Monday, October 10, 2011

The Roadkill BBQ Flap Continues

© Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0
The Los Angeles Times asked me to weigh in on the recent Rick Perry roadkill barbecue controversy, which I did in an op-ed that ran in the Sunday paper yesterday.  The political world is still reeling.

But not as much as if the piece had run as I originally wrote it.  My editors routinely have the most picky, trivial complaints about the drafts I submit, like "it's way, way too long", "much too dry and dull", and "not supported by facts."  While their emendations are probably to blame for my being passed over for the Pulitzer yet again this year, they do have the nice side effect of giving me a little extra material for my blog.

One of the things that wound up on the cutting room floor was my rejoinder to one of the L. A. Times's own writers.  Here are the two paragraphs from my original draft:

Apparently this dust-up baffles some folks on the West Coast.  A few days ago Los Angeles Times opinion writer Paul Thornton declared,  “This can’t be real.  Either today's political culture of umbrage-taking, and over the smallest offenses, is fed primarily by the media (thus this story is way overblown), or we snobby coastal dwellers are right to regard anything between Miami and Seattle as flyover country.  I hope (and believe) it’s the former.”
Personally, I think Thornton either has a really dry sense of humor, or he’s just another naive, earnest Berkeley grad who’s never actually been far enough away from the Left Coast to realize that sometimes folks say things with a straight face that they don’t really mean just because they think it’s funny to pretend like they’re having an argument and also if you fly too much farther east than North Carolina you’ll end up in the damn ocean.  I hope (and believe) it’s the former.

Now, the putative reasons the editor gave me for excising this passage was that a) it was too long (it's 160 words, and that is a lot for a short piece) and b) because Thornton's piece "appeared only in a blog post on a blog with very few readers." (Hey, those are your editor's words, Mr. Thorton, not mine . . . though I enjoyed adding the emphasis.)  I have no reason to question that rationale.

Perry, for his part, has responded to the controversy by ignoring it completely and, I guess, hoping it will just go away.  In fact, as of yet, there has not even been an official response from the Perry campaign, not even a denial that he has dined on gamy, well-aged dead animal carcasses that may or may not have tire tracks on them.

As every political handler knows, that's the absolutely worst way to handle a PR crisis.  Personally, I would have advised Perry to go on the offensive immediately, attack the credibility of the Reeds and their book Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, which started this whole thing.  Heck, they spent their entire careers in academia, and the book was published by a university press and has a lot of big words in it.  Surely they could spin up some pretty damaging "East Coast intelligentia" charges?

Better yet, embrace the scandal: announce publicly, "yes, I eat roadkill.  I love it and I'm proud of it!"  Think of the potential for a photo op of with old Rick Perry lifting a fork of mesquite-smoked raccoon.  Surely there are any number of barbecue joints down there in Texas that could serve it for him.  The good people of North Carolina, I dare say, would respect a man who sticks to his principles and might even forgive his lousy taste in barbecue.

But, the Perry campaign has ignored all my advice, and look what it's brought them.  Last month,  Perry was leading the field of presidential contenders in the state of North Carolina, with 35% of poll respondents saying they would vote for him.  In just a few short weeks, that number has fallen to 15%, and Perry is now in a sorry fourth place behind Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich.

Just one more politician laid low by barbecue.  A story as old as the nation itself.

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