October 20, 2000
U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor says Sam Neill is digging dirt and
slinging mud in their current campaign.
The campaign has been a low one, to be sure, but the
regrettable tactics have not been limited to Neill.
Taylor is no slouch at name-calling and exaggerated charges
against his opponent.
Moreover, it is Taylor who could do the most to redirect the
focus to issues that matter to Western North Carolina voters, by
agreeing to a debate.
Instead, the five-term incumbent has created one smoke screen
after the other to divert attention from the valid questions
brought to light in the campaign. They include questions about his
pattern of avoiding property taxes, the lending practices of his
bank, his business investments in Russia and his profiting from a
federal rent subsidy program.
All of these, to hear Taylor tell it, arise from Neill's
astonishing power to seat grand juries, investigate business in
Russia, garnish a congressman's wages and tell newspapers what to
write. If that doesn't stick, Taylor wants government authorities
to investigate the press.
A strange diversionary tactic was the Taylor campaign's attempt
to plant a story about the origins of news reports on his Blue
Ridge Savings Bank.
Taylor's supporters, including his friends at a conservative
weekly, the Asheville Tribune, are hustling the charge that
stories by the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte
Observer were based on a report "stolen" from the bank.
The congressman offers no proof of the charge. Indeed, his
attorney backed off from even making it when a Times-News reporter
pressed him to say on the record what he was getting at.
Officials from Blue Ridge Savings say questions from the
Charlotte and Raleigh newspapers last month indicated the
reporters had access to a confidential Office of Thrift
Supervision report from 1996.
"When I realized somebody had that report, I knew we were
required to report that fact to the OTS," Long said Wednesday. "We
made no requests. Whatever OTS does is a matter of them carrying
out their duties."
That puts it in perspective. There has been no confirmation of
an investigation into the newspapers' gathering of information. It
would be highly unusual for a law enforcement agency to seek
charges against a news organization for printing accurate,
newsworthy information - whether the media outlet is the Asheville
Tribune or the Charlotte Observer.
Taylor and Long know this, of course. It serves their purpose
to imply something nefarious about how newspapers got the
information. They hope that turns the voters' eyes away from the
underlying stories about Taylor's bank.
But the episode reveals something more troubling about Taylor
and his tactics. It appears that the powerful congressman is
pressuring the Justice Department to mount an investigation into
how newspapers got stories critical of him.
That ought to outrage and frighten every voter in Western North