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There are several “dirty tricks” that voters should be on the lookout for during the elections. Early voting for the 2022 Primaries started on Monday and runs through February 25, 2022. Election Day for the Primary is March 1. Because El Paso has historically elected Democrats, it is likely that the winner of the Democratic Party primary will be the winner in the General Elections in November. That is the reason why the Primaries are so important in El Paso and why El Paso’s political operative is working to undermine candidates that he is targeting online. El Paso voters are experiencing firsthand one of the five “dirty tricks” in politics, the Whisper Campaigns.

According to Voting for Ethics, a Santa Clara University book by the late Hana Callaghan, there are five dirty tricks in politics. They are The October Surprise which is a negative attack on an opponent right before the election that does not give the target the opportunity to respond. Another of the top five tricks is Interference with the Electoral Process, an example being the ongoing debate over whether the Republicans are disfranchising voters by enacting legislation that makes it more difficult to cast a vote. Another example is the destruction of political signs. The third example of dirty politics is Unfair Competition. Unfair Competition is when wealthy donors pay political consultants to sit out a race or send anonymous mailers to voters. The secret mailer that was sent in support of the candidates supporting the eradication of the Duranguito neighborhood to make way for the downtown sports arena in 2020 is an example. [1]

The fourth example of dirty politics is Push Polling. This is when polling is used to communicate negative messages about a candidate during telephone questionnaires. The final example of dirty tricks is Whisper Campaigns. In Whisper Campaigns, “rumors, innuendo, and slander are quietly conveyed in order to damage reputations and/or dry up funding sources and support.” [15] El Paso voters are not strangers to Whisper Campaigns designed to damage reputations for political gain. A recent one is the controversy over the removal of a divorce story by KTSM recently.

The KTSM Controversy

KTSM removed a divorce story from their website within an hour of its publication on a weekend day. The implication being that the politician in the divorce used their wealth to kill a story that exposed unethical behavior by them. Shortly after the story was killed by KTSM, longtime political operative, Jaime Abeytia, posted the story online and included a copy of the original divorce decree.

Abeytia posted a conspiracy theory that the story was “pulled” because “David Candelaria is the head honcho at KTSM” and Candelaria and the target of the divorce story are “good buds” and because the politician spends “a lot of money at local TV stations with ads,” they can kill stories that are “not-so-flattering”.

It is unclear why KTSM pulled the divorce story. But there are two facts, the first being that the public information about the divorce does not allege any wrongdoing by the politician. The second is that the politician is currently not running for office. The question then becomes, why is a divorce story newsworthy now, other than the politician currently holds office?

Other than a divorce, the public record shows no wrongdoing. But the rumors generated by the removal of the story is why the story was pushed by unknown individuals to the news media and may be the reason why it was killed – because it was political dirty tricks used to create the illusion that something unsavory was behind the divorce story.

Our attempts to glean more details about the pulled story have been unsuccessful. Our queries to the KTSM reporter were not answered. We reviewed the public divorce record and found nothing newsworthy about the divorce. However, if you Google the divorce you come across innuendos about the divorce that create the illusion of a politician’s “secret” that they killed. Who gave Abeytia a copy of the divorce papers remains unanswered. How they were acquired and if ethical or legal responsibilities were violated also remain unknown. However, what remains from the story is the character assassination of the targeted politician.

Therein lies the reason for the whole controversy, the character assassination of a politician for political gain. At the center of the controversy is Jaime Abeytia, the go to political operative in El Paso when a candidate wants to character assassinate an opponent. This brings us to the current whisper campaign against incumbent Carl Robinson by one of his opponents, Sergio Coronado.

Sergio Coronado’s Whisper Campaign Against Carl Robinson

In 2014, rumors that Hillary Clinton suffered a “traumatic brain injury” in 2012 were first alleged by Karl Rove, a “Republican strategist”. The New York Post used Rove’s allegation as the basis for its headline: “Karl Rove: Hillary may have brain damage”. [2] Rove created the narrative that Clinton was not healthy enough to be president. Rove used just enough irrelevant facts to create the whisper campaign against Clinton to give the illusion that she suffered from a health impediment. The whisper campaign gained traction via the Internet. But the allegation of brain damage was not true. [3] However, the damage was done, rumors of Clinton suffering brain damage persist to this day.

