The New Canaan Republican Town Committee and its candidates achieved impressive election wins on November 7. The RTC’s campaign strategy was implemented effectively by dozens of volunteers who worked countless hours in support of policies and candidates they believe in. The party is rightly celebrating its victory.
However, unknown to much of New Canaan and apparently unknown to the candidates, an unsavory incident occurred in the final weeks of the campaign that could taint our memories of the RTC’s election success. It involved a personal attack on a Democrat opponent, the kind of campaign tactic that should be abhorrent to all who value civility in our local politics.
Here’s what happened.
Early on a Saturday in October, BOE candidate Lauren Nussbaum was excited about a softball practice she had planned for later that morning for the 20 first-grade girls she coaches. She was moved to share her joy with the many parents who would be attending, and posted a Facebook video at around 8 a.m., saying “There is no way not to be in an awesome mood.”
Lauren had no inkling that this statement would be the basis of a vicious attack on her character. Her sin? She hadn’t checked the latest news reports. Hamas had just invaded Israel.
The link between Ms. Nussbaum and the Hamas massacre was first made in a letter published in the New Canaan Sentinel. Subsequently, on October 20, the RTC posted Lauren’s video on Instagram with the following statement:
Most of the world woke up horrified, scared, and distraught by the surprise attack Hamas unleashed on Israel on 10/7/23. This Row A BOE candidate woke up on 10/7/23 and said “There is no way not to be in an awesome mood.” We beg to differ.
This post by the RTC defamed Ms. Nussbaum by strongly implying two falsehoods. The first was that she knew of the Hamas massacre when she posted her video. The second was that she believed an “awesome mood” was the only appropriate response to the barbaric genocide of more than 1,200 Jews.
When challenged, the RTC author was unapologetic, responding that “all posts we have made are factually correct and completely verified.” If the RTC believes this response to be a defense against legal liability it should think again. “Defamation by implication” is a recognized cause of action in many jurisdictions. It arises, according to a Fordham Law Review article, “not from what is stated but from what is implied when a defendant juxtaposes a series of facts so as to imply a defamatory connection between the two.”
In any event, New Canaan shouldn’t need the courts to communicate our disdain.
In addition to preserving common decency, we should all be concerned if our neighbors are less willing to run for and serve in public office when civilized rules of debate are so unabashedly thwarted.
Fortunately, RTC leadership is partway down the path to redemption.
After about three hours, the RTC removed the offensive post. While that was commendable, inflammatory posts can spread to hundreds or thousands of viewers in just a few hours–hence the term Instagram. Remarkably, more than a few followers “liked” the post, possibly spreading it to their networks. Others circulated screen shots. Among those who saw it and contacted Ms. Nussbaum was a Jewish advocacy group concerned that she was spreading antisemitism. The impact was considerable–both to Ms. Nussbaum’s reputation and to her emotional well-being and that of her family. Their pain didn’t subside when the post was removed.
In another partially redemptive act, an RTC representative called to apologize to both Ms. Nussbaum and to the Chair of the Democratic Town Committee. But private apologies cannot ameliorate a public slur. Only a public apology by all members of the RTC would make a difference.
The RTC will be judged by whatever additional steps it takes or doesn’t take. Particularly in the case of the recent Board of Education election, our children, their teachers and their administrators are watching. The one nonnegotiable demand that our community should make is that this must never happen again.