally, rival candidates directly addressed the issue, driving up new media coverage. Despite suggestions by political insiders that most campaigns plant questions occasionally, the candidates insisted that their campaigns did not plant questions.
At a campaign stop on Monday in New Hampshire, Barack Obama said planting is "not a practice we've ever engaged in, and it's not a practice we plan to engage in."
It was John Edwards who most vigorously attacked Clinton on the issue.
"People expect you to stand in front of them and answer their hard questions. And they expect it to be an honest process," said Edwards. "What George Bush does is plant questions, and exclude people from the events. And I don't think that is what Democrats want to see in Iowa."
The Edwards campaign even unveiled an attack website, www.plantsforhillary.com, highlighting the incident.
Iowa political commentator Chase Martyn '07 said "in itself," planting is "a fairly benign process" and that Clinton's was "not the first campaign that has done it in Iowa." While he had not heard of other campaigns this year planting questions, he said he thought "the hand-wringing [by other candidates] may have been a little excessive."
Following the S&B article, Gallo-Chasanoff gave an interview with CNN in which she gave more details about the Clinton campaign's methods. She described a staffer who approached her with a binder containing a list of questions, including one for a "college student" that was given to her.
When called for a comment on Thursday, Mark Daley, Clinton's Iowa Communications director, said that the campaign had addressed the claims throughout the week and declined further comment on the planting controversy.
CREATION OF A MEDIA FRENZY
At 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9, the S&B's original article was placed online. Within five hours, it had gone from a tiny college newspaper to a national cable news network. The process highlights the murky ways in which politics and media interact.
One of the first commentators to discover the story was Martyn, who posted about it on his blog around 4:25 p.m.
Shortly after that, he said he was contacted by supporters of rival campaigns tipping him off to the story.
It is a fairly standard practice for political operatives to send not-for-attribution tips to reporters for stories that reflect well on their candidate or poorly on a rival candidate. These tips were what brought the S&B's article to the attention of the national media.
Fox News reporter Major Garrett received tips from rival campaigns early Friday evening. He said that he and his team immediately placed a request for comment to Clinton and began searching for footage of the event. At around 6:40 p.m. CST, Garrett broadcast the report of Gallo-Chasanoff 's story on Fox News. By 8 p.m., the Clinton cmpaign had confirmed that the planting incident had occurred and Garrett announced the campaign's statement live on "Hannity and Colmes."
The next morning the article appeared on the Drudge Report, and would continue to build in intensity for several days.
Martyn and Garrett both said that the story made national news because it fit into the Clinton campaign narrative.
"The story alone won't make a huge difference [in the campaign]," Martyn said. "Its impact will be in how it plays into the larger narrative. Senator Clinton has taken very few questions around Iowa and caucus-goers are beginning to notice."
© 2007 The Scarlet & Black via U-WIRE