Mark Dayton rumor: The Documents

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Mark Dayton rumors: Where's the beef?
Here's the essence of the mysterious documents that suddenly landed in the hands of a select batch of Minnesota journalists' mailboxes last week:

A phantom author relaying an unproven rumor from an anonymous source, based on a third unidentified source, accuses Dayton of impropriety with a 1998 gubernatorial campaign staffer.

Republican operative Luke Hellier told Fox 9's Tom Lyden the other day, is "a pretty compelling narrative."

No, it's not.

The documents, which we've seen, publish a few separate "facts" and story lines linked together only by speculation. But proving a link is beside the point. The object here is to lure reporters into making some phone calls, so that Republicans can then promote the "Dayton is being investigated" meme.

The narrative speculates that something improper happened between Dayton and the former staffer. Citing unnamed sources, the phantom author calls Dayton "volatile" during the campaign, and plants some innuendo.

"Campaign staff had a difficult time telling Dayton no."

The phantom then rehashes Dayton's divorce from Janice Harrstick, and speculates about the contents of their divorce agreement, suggesting without proof that Dayton is trying to hide something.

The campaign staffer, named in the document, denies anything improper happened (we're not naming her here). So the phantom author speculates that Dayton is paying for her silence. He or she claims to have called the former staffer, who denied anything wrong had happened. More innuendo.

"She then hung up the phone abruptly without finishing the conversation."

Lastly, the narrative says the campaign staffer and her former husband suddenly found themselves awash in enough money to buy a lake cabin with cash (she has since remarried). The phantom author speculates the source of the money is Dayton. It offers no proof.

There are lots of footnotes in the story, citing court documents, Lexis-Nexis database search findings, campaign finance reports and the like. There are alleged Social Security number links. It's all meant to give the narrative the impression of seriousness. But there is no evidence linking Dayton and his former campaign staffer.

There is a tight race for governor, however.

Most polls have Mark Dayton leading Tom Emmer narrowly if at all, often within the margin of error (Tom Horner is a distant third). Any leverage the Republicans can generate in the closing weeks of the campaign might tilt voters their way. And so, suddenly, a phantom author is spreading a truly scurrilous rumor about Mark Dayton.

To reprise our previous headline, where's the beef? Right now, this is just a big, empty fluffy bun being fed to the media in a carefully orchestrated attempt to fuel some last-minute campaign energy.

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