This month, Rolling Stone ran an investigative feature claiming that Republicans used a systematic combination of voter disenfranchisement and fraud, centered in Ohio, to rob John Kerry of a win in the 2004 presidential election.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and son of liberal icon Bobby Kennedy, wrote the article, available, along with supporting research, at rollingstone.com. Kennedy spoke to PRWeek about the story.
PRWeek: How did you come to write this piece?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: I had not paid much attention to this issue. And then a number of books came out, and I read them because I [wanted to use them] to interview people on my radio show. And then I read the [Rep. John] Conyers report, [a 2005 Congressional inquiry into the election], and started talking with people in Ohio. And at one point, I said, "Holy cow, this is real." And then I talked to [RS editor] Jann Wenner about it. I encouraged him to do a piece, and he said "We'll print one if you write it."
PRWeek: Tell me about the process of putting the story together - it obviously took a while.
Kennedy: I read the literature out there, and read the articles. Then I interviewed voters in Ohio, and public officials, and people who were involved in the election from all over the country.
PRWeek: Why do you think this wasn't covered heavily by major media directly after the election?
Kennedy: I think the mainstream media took up the Republican echo chamber, and just echoed the right-wing talking points.
PRWeek: Why didn't the Democrats themselves pursue this?
Kennedy: Well, there was a lot of complaining; there were a lot of lawsuits. But it got very little traction in the media. But you know, the Democrats on this issue have been abysmal as well.
PRWeek: Your story wasn't based on any secret information, correct?
Kennedy: No, that's the whole thing. This was not a secret conspiracy. This was done openly and shamelessly. Across Ohio, there were people who did everything they could to stop this.
PRWeek: Have you had any indication that the national media will take another look at this issue?
Kennedy: I had a good indication [June 7]. The New York Times, as its lead editorial, did a piece on [Ohio secretary of state] Kenneth Blackwell's current efforts to suppress registration drives in Ohio. And the Republicans are doing the same thing in Florida, and the Times talked about that, as well.
PRWeek: What reaction have you seen from the general public?
Kennedy: There's a huge reaction. Rolling Stone told me that it's gotten two and a half times as many e-mails [about this article] as it's ever gotten for any other story in its history. So there's a huge appetite for this story.
PRWeek: This story didn't have a 'smoking gun'; was there one person coordinating this entire operation?
Kennedy: There's never going to be 100% certitude that the election was stolen, because the only way you could get that is by recounting the ballots, and the recount was illegally derailed by Republican operatives. The mastermind behind the efforts in Ohio was Kenneth Blackwell, along with…[Toledo elections official] Bernadette Noe. But on a national level, it's [Republican National Committee chairman] Kenneth Mehlman and Karl Rove.
PRWeek: Have you gotten any reaction from the Republican Party on this?
Kennedy: I've gotten, certainly, reaction in the blogosphere. But most of the reaction has been supportive.
PRWeek: Is there a next step?
Kennedy: I've been meeting with attorneys... to devise a litigation strategy. And I would say that very soon we'll be announcing lawsuits against some of the individuals and companies involved.
PRWeek: Who exactly would that litigation be targeting?
Kennedy: I wouldn't say, right now.
PRWeek: The election is over. Is it too late now?
Kennedy: There's another election soon. And as the Times [just] reported, the same people are up to the same shenanigans.