AUSTIN, Texas — This is a story about a candidate taking a photo with a stranger. On October 16, 2014, Texas Attorney General and Republican nominee for Governor Greg Abbott went to a campaign event in Brownsville that was open to the public. At the event, Abbott spoke to attendees and took photos with any who asked. Under normal circumstances, this would never be a news story. Even Abbott having an event in the Rio Grande Valley is barely newsworthy, as he has been there many times during the campaign. However, in the current media climate where Democrat Wendy Davis’ floundering campaign must be salvaged at all costs — if not with an electoral victory then with a “moral” victory to encourage Democrats to keep working to turn Texas blue — Davis supporters and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) are using every ounce of creativity they can muster to attack Abbott and depress Republican turnout.
Again, this is a story about a candidate taking a photo with a stranger. The way that a completely mundane campaign photo op is getting twisted into a headline is this: A man who attended Abbott’s October 16 event in Brownsville got arrested four days later. As Breitbart Texas reported, Kevin “KC” Massey was arrested on October 20 for federal weapons charges, and when he was arrested, authorities seized ammonium nitrate along with an AK-47, a handgun, and computer and photo equipment from his hotel room. Ammonium nitrate is a fertilizer but can be used as an ingredient in bombs, which is how Timothy McVeigh brought down the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
To recap: This is a story about a candidate taking a photo with a stranger. Abbott had a public campaign event. People came and took photos with Abbott. One man, Massey, got arrested a few days later. Breitbart Texas has confirmed with the Abbott campaign that neither Abbott nor the campaign staff knew Massey.
And here’s the top headline at the San Antonio Express-News Friday afternoon: “Militia leader posed with Greg Abbott four days before feds found ammonium nitrate, weapons at hotel.” Abbott’s deputy communications director Amelia Chasse is quoted in the article pointing out that Massey was a stranger, and that the two only exchanged “pleasantries” during their brief conversation. “This individual was part of a photo line at a public event,” said Chasse. “Greg Abbott took a photo with everyone who was in the line at that event.”
The Express-News also attempts to tie this story to Abbott’s support for Second Amendment rights, pointing out that Abbott is an “avid gun rights advocate,” and posting thirty-three photos with the story, many of which show Massey or his associates in the militia group wearing camouflage clothing and holding guns.
Davis wasted no time feigning outrage at Abbott taking a photo with a stranger, posting a tweet demanding that Abbott denounce this man he does not know and his organization with which he has no affiliation:
It’s disturbing Greg Abbott won’t denounce a fringe group after meeting w/ its leader, who was arrested w/ explosives used in OKC bombing
— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) October 31, 2014
Davis also gave a longer statement to the Express-News, again saying that Abbott “met” with Massey to attempt to portray it as an arranged conference of compatriots, instead of a candidate’s photo with a random stranger. “It’s hard to say what’s more disturbing: the fact that Greg Abbott met with a radical militia leader days before federal authorities found the same kind of explosives from the Oklahoma City bombing in his hotel room or the fact that Greg Abbott is refusing to denounce his dangerous fringe group,” Davis said. “Mr. Abbott’s refusal to disclose what they discussed or condemn this group shows a frightening lack of judgment from someone who wants to be our governor.”
According to Davis, taking photos with strangers who attend public campaign events is a “frightening lack of judgment.” Breitbart Texas was unable to get a comment from Davis regarding what kind of judgment is shown by retweeting photos of College Republican strangers and attempting to pass them off as your own supporters, which Davis has done, or by hiring as your rapid response director someone who pled guilty to obtaining former RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s credit report by fraud, which Davis has done, or by running an ad misrepresenting a story about a rape victim without first obtaining the victim’s consent or even notifying her, which Davis has done.
As a follow up to Breitbart Texas’ coverage of Abbott and his wife early voting in Austin on Thursday, PJ Media’s Bryan Preston pointed out the slanted nature of the media’s questions to Abbott, with the unusual emphasis on abortion questions directed this late in the election to a staunchly pro-life candidate:
[T]he issue [of abortion] could become a problem for [Abbott] with the GOP base, if his pro-life bonafides can be called into doubt. It wouldn’t cost him the election, not at this point, but it could depress some of his potential conservative vote and make the final results closer than they otherwise would have been.
Democrats and the media would use that to argue that Davis did better than expected, that the next Democrat candidate might have a chance, Texas might be turning a shade purple, and so forth. Democrats want to build something useful from Davis’ candidacy, and the media want them to do that, if only to make elections in Texas more interesting for them to cover. Media here are always complaining about how uncompetitive the state’s elections are now that Republicans dominate.
This is a story about a candidate taking a photo with a stranger, but what is truly strange is the creative lengths that some will go to stretch that into a story.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.