On December 27, 2021, Jaime Abeytia posted online that Carl Robinson is “hiding the fact that Robinson quite possibly isn’t even healthy enough” for office. Abeytia suggested that the “media needs to start looking into” Robinson’s health, adding that Robinson “was hospitalized within the last month” and that Robinson’s “health is a campaign issue.” Abeytia had taken a page out of Karl Rove’s character assassination of Hillary Clinton in 2014.

But the December 27 post was not the first time that Abeytia launched a health-related whisper campaign against Robinson. Abeytia posted on December 1, 2021, a few days before the filing deadline to run in the primaries, that there were “a lot of questions surrounding the health” of the incumbent, Robinson. Abeytia added that unknown “sources” told him that at a function “Robinson allegedly passed out.” Readers should note the use of the word “allegedly”. Abeytia went on to write that “some say that there are indeed health issues” with Robinson, and that “there is talk in political circles that he’s not well enough to complete another term.” Readers should also note the lack of specificity in his posts.

These are classic examples of how whispers campaigns are used for the character assassination of an opponent.

Robinson is facing two opponents. They are Dorothy “Sissy” Byrd and Sergio Coronado. Byrd’s application was initially rejected but remains on the ballot. Coronado, a few days after Abeytia started his whisper campaign against Robinson, announced his candidacy.

Other than El Paso Matters, there appears to be no other mention of any health issues with Carl Robinson from reputable news sources. On December 21, 2021, El Paso Matters’ reporter Elida Perez insinuated about Robinson’s health issues when she wrote that “Robinson has largely been attending County Commissioners Court meetings via phone or virtually since meetings resumed in person in September.” [4] Left unsaid was that video attendance of commissioners meetings were established to mitigate the health issues related with Covid-19. Also in the El Paso Matters article, Sergio Coronado wrote that “while I respect (Commissioner) Carl (Robinson), I don’t think he’s been into the job 100% over these last years”. Earlier this year, we documented how El Paso Matters is likely to impact the local elections by how they frame their stories. The three Robinson articles are an example of how the publications wants to influence the outcome of an election – by the selective use of article titles and reporting. Both the omission by the reporter of the Covid-19 health concerns and Coronado’s comments had one specific point to make – continue the narrative that Robinson’s health issues make him unsuitable to be elected.

This is a classic whisper campaign.

A whisper campaign requires traction to resonate among voters. As we have reported, there are several questions regarding the journalistic ethics behind El Paso Matters. We are not alone on this. Long-time reporter Debbie Nathan has long criticized the largest single local donor to El Paso Matters, Woody Hunt’s influence over local news coverage. On January 25, 2022, Nathan posted on a Facebook group page that “El Paso Matters engages in unethical behavior.”

Most recently, El Paso Matters reporter Elida Perez again added on Monday to the whisper campaign against Robinson by writing an article titled “Incumbent in crowded County Commissioner Precinct 4 race determined to serve,” suggesting that notwithstanding the framed narrative of health issues faced by Robinson, he remains “determined” to keep his seat. It is unknown who wrote the title, the reporter, Bob Moore or someone else but Perez goes on to make Robinson’s health part of the campaign. [5]

First Perez quotes Sergio Coronado as saying that “he doesn’t think Robinson has been into the job 100% over these last years.” [5]

Coronado has carried the Abeytia whisper campaign on the campaign trail. In a political mailer recently sent to voters by the Coronado Campaign, Coronado tells voters that “the current office holder has been absent and infective.”

Are There Health Issues?

In Monday’s El Paso Matters article, Robinson is quoted by the reporter as saying that he has “some issues, but who doesn’t,” he asked. According to Elida Perez, the reporter, Robinson would not “elaborate” on the “issues”. So we asked Carl Robinson if he was suffering any health issues.

In a telephone interview today, Carl Robinson told us that he suffers from “back pain” because of his military service. Robinson added that he was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, which the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes as causing “certain related illnesses.” [9]

Robinson told us that his medical condition “does not limit” his ability to serve his community. Robinson reminded us that he served at city council “for eight years,” adding that he is “a public servant” who served “this country” as a “decorated combat veteran”. [9]

Asked pointedly if Robinson had medical conditions that would prohibit him from serving his constituency, Robinson emphatically said, “no”. [9]

Robinson served in the United States Army for 25 years. For his service in Vietnam, he was awarded the Bronze Star.

The Bronze Star

In 1970, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Carl L. Robinson was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with a “V” for “valorous performance of duty during the Vietnam War,” according to The National Archives. [7] Robinson has also been awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his service during the Vietnam conflict in 1968. Robinson, according to newspaper accounts at the time served in the Psychological Operations Detachment in Vin Binh province.

