During the Terri Schiavo controversy in March 2005, a talking points memo on the controversy was written by Brian Darling, the legal counsel to Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida. The memo suggested the Schiavo case offered "a great political issue" that would appeal to the party's base (core supporters) and could be used against Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida who was up for reelection in 2006, because he had refused to co-sponsor the bill which came to be known as the Palm Sunday Compromise. Bill Nelson was nevertheless reelected as Senator on November 7, 2006 with 60% of the vote.
Martinez stated that he had not read the memo before he inadvertently passed it to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democratic supporter of the Palm Sunday Compromise legislation which gave federal courts jurisdiction to review the Terri Schiavo case. Then it became public knowledge.
After the existence of the memo was reported by ABC News and The Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist denounced the memo and asserted that the Republican Party's interest in the case was solely based on moral grounds. Darling remained silent about his authorship of the memo as commentators from the conservative magazine Weekly Standard and other publications questioned its authenticity. The source of the memo had not been disclosed by either ABC News or The Washington Post. The Washington Post says that it neither implied that the memo originated from a Republican source nor that it was circulated by Republicans, though it did in fact make these assertions when it published the story by reporters Mike Allen and Manuel Roig-Franzia on its wire service on March 19, 2005. The authorship claim was removed before publication of the print version on March 20, 2005. On April 6, 2005, Darling admitted to writing the memo, and resigned his position as legal counsel to Senator Martinez.
Responsibility for its further distribution remains a matter of dispute between Republicans and Democrats.
- Senator’s office produced Schiavo memo - Politics - MSNBC.com
- The Seattle Times: Nation & World: GOP memo says issue offers political rewards
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- Fake but Accurate Again?
- Doubts Raised On Schiavo Memo (washingtonpost.com)
- Leaving the Anchor Desk, Its Greatest Generation (washingtonpost.com)
- washingtonpost.com: Counsel to GOP Senator Wrote Memo On Schiavo