The Week’s Least Compelling Scandal

Washington is abuzz over Mother Jones’s publication of secretly-recorded audio of a meeting between Senator Mitch McConnell and a small group of his campaign advisers. McConnell and his aides are heard discussing the potential candidacy of actress Ashley Judd, and suggesting ways in which she could be vulnerable. (Judd has since announced that she will not seek the Democratic nomination to run against McConnell.) Politico, like many other outlets, tried to make the conversation sound churlish:

Aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed attacking Ashley Judd’s mental health if the actress had opted to challenge the Kentuckian in 2014, according to a secret audio recording.

It turns out, though, that “[m]ost of the discussion focuses on Judd’s liberal positions, including support for gay marriage and President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.” And the mental health reference comes from Judd’s own autobiography:

“She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced,” a McConnell aide says on the recording…. “I mean it’s been documented. Jesse can go in chapter and verse from her autobiography about, you know, she’s suffered some suicidal tendencies. She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the ’90s.”

Which is reminiscent of P.J. O’Rourke’s observation that “[y]ou can’t shame or humiliate modern celebrities. … [I]f you say a modern celebrity is an adulterer, a pervert and a drug addict, all it means is that you’ve read his autobiography.”

So it doesn’t sound like much of a story. It’s not as though they rooted through Judd’s garbage or broke into her personal email account. Now that would be a scandal that the press would never let go of, right?

UPDATE: I didn’t mention an aspect of this story that several commenters have brought up; that is, McConnell’s claim that the meeting must have been bugged by the Democrats. He has reported the incident to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution. Personally, however, I think it is very unlikely that the meeting was bugged. I think that either McConnell has a disloyal aide, or the meeting was taped for an innocent purpose by one of the participants–e.g., to serve as minutes of the meeting for future reference–and somehow fell into the wrong hands. I am not sure where the meeting was held, but let’s assume that the Democrats have bugged McConnell’s office. I certainly wouldn’t put it past them. But if that were the case, would they blow their bug on this story? Not a chance. Judd isn’t even a candidate any longer. If they had a bug, they would save it for something much bigger. Also, it has been reported that the FBI swept the room for a bug and didn’t find anything.

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