AshleyGate: How Mitch McConnell Planned to Smear Ashley Judd

BlogHer Original Post

If you think politics is dirty, you’re probably going to think it’s even more dirty after reading this story. It’s so outrageous that you might feel compelled to throw up, or take a shower, or, at the very least, call your senator. Yes, I'm talking about the Mother Jones story with tapes of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and his staff discussing how to attack Ashley Judd as "unbalanced."

Mar 01, 2013 - Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. - Actress ASHLEY JUDD discusses women's health care issues, particularly reproductive freedom at George Washington University. (Image: © Barbara Salisbury/

Back in early February, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, met with his reelection staff in Louisville. They wanted to talk about Ashley Judd, who was then considering challenging the GOP senator for his seat in 2014. The popular activist and actress was considered a threat, so the aim was to figure out how best to trash her. In political circles, this is euphemistically called “opposition research.” First, aides batted around the usual stuff: Judd’s “liberal” Hollywood views, her support for Obama, women’s rights, abortion, and tackling climate change.

Then the aide leading the session, whose name has yet to be revealed, got creative: Let’s paint Judd as a nut job, he brightly offered, because of her past battles with depression and feelings of suicide. To wit:

She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced. I mean it's been documented. Jesse can go in chapter and verse from her autobiography about, you know, she's suffered some suicidal tendencies. She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the '90s.

Truly disgusting, right? In another part of the tape, the aides also laughed and ridiculed Judd.

David Corn broke the story at Mother Jones, where it is now available for all to see -- including a full transcript of the tape. Here you go:

Corn is the same investigative reporter who broke remarks at the height of the presidential campaign last fall, after a bartender recorded Romney’s speech and shipped it to Corn in the mail.

I just have one question. When are these staffers going to get smart and start checking for recording devices in the room?

McConnell is now demanding that the FBI investigate, claiming that someone broke into his office and planted a recording device, "Watergate-style." To me, that's patently absurd. Corn told Politico that the magazine's lawyers vetted the story, and he has added an addendum to his piece that states: "It is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation."

I see McConnell's move as a successful ploy to deflect attention from the real issue, which is the loathsome discussion that was taking place in his office about Ashley Judd, but also about depression. Being labeled a “crazy” person in politics is worse now than even being gay. Are these staffers that ignorant or blessed that they don’t know a single person who’s battled mental illness? Or are they just that callous?

I am glad Judd didn’t run, so she didn’t have to endure the ugly attacks that would have been thrown her way. But it also makes me angry. I saw Judd speak at the Democratic Convention last September, and I was impressed by her intelligence, her grasp of policy, her work in Africa with survivors of sexual violence, and yes, her openness and sincerity. God forbid a woman in politics show emotion. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was on the panel, too, and urging Judd to run. Now she isn’t. Judd cited her family as the reason, but I’m not sure we’ll ever really know why.

Here's the reason Chris Cilliza of the Washington Post offered in the wake of the tape:

The audio of the McConnell meeting is exactly the reason why we -- and many Democratic operatives -- believed that Judd would be a poor candidate to challenge the Senate Minority Leader. McConnell has made his political living by savaging his opponents and Judd -- as the tape makes abundantly clear -- was an embarrassment of riches in terms of her past public statements.

Whatever. What I do know is that politics is dirty. And getting dirtier all the time.


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