At 4:00 p.m. yesterday, the Thad Cochran campaign initiated a conference call with national media. The call’s announced intention was to reiterate the campaign’s statements from a press conference earlier in the day, at which the Cochran camp rebutted the circulating charges of election fraud.

About seven minutes into the call, someone on the line interrupted Cochran rep Austin Barbour to ask:

“Since black people harvested cotton, why is it okay to harvest their votes? Why is it okay to harvest the votes of black people?”

Moments later, Barbour ended his participation in the call, calling it “hijacked,” and he encouraged members of the “national media” to instead contact either himself or Communications Director Jordan Russell directly by phone or email.

Moments after that, Russell started tweeting.

Russell used the incident — as of now, the caller remains unidentified — to slam reporters that are not “legitimate media.” A follow-up tweet indicated that Russell had been referring to Charles C. Johnson, who has been publishing claims that Cochran’s team orchestrated vote-buying. Johnson had tweeted the call-in information for the call 15 minutes prior to it starting, telling his followers to “crash it” with him, as per below.

Russell also slammed “hardcore McDaniel people” with the incident:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnson immediately denied that the caller was himself; it certainly does not sound like Johnson’s voice to my ear.

So: did a McDaniel supporter interrupt the call? Was it “hijacked” by a Johnson colleague? Or — as suggested by a person remaining on the call after Barbour exited — was the interruption a plant designed to again tar McDaniel supporters as bigots, which is exactly what Russell immediately did on Twitter?

The Daily Beast, with the gently titled “Racists and Conspiracy Nuts Turn Cochran Call Into The Biggest Campaign Sh*tshow of 2014“, printed the answer to the only question that could possibly shed some light on what actually happened without finding a mole: Was the Cochran campaign able to mute the audience? Wrote Ben Jacobs:

The call lasted about ten minutes before descending into absolute anarchy after a pro-McDaniel blogger obtained the dial-in information and posted it on Twitter. With McDaniel supporters streaming on and the Cochran campaign using a free service where they couldn’t mute callers, it turned into mayhem.

I have no clue where Jacobs got that information about the muting capability. He doesn’t say, and Team Cochran hasn’t offered such a statement.

Wherever Jacobs got that information, it’s false. The Cochran team was able to mute the attendees and didn’t.