17 November 2007

Kenya: Fair Play - Spin Doctors Made in U.S. - Does Dick Morris


Nairobi — ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga, who is running on a clean government and revolutionary ticket, showed rather poor judgment this week by "hiring" and showing off American political strategist Dick Morris.

Mr Morris was reported to have flown back to the US on Thursday night amid controversy on if he could work without a work permit. But "he will be back", said a spokesman at the party headquarters.

The American is undoubtedly an immensely talented political strategist, author, columnist and commentator who previously worked as a pollster as well as political campaign and general political consultant.

But since a series of scandals broke around him in 1996, no American presidential candidate would touch him with a 10-foot pole because of the fear that their choice of consultant would be bad publicity.

When Mr Odinga introduced him to Kenyans on Tuesday, he flaunted him as the architect of former President Bill Clinton's successful 1996 re-election campaign. But the world also knows that he resigned in the middle of the campaign after a newspaper published a story of his year-long affair with a $200 (Sh13,400)-an-hour prostitute named Sherry Rowlands.

THE NEWSPAPER OBTAINED AND published a set of photographs of Mr Morris and Ms Rowlands on a Washington DC hotel balcony, and the revelation that his favourite sexual fetish was toe-sucking. The article also revealed that he had allowed the prostitute to listen in on phone calls with the President.

Mr Morris, who was born in New York but lives in Redding, Connecticut, had another scandal - his failure to pay his income tax; he was once on the top 10 list of tax evaders. The Connecticut Department of Revenue Services listed him as the seventh largest delinquent taxpayer in 2007. The agency states that he owes $280,819 (Sh20 million) in unpaid taxes and that he had been on the delinquent list for years. Time magazine featured the prostitution scandal on September 9, 1996, a few days after Mr Morris resigned from the Clinton campaign team. He has since become something of a hot potato in US political consulting, and his relationship with the Clintons also shows a bitter and vindictive man. While he worked for Clinton he was full of praise for him and his wife Hillary. Today he has made something of a career out of attacking the couple.

Since leaving the Clintons' employ in 1996, he has been criticising them - particularly Hillary - in his political commentaries appearing on Fox News programmes such as Hannity & Colmes and the O'Reilly Factor. He has also written at least two books criticising the couple - Rewriting History and Because He Could.

When he resigned, President Clinton praised Mr Morris as a "friend" and thanked him for his years of service. But he kept tarnishing the Clintons' image with a passion.

He once said he will leave the US if Hillary is elected president in 2008. Although Mr Morris, also right-wing, claims to be bipartisan, he leans more to the Republican side, and is more at home appearing in Fox News talk shows with the ultra-conservative show host Bill O'Reilly.

He has worked as a political consultant with such Republicans as Senators Trent Lott, Jesse Helms and Paula Hawkins. No self-respecting liberal would hire Mr Morris as a political consultant.

Either Mr Odinga is unaware - which is difficult to believe - of the man's background or he chose to ignore it, which is a political mistake. "His presence here and subsequent involvement in the campaign will inject a degree of professionalism never before seen in Kenyan politics," the outgoing Lang'ata MP told reporters on Tuesday.

He said also that Mr Morris was going to work pro bono (without pay). As the Muslim leaders in the Party of Nation Unity (PNU) said on Wednesday, nobody except the very naïve will believe this. He may very well be working for no salary, but not for nothing.

So what is in it for Mr Morris? Was the statement just meant to fool the Immigration Department so that he did not need a work permit?

MR MORRIS HIT THE GROUND Running, and quickly picked up PNU's most subtle and probably most effective television advertising, Mdomo, saying such advertising would not go unanswered. He was bringing his experience of US political campaigns into Kenya with the basic assumption that what works there should work here.

Mr Odinga introduced him as his political consultant, but in reality he is just spin doctor. A spin doctor, in American parlance, is a person who tries to forestall negative publicity by publicising a favourable interpretation of the words or actions of a political party or politicians.

Spin-doctoring, a heavily biased portrayal in one's own favour of an event or situation, often implies unfair, deceptive and highly manipulative tactics.

Has Mr Raila Odinga found himself his own mamluki?

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