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John Krull commentary: Todd Rokita’s chestnut horse

The explanation Indiana Attorney Todd Rokita offered for settling his silly, silly lawsuit with conservative commentator and radio talk show host Abdul-Hakim Shabazz reveals what Rokita thinks about his voters.

He believes they are gullible.

Really.

Really.

Really.

Gullible.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the attorney general is betting that his backers can’t tell the difference between a chestnut horse and a horse chestnut.

Rokita writes in an opinion piece he sent around to news organizations that he settled the suit Shabazz and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed against him to save the taxpayers money and him time to fight more important battles. (Disclosure: Nearly 20 years ago, I was the executive director of the Indiana ACLU.)

In his piece, the attorney general suggests that Shabazz and the ACLU came after him for no reason.

In fact, Rokita started the fight. He barred Shabazz from a press conference last year on the grounds that Shabazz wasn’t a journalist. Rokita then asserted that he had the right to determine who was a journalist and who wasn’t.

That’s an odd position for a guy who proclaims himself to be a small-government conservative to take, but, then again, intellectual consistency and honesty never have been among Rokita’s strong suits.

It was a stupid, stupid, stupid fight for Rokita to pick.

In the first place, Shabazz had credentials issued by the state of Indiana certifying that he was a member of the Statehouse press corps. To make his case, Rokita would have had to argue that he isn’t bound by the state’s processes and procedures for issuing credentials.

Second, Abdul works for several established and respected news organizations. Rokita was arguing that he, not the owners and publishers of those outlets, was entitled to decide who was a journalist and who wasn’t. Perhaps that’s why the Society of Professional Journalists and other such organizations also came out against the attorney general’s ham-handed action.

Third, Rokita went to war with someone in his own army. Until now, Shabazz has rarely if ever had a less-than-complimentary word to say about any Republican ever. That Shabazz now is willing to make an exception of Rokita says something about the attorney general, not much of it good.

Fourth and perhaps most important, there’s the epic level of hypocrisy involved here.

If Rokita were serious about banning people who weren’t “serious” journalists from his presence, he would refuse to sit down with, say, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson from Fox News. To save the network from crushing lawsuits, Fox has argued in court that nothing Hannity or Carlson says should be taken as either fact or truth because they are polemicists and entertainers, not journalists.

But if either Carlson or Hannity wanted to talk with Rokita, he not would only open his doors to them but likely inquire as to what surgery was necessary for him to be able to bear their children—the attorney general’s fulminations about transgender athletes notwithstanding.

The reality is that Rokita ran up the white flag here because he was going to lose and lose big.

Worse, some observers—including me—had begun to point out that the taxpayers were likely to have to pay quite a bit for his personal meltdown.

Even though he’s done a fair amount of losing, Rokita apparently doesn’t much enjoy the experience.

When he does lose, he looks for someone else to blame for his misfortune.

When there’s a factual error in reporting about him, he’s quick to demand a correction.

But when he does something foolish and there’s no factual error in the reporting, he fulminates about “fake news” and tries to direct people’s attention elsewhere.

He argues that the problem isn’t that he did something dumb or ill-advised. No, the problem is that others noticed that he did something dumb or ill-advised.

But that’s standard Todd Rokita.

He’s betting that enough Hoosiers won’t be able to tell the difference between a chestnut horse and a horse chestnut to elect him governor.

Or maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t know the difference himself.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.