Note: This is the last in a series of posts about communications and the recent election.
This year’s Alaska Senate race has made headlines across the county as Senator Lisa Murkowski made history as the first to successfully win a write-in campaign since the 1950s. Unfortunately, it also resulted in some headlines Alaskans are a little more chagrined about. From a communications standpoint both issues point directly to the First Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Here’s what happened:
US Senate candidate Joe Miller felt he was being unfairly targeted by the press who were investigating his personal life and background (CBS News). So, he told Alaska media after a debate on October 11 that he would no longer answer questions about his personal life. Just six days later, the candidate’s private security guards arrested the editor of a well-known online newspaper at a public event held at an Anchorage public school. The reporter said he wanted to talk with Miller but was not allowed to do so. (Anchorage Daily News)
Is the reporter protected by our Constitution? Should Miller’s private guards have arrested him in a public school? Did he have a right to be there? Did he have a right to ask the questions he wanted asked?
As the election drew near and discussions heated up over how the Division of Elections would interpret voter intent, chatter among Miller’s supporters increased about the need to have those with names similar to “Lisa Murkowski” register as write-in candidates in order to confuse voters and highlight the requirement for Murkowski’s name to be correctly spelled. Write-in candidates could register as late as five days before the November 2 election so chatter especially increased as the day grew near.
On, October 28, the deadline for write-in to register, right wing radio host Dan Fagan focused a good portion of his afternoon radio show on encouraging listeners to register as write-in candidates to confuse voters. He offered his listeners prizes (coffee mug and maybe a trip to Hawaii) for doing so, and especially if their name was close to Murkowski’s. The transcript was later reprinted by the daily newspaper. As a result of Fagan’s actions, about 150 individuals added their name to the write-in ballot. The controversy sparked was intense as many felt the show had crossed a line well beyond free speech by promoting chaos during an election to affect the outcome.
The station took the show off the air the following day. The following Monday, Fagan returned to the air along with his boss to discuss what had happened. Fagan admitted he had over-stepped his bounds.
But…did he? Was it really free speech? Or trying to fix an election? Did Fagan cross a line in using the airwaves to promote his message? Or is this guerilla campaigning at its best?
Earlier: This Election Was Personal For Me