I went to YouTube and watched the two videos — “Tedra Cobb Teen Talk,” parts I and II — that the Stefanik campaign is trying to make notorious, and I was embarrassed for the teen who made them and angry at the adults who encouraged him.
Each video shows a small group of people sitting around — on a porch in the first video, maybe under a pavilion in the second — chatting about political issues and gossiping about other candidates and the people who work for them.
Tedra Cobb is there in both videos, along with a handful of teenagers. A couple of other adult women are present, at least in the first video.
Everyone is a bit awkward, the way people are when they’re meeting for the first or second time. But what is really uncomfortable for the viewer, especially in Part I, is that you are aware of watching a video that was taped by a teenager named Grayson without the knowledge of anyone else who is present.
The Part I video starts as Grayson gets out of his car. As he walks up on the porch, he tells the group his phone has died.
Later, the group starts talking about people who, they say, have been recruited by the Stefanik campaign to go to Cobb’s events and secretly tape them.
Cobb mentions that Grayson was taping an earlier event, ostensibly for a legitimate reason, such as for a class. Then someone asks Grayson if he is taping again.
“No,” he says, and he says again that his phone is dead.
Teens have to take responsibility for their actions, but adults have to guide them. It’s too bad Grayson decided to be sneaky. But it’s disgraceful that the people in Elise Stefanik’s campaign have encouraged him.
If they recruited him to spy for them, that is disgraceful.
If they encouraged him after the fact — after they learned he made the video — that is disgraceful.
If they seized on the video as a way to attack Tedra Cobb, which they did, that is disgraceful, too.
Political campaigns should not be encouraging teens to spy for them and lie for them — not before, during or after the event.
Both of these gatherings were small — six or seven people — and at least the first one was held at a private home. People have an expectation of privacy at gatherings like that, and even though it’s legal, it’s not right to film them without consent.
This isn’t “To Catch a Predator.” This is a candidate in a congressional primary, sitting around and nibbling on snacks with teenagers who, she thinks, are supporters.
These videos were filmed in May, by the way.
I’m not going to spell out what is wrong with what happened. It concerns fair play and respect and the positive value of honest disagreement, as opposed to the negative value of sneaking and cheating.
Either you recognize those qualities and appreciate those values, or you don’t.
I and many others have been disheartened over the past year or so by the way millions of Americans have put aside the respect for honesty and decency we thought was held in common.
This episode here in our congressional district — not important in itself — is one more bit of evidence of the way politics is fraying the bonds of community.
Does the phrase “as good as his word” mean anything now, or is “good” associated only with “winning,” no matter how?
I am sick — sick at heart — at all this winning.
Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at @trafficstatic.