Editorial: A line that politics should never cross
Jul 13, 2014 | 1709 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Candidates for public office — regardless of affiliation or influence — should take great pride in wooing voters by including glimpses of past military service in their political campaigns.

But all information disseminated must be accurate. It must never be embellished. And most importantly, it must be verifiable.

Anyone can stake a claim. But anyone who does should understand the potential repercussions if it is challenged — whether by a political opponent, the news media or by the official record itself.

We fear this worst-case scenario has occurred in our community.

E.J. Laughter, a Bradley County Democrat who is one of three candidates seeking two 6th District seats on the Bradley County Commission, has called upon his career in the U.S. Navy as a personal selling point for why he should be elected.

His hitch in the Navy is without question. He served approximately three years.

But, in Laughter’s original political announcement — which he submitted to the Cleveland Daily Banner for publication earlier this year — the candidate declared during his stint in the U.S. Navy he received both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Both are medals awarded for acts of valor, and the Purple Heart is given to a soldier who is inflicted with injuries while engaged in action against a hostile enemy.

According to official U.S. Navy records obtained by this newspaper, neither medal was awarded to Laughter.

The candidate, whose name will appear on the Bradley County General Election ballot on Aug. 7 as the lone Democrat against two Republicans — incumbent Robert Rominger and challenger Dan Rawls — also claimed to have served four years in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

The same U.S. Navy records, which are publicly accessible, state otherwise. According to these documents, Laughter did not serve in any of these military venues.

The County Commission hopeful also reported in his political announcement — whose contents led to hundreds of emails, Facebook posts and phone calls to our newspaper from fellow servicemen from around the world refuting his claims — that he served as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician, 2nd Class, and was attached to EOD Mobile Unit 2.

Again, U.S. Navy records do not verify Laughter’s account. And neither do members of EOD MU2.

Laughter’s defense is the Navy’s records are incorrect. In two interviews with our newspaper in late March, Laughter even suggested the attacks against him are anchored in “political motivation” or are coming from a disgruntled Navy officer with whom he may have had contact during his service years.

Giving the former serviceman every benefit of the doubt — which is a standard practice by our newspaper because we believe it adheres to ethics in journalism — we reminded the U.S. Navy veteran he should be able to substantiate each of his claims ... from service years to tours of duty to EOD status to medals.

He agreed with our assessment and pledged to provide the documentation necessary to verify his claims.

This came in late March. We published front-page articles in the April 1 and April 13 editions reminding our readers — and Laughter — that time was passing, and we still had no further documentation from the candidate. We continued to wait.

Some 3 1/2 months have elapsed since our initial interviews with the candidate and we are still waiting. And now, he won’t answer our telephone calls nor will he return our messages. He has provided no documentation and no one rose to his defense.

Our patience has come to an end.

Early voting will begin July 18 and the traditional Election Day will follow some three weeks later. As it was in the Bradley County Primaries in May, Laughter’s name will be listed on the ballot.

Yet, all references to the candidate — including his political announcement — apparently have been removed from the Bradley County Democratic Party website. This occurred shortly after our first two news stories. But the announcements for Democratic candidates in the fifth and seventh districts remain.

Since that time, we have left countless telephone messages for Democratic Party leaders. Our intent has been to ask if the local Party continued to endorse the County Commission candidate or distance itself. As with Laughter himself, our calls to the Party have gone unanswered and no messages have been returned.

This is not intended to blemish the collective record of local Democrats. Although the Party struggles in its minority status in our community, it does include several familiar and widely respected Bradley County names and faces.

But when a political party — any party ... Dems, GOP, Libertarian, Tea Party or others — won’t publicly defend one of its own, it is not a good sign for the candidate.

Our newspaper is not in the business of making political endorsements. We prefer letting the voters decide.

But we do know this.

Two of three candidates listed on the Bradley County General ballot will be elected to seats representing the Sixth District on the Bradley County Commission.

We do not believe E.J. Laughter should be one of them.

Fraud is one thing. Lying to the voters is another.

And to do either — or both — in the face of the United States military, and the American flag it protects, is an insult to every man or woman in uniform, alive or dead, who has ever offered life in defense of liberty.