Exclusive to El Paso Politics

The Bronze Star Medal (BSM) is awarded for “meritorious service or acts of valor while serving in combat operations.” It is the “fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces.” [8] The “V” device is awarded for “acts of valor in combat”.

Robinson Makes His Direct Number Public

In addition to his health, the political whisper campaigned promoted by both Byrd and Coronado suggests that Robinson is unavailable to address constituents. Robinson responded to our question about this by stating that “any constituent can call me directly” when his office is unresponsive to them. Robinson told us that we should publish his mobile number for his constituents to call him directly. Robinson told is that he carries the phone with him all the time and “I return phone calls,” he added. [9]

After verifying his intention for us to publish his personal phone number publicly, Robinson responded that “I am public servant” and his “focus is the community”. [9]

Carl Robinson’s phone number is: + 915 740 7826. [9]

El Paso’s Attack Dog – Jaime Abeytia

It is unclear who is providing political consulting services to Sergio Coronado since he has not reported any political consulting expenditures on his financial disclosure forms. However, Coronado is currently the Canutillo School Board president. As we reported, the Canutillo School District floated two bond issues in 2021. Both measures failed. Coronado was on the school board when the two failed bonds were put before the voters. The political consultant behind the Canutillo bond failures was Vince Perez, who has a strong working relationship with Jaime Abeytia going back years.

Although El Paso voters do not currently know who is consulting Coronado on his campaign, the fact remains that the beneficiary of Abeytia’s whisper campaign are Byrd and Coronado.

In addition to Abeytia having an extensive criminal record, including a state felony charge of displaying “harmful material to a minor,” he also has an extensive documented history of being a political operative engaged in political “dirty tricks”.

Karl Rove was not the first political operative using whisper campaigns against targeted politicians. In American politics, that distinction goes to James Thomas Callendar, who “was working for (Thomas) Jefferson as a political attack dog.” [6] In most whisper campaigns today, the politicians seldom openly participate in them directly, instead benefiting from “attack dogs”. This was true as well when Thomas Jefferson used Callendar as his “attack dog” against Alexander Hamilton. In the end, Callendar not only “ruined Hamilton’s chances at the presidency,” but also turned against his former benefactor, Jefferson attacking him as well. “A scandalmonger, drunkard, and host body to lice, Callendar exposed both Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s private affairs” introducing “dirty tricks” in American politics that continue today. [6] Like Callander, “of whom nothing good is known” so is Jaime Abeytia picking up the mantel of “dirty tricks” in El Paso’s politics. The question left to ponder is whether Abeytia will turn against the politicians that use him as their “attack dog,” just like Callendar did to Jefferson?

Footnotes:

  1. Hana Callaghan, “Voting for Ethics, A Guide for U.S. voters,” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University, 2020.
  2. Cathleen Decker, “Analysis: Karl Rove vs. Hillary Clinton: Whisper campaign explodes on Internet,” Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2014.
  3. Jon Greenberg, “Rove: Clinton hospital stay and glasses point to traumatic brain injury,” Politifact, The Poynter Institute, May 14, 2014.
  4. Elida S. Perez, “Meet the candidates seeking two El Paso County commissioner seats in March primaries,” El Paso Matters, December 21, 2021.
  5. Elida S. Perez, “Incumbent in crowded County Commissioner Precinct 4 race determined to serve,” El Paso Matters, February 14, 2022.
  6. John Dickerson, “The Original Attack Dog,” Slate, August 9, 2016.
  7. The National Archives, Awards and Decorations System, Award ID: 3749832190 for Carl L. Robinson, General Order Number: 0180.
  8. Larry Trent, “The difference between a Bronze Star and a Bronze Service Star,” The Telegraph, December 16, 2013.
  9. Carl Robinson, County Commissioner Incumbent Candidate, Telephone Interview with author, February 16, 2021.

Martin Paredes

Reporting on public corruption, border politics, immigration and public policy in El Paso since 2000.

2 replies on “Political Whisper Campaigns – El Paso’s Political “Attack Dog””

  1. That dog bites his owners, he has no loyalty. Look at what he did to Georgina Perez, after all she did for him, gave him a job, fed his fat ass and all he does is badmouth her. He is a looser that needs to pay his child support and go back to Arizona with the rest of his looser family.

  2. But he’s the only blogger or other journalist in town that comments on a lot of local races. If you filter through his opinion there’s a lot of his information on his site that’s not available to the public anywhere else.

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