Targeting Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, now Nikki Haley (Palin/Haley 2012)

As a Greenville newspaper reports: “Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley issued a campaign statement on Monday denying as ‘outrageous’ an allegation by a former aide to Gov. Mark Sanford who is now a Columbia blogger that he had an ‘inappropriate physical relationship’ with her several years ago.”

Will Forks, a former spokesman for Sanford who writes a political blog, wrote Monday that he made the disclosure because he believed “political operatives” who want to destroy Haley’s candidacy were already leaking it, the paper reported.

“I have been 100 percent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage,” Haley said. “This claim against me is categorically and totally false. It is sad, but not surprising, that this disgraceful smear has taken form less than a week removed from the release of a poll showing our campaign with a significant lead. It is quite simply South Carolina politics at its worst.”

The ancient and subtle craft of destroying careers and lives through political chicanery reawakened in force with the arrival of Sarah Palin. President Obama should take the honors, joking on the David Letterman show that you can’t put “lipstick on a pig” in reference to Palin. Next up, Letterman referred to Palin as a “slut” and joked that her 14-year-old daughter got “knocked up” during seventh-inning stretch at a Yankees game.

Our political age is a trough between peaks and uncannily resembles the mid-to-late ’70s. Then, as now, there was a rash of personal journalism, as every big town had its own “underground newspaper” — anti-war journals in the residue of the Vietnam War, very similar to the blogs that popped up everywhere to oppose the war in Iraq. Then suddenly they all disappeared, and for one good reason: libel. Accusations of racism and sexual innuendo were standard slanders of the day, as they are again today in the blogs. Newspapers follow strict libel laws: You can say a good deal about a politician or a public figure, but if you libel her, the price can be high.

Some of these underground papers, like Philadelphia’s Distant Drummer and the Philadelphia Free Press, were to the moment and quite good, until the moment passed. But they were freestanding and independent, so if libel hit — and if I recall correctly, libel brought a fatal hit to the original Distant Drummer because of sexual innuendo — the liability would be on the editor and writer and the owner, who were often all three the same person. Everyone in the chain is vulnerable. The damage was limited in these papers because there was no corporation attached to them. Bigger papers, and Philly’s papers then — The Philadelphia Inquirer and Gil Spencer’s Philadelphia Daily News — were the best in the country, needed to be more professional. Artistically, legally and financially it was correct to keep hands off, and they did. And anyway, when Ira Einhorn, founder of Earth Day, chopped up his girlfriend and put her in a truck in west Philadelphia, blaming it on the CIA, the bloom went off the revolution.

What is different today is that the larger corporations in the mainstream media try to take the hip, “edgy” and youthful tone of the amateur bloggers. Maddow brings amateur bloggers on her show and echoes their sentiments. But it puts the deep pockets of the MSM in the line of libel. Rewards and damages multiply with exposure and cash flow. If Letterman libels a politician like Palin, his corporation can take the hit as well. Thus the fawning public apologies.

Palin threatened to sue Letterman, but she had more pressing tasks. But Rand Paul and others might take note. Knowing a little about the Carolinas, I think the blogger who challenged Nikki Haley’s fidelity as her career rises has instead ensured her election and possibly skyrocketed her to national prominence with Palin. (Palin/Haley 2012, no?) But after November, Haley should sue, taking the legal advice of that old Navy man Billy "Badass" Buddusky: “Stick it in and break it off.” And leave the amateur opposition in a legal pile of blood, sweat and tears on the courtroom floor.

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