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It Wasn't Fake

We now know the truth about the Schiavo memo.

1:35 PM, Apr 8, 2005 • By JOHN HINDERAKER
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The memo has three possible origins. The first possibility is that it was created by a low-level Republican staffer. This seems possible, but highly unlikely. Only a very dim-witted staffer would 1) copy word for word from the Traditional Values site, 2) get the Senate bill number wrong, 3) make a number of silly errors, including misspelling Mrs. Schiavo's name as "Teri," and 4) mix comments about political advantage into a "talking points" memo. Moreover, the Post and ABC have tried to create the impression that the memo is an official, high-level Republican strategy document. It clearly is not that.

The second possibility is that the memo was created by a lobbying group, presumably the Traditional Values Coalition, since most of the content of the memo comes word for word from their web site. [We have subsequently been told that the text that appeared on the TVC site was taken from materials published by the office of Senator Mel Martinez.] But the controversial political observations--"the pro-life base will be excited," etc.--are inappropriate for an organization like the Coalition. They sound as if they are written from the internal perspective of the Republican party ("this is a tough issue for Democrats").

The third possibility is that the memo is a Democratic dirty trick. At the moment, that looks most likely.

That was a reasonable inference from the facts that were then available, but it turned out to be wrong. On the other hand, our conviction that "In any event, . . . the suggestion that this is some kind of high-level Republican strategy memo is ludicrous" was borne out in the end.

The controversy continued until April 6, when the Washington Times moved the story forward by publishing the results of its own survey, in which all 55 Republican Senators denied having seen the memo, or having any knowledge of its origins. This cast further doubt on the claim that the memo had been distributed to Republican Senators, and raised further questions about where, in fact, the memo had come from.

The following morning, the mystery was finally solved. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin telephoned Republican Senator Mel Martinez and said that Martinez had handed him a copy of the memo on the Senate floor. This caused Martinez to interrogate has staff, and an aide named Brian Darling confessed that he authored the memo. The story, as related by Martinez and his staff, is that Darling wrote the memo in draft form, and Martinez, thinking it was a standard checklist of arguments in favor of preserving Terri Schiavo's life, then handed it to Harkin. From Harkin, the memo found its way to ABC News and the Washington Post.

The Democrats were thus not guilty, as many of us believed, of creating the memo as a dirty trick. The central claim of many Democrats, newspapers, and commentators--that the memo was the product of the Republican congressional leadership and constituted an official "GOP talking points memo"--has likewise been proved false. It was this characterization that justified the memo's use as an indictment of congressional Republicans' motives in the Schiavo case. If the memo had been correctly described from the beginning, as the inept product of a freshman senator's aide, with no responsibility for Republican political strategy, which may not have been read by a single Republican senator, it is questionable whether it would even have merited a news story.

John Hinderaker is a contributor to the blog Power Line and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.