Wednesday, February 21, 2001

CROWLEY: Rumor mill

Whipping the whisper campaign

        Did you hear about the former elected official in Northern Kentucky whose teen-age son was once arrested for shoplifting?

        How about the politician who is having problems in his marriage? Or the local government professional who has been through some hard financial times? Or the political activist whose father once got into trouble with the law?

        I have. Over the years, all this and more has crossed my desk, on paper, by phone or in e-mails.

        I haven't written any of those stories. Nor will I.

        There are aspects of a person's private life that the public deserves to know. Voters should be made aware, for instance, if a candidate has a criminal record.

        But what business does the public have to know about the marital struggles of a city council candidate, or whether a long-serving public official has a spouse with a drinking problem?


Unsubtle "hints'

        But these and other stories circulate. It's called a “whisper campaign.” No one goes public with such seedy and deeply personal remarks - most often, unverifiable gossip - about somebody. But hints get dropped at a cocktail party, during a soccer game or over an AOL buddy list.

        One of the most vicious whisper campaigns I've ever heard has been launched against Eric Deters, the Republican lawyer from Independence who is running in next year's Kenton County attorney GOP primary.

        Mr. Deters, by his own admission, is “no saint.” He's an aggressive lawyer, a bare-knuckle campaigner and a strong Type A Personality who has done some hard living.

        But he's heard enough untruths about his sex life, his personal life and his professional life to do something about them.

Public challenge

        Mr. Deters is standing up to the whisperers. He's filed a slander suit against John Middleton, an Edgewood Republican who works for Mr. Deters's opponent, incumbent County Attorney Garry Edmondson.

        Mr. Deters is accusing Mr. Middleton of spreading a rumor that Lisa Deters, Mr. Deters' late wife, died not of lung cancer but of a sexually transmitted disease. She did not, Mr. Deters said.

        When Mr. Deters dropped this bomb on the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee Monday night, Mr. Middleton, who sits on the committee, did not comment.

        I have no idea if Mr. Middleton is in fact spreading such a rumor. I haven't heard it. Mr. Middleton has refused comment.

        Mr. Deters has affidavits that say others have heard it. We'll let the courts decide — or maybe these two can work it out.

        But Mr. Deters is doing something to mute the whisper campaign.

        It's about time.

        After Mr. Deters left the Monday night meeting in tears, his campaign manager, Hayes Robertson, put people on notice with a message that went something like this: Keep spreading these false rumors and we'll see you in court.

        Mr. Deters and Mr. Robertson are doing something pols should have done long ago in Northern Kentucky: stand up and address the rumors rather than sit back and hope they go away.

        Because until someone stands up, they never will.

       Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or by e-mail at


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