Cox's campaign manager resigning


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 04/26/06

Cathy Cox's gubernatorial campaign manager resigned today amid complaints that he altered the online biography of her Democratic gubernatorial rival Mark Taylor to include information about the candidate's son's drunk-driving arrest.

Morton Brilliant offered Cox, Georgia's Secretary of State, his resignation, and the candidate is expected to announce that she's accepted it later this afternoon, according to campaign sources.

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Taylor's campaign had accused Brilliant of also altering the biographies of one-time opponents in other states -- Washington and South Carolina -- and had demanded he be fired.

Cox told reporters before a noon speech that she'd told her campaign staff never to raise the issue of Fletcher Taylor's South Carolina car wreck in which a passenger was killed. She said she was angry to learn that someone on her campaign had added the information to Taylor's biography on Wikipedia, a popular online encyclopedia.

"I am very disturbed," Cox said. "They [her staff] know my message, they know the kind of campaign I'm running and they know the kind of person I am and I think the message we send on how we deal with this will make my directive very clear."

The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the editing of Taylor's biography led back to the Cox campaign. He said there were no plans to remove the information because it met the Web site's standard for newsworthiness.

The information added on the Web site said Taylor's son, Fletcher, was behind the wheel in an August 2005 accident that killed his 22-year-old best friend.

Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist, said, "If it is traced back [to Brilliant], it's potentially a big issue. That's how campaign managers lose jobs."

Michael Binford, a Georgia State University political scientist, said the latest incident is a sign of things to come in the Taylor-Cox battle for the Democratic nomination for governor. The winner will take on Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

"Usually there is retaliation after these kind of things," Binford said. "It certainly indicates this isn't going to be a genteel affair."

Last week, Cox's campaign accused Taylor of exaggerating his role in creating the HOPE scholarship. Taylor claims in campaign ads that he sponsored the bill that created the scholarship fund, which uses state lottery proceeds to finance tuition and some books for students who attend college in Georgia and maintain a 3.0 grade point average.

However, while Taylor helped push the measure through the Senate, the bill that passed was filed by then-Gov. Zell Miller's House floor leaders.

Wikipedia has been under fire of late for allowing online contributors to post inaccurate information on its site. The most prominent case involved an entry on John Seigenthaler Sr., a prominent journalist whom a Wikipedia entry linked to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. The man who posted the false information later said he was playing a joke.

Virtually any Wikipedia reader may edit any of the site's listings, which has made it an increasingly popular cyberspace attack tool.

The issue hit home in Georgia when U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, a Macon Democrat, had his profile rewritten by a man who now works for his Republican opponent, former Rep. Mac Collins.

While it may be a sign of the new era of campaigning, Binford isn't sure how much such incidents alter the outcome of races.

"I don't know that there are a lot of voters going to Wikipedia to look this up," he said.

Fletcher Taylor, 21, is awaiting trial on charges stemming from the accident in Charleston, S.C. Since the arrest, he has been in an alcohol treatment center, according to Taylor's campaign.

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