The Edwardses and Upselling Sympathy

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Yesterday, Mary Ann Akers reported that the Edwards campaign was trolling those who wish Elizabeth well for campaign donations. The campaign’s first response was defensive: “Nobody gets an e-mail from us without explicitly agreeing to receive e-mails.” Today, the campaign has revamped the web form and will no longer be automatically soliciting from well-wishers (though one can also opt-in to receive campaign spam).

I’d like to believe the initial email collection was a default option for all their various petitions and web forms; I always assume ANY time I put my email in a form on the web, it’s being filed away somewhere. But the move still provides evidence for those who want to accuse the Edwardses of attempting to politically profit off her illness. Rush was playing up the story today, for example.

Whether or not the solicitations were a ghoulish attempt at upselling (“Like Elizabeth? You’ll love John!”) or careless mistake, I think we’re seeing the first instance of how the Edwards campaign will have to navigate much trickier terrain than most. Journalists covering the campaign will be in unfamiliar territory as well: Given that reporters tend to assume a political motivation for every minor step a campaign makes, should your assumptions change when the political is also intensely personal?

We often see that kind of confluence in hypothetical debate questions of the Bernie Shaw, “what if your wife was raped and murdered” variety, but I’m also reminded of the glee some critics (including me, on occasion) take in contrasting Cheney’s views on gay marriage with the mere existence of his lesbian daughter. An even more recent example: McCain and Matthew Dowd both have sons who are or who will be deployed to Iraq, yet they have starkly different views on the wisdom of that occupation. Does that make McCain callous or Dowd sentimental? Does it matter?

A thought experiment: Imagine the reaction if the RNC started hitting up for cash all the people who wish Tony Snow well. How would you expect coverage to play out? How would you want it to play out? I’m sure our commenters have opinions.

UPDATE: I’m embarrassed that it took “Anonymous” to point this out (here I’d been thinking I’d improved on the whole “reporting” front), because it’s an important detail:

What Ms. Akers failed to point out is that there is no specific link for sending a get well card to Elizabeth Edwards on johnedwards.com. There is a “Send a Note to John and Elizabeth” link that has ALWAYS been on the website. When you click on this link you are taken to a page that has recently been updated to contain a message from John and Elizabeth thanking all of their well wishers. Below this message is a place where one can send their own message.

So everyone can dismiss the notion that the Edwards campaign put up a special “Get Well Card” link to entice well-wishers to provide their email addresses so that they could turn around and be solicited. Again, the generic “Send A Note” link has ALWAYS been on the website (going back to his 2004 campaign).

Mary Ann’s story — and my post — both leave the impression that it’s a specific get well note that lured people in. It isn’t. It’s true that the current “message” from John and Elizabeth on the website is about her illness, so I imagine that many of the notes they got were about that news, but it’s not as though the campaign was specifically asking for get-well wishes and then (intentionally or not) asking sympathizers for money.

Then again, the fact that the “send a note” form has been a part of the site for years backs up the theory that someone just forgot to change the default collection of emails on this generic “note” form after the Edwardses made their announcement.

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