By Benjamin Niolet and Ryan Teague Beckwith
The News & Observer
Jan 16, 2008
It began with a simple misspelling. It ended three hours later with a
candidate for governor having to clean up after a vowel-related
damage-control operation went awry.
First, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory's campaign sent an e-mailed news
release Tuesday afternoon proclaiming in large type that he was running
A reporter inquired, prompting a swift and emphatic denial:
"There's no way this was misspelled," said Victoria Smith, McCrory's
campaign manager. She said a hacker had accessed the campaign's computer
to alter the word. Smith said someone has been hacking McCrory's mayoral
Web site for six months, though the campaign had not contacted
Then, a campaign spokeswoman, who was with McCrory as he announced his
candidacy in Jamestown, said there was no hacker after all -- that an
overworked graphic designer had simply made a mistake when designing the
That was not the end.
Smith, reached by phone, insisted the spokeswoman was wrong. The errant
spelling -- which had been fixed even as the e-mail sat in reporters'
computers -- was indeed the work of a hacker. She said the hacker must
have re-hacked the campaign to fix the error.
Finally, McCrory himself weighed in. There was no hacker, he told a
reporter. The campaign's designer spelled the word wrong.
And so, on a day when McCrory wanted to make a well-orchestrated splash
as the fourth candidate to seek the Republican nomination, political
types buzzed on the blogs about McCrory, the would-be "governer."
"It strikes me as a rather minor error and a rather minor incident made
worse, as usual, by someone simply trying to paper it over rather than
saying directly, 'We made a mistake,' " Ferrel Guillory, director of the
UNC-Chapel Hill Program on Public Life, said in an interview.
A bipartisan phenomenon
It's not the first time a candidate for governor misspelled the word. In
November, the Web page for Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democratic
candidate, said she was running for "governer." When a reporter pointed
out the mistake, the campaign fessed up and fixed the spelling.
The incident Tuesday drew attention to the ability of political
campaigns -- and others, for that matter -- to alter e-mails after they
have been sent.
As Smith was insisting Tuesday afternoon that a hacker was trying to
embarrass the campaign, someone who works for the campaign had caught
and corrected the misspelling, even as it sat in e-mail inboxes.
Marketing e-mail messages that display images and pictures often are
actually the result of a line of code that tells the computer to fetch
an image from a server when the message is opened, said Joe Colopy, CEO
of Bronto Software, a Durham-based e-mail marketing company that counts
Trek bicycles and John Edwards' presidential campaign -- but not
McCrory's campaign -- among its 750 clients. The idea is to allow
senders to change or update content after it has been sent, an ability
most e-mail users wished they'd had one time or another.
In his speech announcing his campaign, McCrory emphasized that he wasn't
going to be running a polished political machine.
"We're going to be like a garage band," McCrory told reporters and
supporters. "We're not hiring any high-priced consultants to tell us
what to say and how to say it. We're going to speak from the heart."
McCrory repeated the garage band simile when he explained the story of
his campaign's spelling saga.
(Staff writer Alex Howard contributed to this report.)
HOW IT UNFOLDED
(All times are approximate.)
1:30 P.M. A news release is e-mailed from a campaign spokeswoman. The
colorful graphic letterhead features a picture of the candidate and the
words, "Pat McCrory Governer"
2 P.M. Victoria Smith, McCrory's campaign manager, says in an interview,
"There's no way this was misspelled ... somebody must have sent that
out and hacked into that masthead."
2:30 P.M. The misspelling is fixed in the electronic news release, a
graphic that can be updated even as it sits in reporters' computers.
Smith said that no one from the campaign made any changes to the graphic
and that the hacker who first sabotaged "governor" must have corrected
the error. Smith said someone has been hacking McCrory's mayoral Web
site for six months.
3 P.M. Colleen Brannan, a spokeswoman helping the campaign with
Tuesday's announcement in Jamestown, tells a reporter that "governor"
had been misspelled by a graphic designer working with the campaign.
Brannan said that once the designer saw her error, she corrected it.
3:15 P.M. Smith says that Brannan has only been with the campaign for
six days and "misspoke." The misspelling, she says, was the work of a
4:25 P.M. McCrory tells a reporter that there was no hacker and that the
misspelling was a gaffe by the campaign.
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