By Scott Tibbs, November 3, 2009
Five years ago, an anonymous person sent a letter to various Jewish groups in Bloomington pointing out a thread on the AssMoTax.org message forums titled "The Jews have become animals!" From various commentary on AssMoTax.org and mobtalk.net, I have gathered that the letter pointed out the anti-Semitic comments and pointed out that the forum is run by Greg Travis. His wife, Sophia Travis, was running for Monroe County Council at the time and won. She ran for Monroe County Commissioner in 2008 and lost in the primary to Iris Kiesling.
The letter became an issue again recently when Greg Travis threw a temper tantrum after a few people wished me a "happy birthday" last week on MOB-Talk, storming off the forum and accusing me of sending the letter. Travis has made this accusation before and probably will again, so let me clarify the record: I did not send the letter. I do not know who sent the letter. As of this writing, I have never even seen the letter, so I do not know the exact language contained in the letter. If anyone out there has a copy of the letter, feel free to e-mail me a copy of the letter, preferably a scanned PDF copy of the letter so I can see an "original" copy.
I do not believe the letter was handled appropriately. While I understand the theoretical arguments for anonymous speech, there are very few cases where anonymous speech is appropriate. If you are going to take a shot at someone else's reputation, you should be willing to put your own name and reputation on the line in a public manner. If the anonymous author was truly concerned about anti-Semitic hate speech on Greg Travis' forum, he should have signed his name to it. He could have also submitted the letter (or a modified version of it, if the letter was too long) for publication in the Herald-Times. Sending the letter anonymously is both dishonorable and cowardly.
Was the letter itself inappropriate? Again, five years after the fact I still have not seen the letter. My understanding is that the letter either quoted or included a printout of the offending post. That post was still on AssMoTax.org when Travis re-opened the forum in late 2007. Despite having three years to do so, he never removed the thread. I do not think it is fair to hold Travis responsible for what was posted on his forum, since the message forum by nature is a free-flowing forum that allows for instantaneous user-generated content. Obviously, no forum administrator will agree with everything posted on his forum. It is reasonable to question and criticize his decision to allow the thread to remain.
It is wholly appropriate to tie the actions and public statements of a political activist to a candidate for elective office supported by that activist, and voters can decide whether that will influence their decision. After all, Democrats have attempted to make a radio talk show host the "leader" of the Republican Party and have repeatedly tied Republican candidates to that talk show host. Given that Sophia Travis voted to appoint her husband to the Economic Development Commission, which is a position he still holds, it is completely appropriate to connect the political activities of a candidate's spouse to that candidate. If voters are getting a two-for-one deal, then the actions and public statements of a candidate's spouse are completely relevant to the candidate's qualifications for elective office.
Despite what Greg Travis might think, his wife does not have a divine right to elective office. This was demonstrated when Democratic Party voters rejected her in the 2008 primary election. Questioning and criticizing a candidate's spouse for not deleting hate speech from a web forum he operates is not dirty politics. It is relevant political history that the voters are free to take into consideration, reject or ignore.
Previously: There is no divine right to elective office.