HMM: Cochran Camp Had Ability to Mute Audience During 'Hijacked' Call

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.

Barbour was using FreeConferenceCall.com to host the call: the call-in info that Johnson tweeted is a line belonging to that company. I called their help line to confirm that 530-881-1000 is one of their lines.

FreeConferenceCall.com's "Instructions" page explains how the host can mute the audience. I also confirmed this on the help line.

No matter what version of their product a host is using, a host can always mute the audience.

Folks: if you were hosting a similarly sized call of great importance to your client, wouldn't knowing how to mute the audience so you can speak be the first thing you'd think about prior to commencing the meeting?

Helpfully, we don't need to wonder if or when the topic of muting occurred to Barbour. Listen to the audio: during the approximately seven minutes of Barbour talk time prior to the interruption, Barbour asked all listening on the line to mute their phones for everyone's benefit. He did it right at the beginning, and he repeated the request several more times.

Scroll back up to that Barbour tweet: "... had done calls on this exact line in exact same way before."

So: an experienced communications director, using a conference call service that he has used multiple times in the past, choosing to end a call on a topic his team felt important enough to hold a press conference on earlier in the day, and whose team immediately used the incident of a crackpot caller to slam an opposition-supporting journalist and the opposition in general ... could have avoided the entire incident by pressing "*5" at any time, of which he would have to be an incompetent comm director to not know.

Or maybe it was Johnson. But after the Cochran team's shameless, soulless exploitation of Mississsippi blacks, kinda suspicious that a potential incident of shamelessly exploiting Mississippi blacks came up again.