When A Claim Becomes Offensive

Update: The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" has upgraded the Romney claims from two pinocchios ("significant omissions and/or exaggerations) to four pinocchios ("whopper").


Two women contacted the Mitt Romney campaign this week, offering their memories of seeing Romney's father march with Martin Luther King Jr., in Grosse Point Michigan in 1963. Campaign officials were well aware that the women were mistaken. Yet, they directed those women to tell their stories to a Politico reporter. The motives and memories of the two women are unknown and irrelevant; the motives of the campaign, however, were obvious -- to spread information they knew to be untrue, for the good of the candidate.

By getting this story out late on Friday afternoon, heading into the holiday weekend -- good luck getting a King historian on the phone before Wednesday -- the campaign was pretty well assured that it could keep alive through Christmas their claim that Mitt Romney was mistaken only about "seeing" it, not about it taking place.

Then-governor George Romney did indeed march in Grosse Pointe, on Saturday, June 29, 1963, but Martin Luther King Jr. was not there; he was in New Brunswick, New Jersey, addressing the closing session of the annual New Jersey AFL-CIO labor institute at Rutgers University.

Those facts are indisputable, and quite frankly, the campaign must have known the women's story would eventually be debunked -- few people's every daily movement has been as closely tracked and documented as King's. As I write this, I am looking at an article from page E8 of the June 30, 1963 Chicago Tribune, which discusses both events (among other civil-rights actions of the previous day), clearly placing the two men hundreds of miles apart. I also have here the June 30, 1963 San Antonio News, which carries a photo and article about Romney at the Grosse Pointe march; and an AP story about King's speech in New Jersey.

A King researcher editing his letters from that time has stated definitively that the two men never marched together; Michigan and Grosse Pointe historians have stated definitively that King was not at the 1963 Grosse Pointe march; Michigan civil-rights participants of the time have concurred; so have those who worked for George Romney at the time.

All of this evidence is important to present to the general public, but it is unnecessary for the Romney campaign -- it has been clear for some time that they know perfectly well that the two men never marched together.

Bear in mind that the Romney team has a substantial research team (and vast resources for outsourcing more). Bear in mind that the campaign has compiled vast documentation about the candidate's father, particularly his civil-rights activities, long before the Phoenix posed the question earlier this week. Bear in mind that the campaign has direct access to George Romney's materials and documents, his family members, his friends, his former staff, etc.

Believe me, they know the two men never marched together. This is an attempt to rewrite history. And even if it is a small rewriting, it is offensive.

It is offensive because of people like Russell Peebles.

Peebles is an 88-year-old man, a former resident of Grosse Pointe for 48 years, who was present at both the Grosse Pointe march in 1963, and the MLK speech in Grosse point in 1968 -- the event at which the Romney campaign initially insisted Romney and King marched together.

I tried to contact Peebles earlier this week, prior to writing the original article, but we missed each other back-and-forth. Peebles sent me an email today, attesting to the fact that George Romney was at the 1963 march, but not the 1968 speech; and that King was at the 1968 speech, but not the 1963 march.

Peebles, and many others like him, deserve to have the history of what they did told honestly. Changing that history by mistake -- which is quite possibly how this began -- is unfortunate. Changing that history intentionally -- which is what the campaign is doing now -- is offensive.

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