Looking for Scandal in Mitch McConnell’s Secret Ashley Judd Tape

Mother Jones is wasting our time.

This week, Mother Jones released the audio of a February 2nd meeting between Sen. Mitch McConnell and some of his staffers during which they reviewed opposition research on a Democratic candidate–in this case, Ashley Judd. The audio bombshell is getting tons of press, with headline play like this: “Sen. Mitch McConnell Was Recorded Plotting Against Ashley Judd.” To which I say, “Pshaw.”

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal who will confess to a certain satisfaction when Mother Jones revealed its first secret tape–the one of Mitt Romney talking about the other 47 percent. My response, though, was purely pragmatic. I wasn’t outraged by what he said; I was simply glad it had been caught on tape because I knew it could bring us one step closer to an Obama victory.

If that viewpoint seems cynical, stay away from opposition-research meetings, which are predicated on Machiavellian dispassion. They are not forums for debate or places to expound upon personal beliefs. They’re simply about identifying the weaknesses in an opponent and reviewing those weaknesses to see what will play best down the line. It’s not personal. When a coach tells a team how to defeat an opposing team, he doesn’t say, “They’re such nice guys,” even if he feels that way. He says, “Here’s how we’re going to beat the crap out of them,” and he reviews every option.

This systematic approach is at the core of the McConnell tape, which is why it’s no bombshell at all. In fact, it’s actually quite boring. The Senator himself may have slept through the meeting, as it’s not entirely clear that he says anything at all. The “research” on Judd is simply a review of what we all know–she’s pro-choice, pro-Obama, pro-Obamacare … you can write the transcript yourself. The revelations are like this: She once did an ad for NARAL!

The part of the meeting that’s getting the most press is the section where the staffer presenting the opposition research mentions Judd’s struggle with depression, which is one of two times when he seems hesitant to mention a line of approach. (The first time is when he mentions her “oddly syncretic approach to Christianity.”) Here is the relevant part of the transcript:

Ah, and again. 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. Phil Maxson found this, which sort of I think is a pretty revealing interview.

He then plays a snippet of something Judd once said about returning to the U.S. and dealing with culture shock, which actually has nothing to do with her depression, and the presentation about her ends.

Let’s be clear: Absolutely nothing of interest has occurred here. Campaign staff met to talk about an opponent’s weak spots—past positions, embarrassing history, health issues. This happens every day. No permission was granted for any campaign strategy or advertising. No plan was minted and certainly no “plot.” People spoke in a partisan fashion, and the people happened to be Republicans, and they work for Mitch McConnell, who barely spoke. In fact, for all we know, McConnell was sitting there thinking, “Jesus, what a bunch of crap this guy brought in. Who cares about her depression? Who cares about that silly interview? Ridiculous. I need better folks for this.”

Yet Mother Jones, in a lather about a secret audio tape and all the attention it would bring, is wasting our time–the country’s time and Sen. McConnell’s time–with this bullshit scandal about a candidate who has already dropped out of the race. It’s a publicity gambit, pure and simple, and about as cynical as they come.

Mother Jones likes to position itself as a radical news outlet doing brave journalism, but I’m disenchanted by editor David Corn right now. Those on the left should have been talking to Mitch McConnell this week, writing about Mitch McConnell, pelting him with questions at a press conference–but not because of Ashley Judd. While this nonsense played out, McConnell has had to decide whether to filibuster the gun control legislation being put forth by Harry Reid, and … oh! Breaking news! He has decided to filibuster! Did you hear that, David Corn? Something newsworthy related to Sen. McConnell has occurred. You might want to look away from your online traffic for a second and read about it–somewhere else.