Dear Monica Wehby: Sorry, But You Can’t Polish This Turd
Dr. Monica Wehby is Oregon’s Republican nominee for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
According to Politico, she was accused “by her ex-boyfriend last year of ‘stalking’ him, entering his home without his permission and ‘harassing’ his employees, according to a Portland, Oregon police report.”
A Los Angeles Times report found that her behavior wasn’t confined to a single incident: “Wehby’s ex-husband and former boyfriend both [called] police and [accused] her of harassment in three separate episodes over roughly six years.”
These are difficult charges for any political candidate to contend with, and Dr. Wehby has struggled to put these incidents behind her. But her latest attempt at damage control was rather brazen.
According to The Associated Press, Wehby said:
“‘I think that the thing to learn from that is that I am a person who will stand up for what I believe in,’ Wehby said of the police reports. ‘I’m a person who doesn’t easily back down. I will fight for Oregonians with very strong conviction. I’m a very committed, determined person.’”
Did Dr. Wehby just try to sell her alleged stalking as a virtue by suggesting that the same traits that led two former partners to call the police would be useful in her role as a U.S. Senator?
Her blatant attempt to spin those police reports brought two rather crass phrases to mind: She’s trying to “polish a turd” and “put lipstick on a pig.” (To be clear, the “pig” in that analogy is not Dr. Wehby, but the stalking allegations themselves.)
Talk about a double standard. Could you imagine if a male candidate had used a similar approach? It would doom his race, similar to how Todd Akin’s infamous comments about “legitimate rape” led to national ridicule.
Wehby’s technique of trying to turn a negative quality into a virtue can work in some instances. Ralph Nader turned his curmudgeon-like personality into a more positive image as a “crusader,” and John McCain turned his occasional lack of party loyalty into a more appealing image of being a “maverick.”
But turning stalking allegations into a positive? That’s one step too far—and completely unnecessary, considering that her ex-husband and ex-boyfriend are both reportedly supporting her campaign.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
What I find interesting is that in the article you cited from the Los Angeles Times she also says that she believes that the harassment charges should have been kept private, and blames the media for the fact that her harassment history came to light. Not only does it demonstrate a naiveté about the national political scene, but it is another media relations misstep. Blaming the media for reporting the story does not make the story go away, or even minimize its impact. It’s a rookie move by someone who doesn’t know how to handle themselves in the hot seat. If she’s someone who “will stand up for what I believe in”, she has to expect hard questions. Her poor handling of this situation makes one wonder how effective she is at handling the tough questions.
Great point. Every candidate should do a “vulnerability assessment” prior to launching a campaign — and she should have been prepared for these allegations to become public. Of course, it might be worth offering an alternative hypothesis: that she’s attacking the mainstream media in part to benefit from the mistrust many people — particularly on the political right — have of reporters.
Thank you, as always, for commenting.
This is really shameful. I’ve seen spin but this is ridiculous. This is not leadership.
I would be interested to know, Brad, what should she have done? If you had been her PR counselor when this came out, what would you have told her to say and do? Personally, I think people should own up to their mistakes, show remorse, and demonstrate how they have learned from them, changed, and made amends. But we are talking politics here. There must be someway to convey authenticity without committing political suicide. Or is that even possible in politics? Is spin always the answer, PR-wise, for candidates?
Thanks for your comment. In this case, she reportedly has the support of both her ex-husband and ex-boyfriend. She was on the right track simply by saying that these were personal matters that occurred during emotionally difficult break ups, and that the support of both men proves she’s capable of maintaining positive relationships with people, even after they’ve endured tough times with one another. Their support alone is sufficient testimony.
And I agree with you about owning up to mistakes. Doing so often shortens the amount of time the story is in the news — and in this case, I’m not sure doing so would have been any more politically harmful.