Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was stepping off his riding lawn mower outside his home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, last Friday when his neighbor attacked him from behind with enough force and violence that he broke six of the senator’s ribs and bruised his lungs. Paul, according to a friend, had not heard the neighbor coming, as he’d been wearing ear protection, and had not had any recent interaction with the neighbor.
“If there was a dispute, I do believe Rand wasn’t aware of it,” Rob Porter told the Associated Press. He told the Courier Journal that Paul told him he hadn’t talked to the neighbor, Rene Boucher, in years.
But the mainstream media are giving the assault on a sitting U.S. senator light attention, and seeming to shrug it off as a simple neighbor vs. neighbor issue.
News organizations have continued to run stories that appear to excuse the assault, downplay it as something trivial, and blame Paul for the attack even after reports that the senator's injuries are much more serious than originally thought. The news that the single misdemeanor charge may be upgraded to a felony, and that the FBI is investigating and may bring separate charges against Boucher, also has not affected the tone of the coverage.
Reporters are also brushing off suggestions that politics could have had anything to do with the attack, even though people who know Boucher told The Washington Post that he's a socialist. Sen. Rand Paul is the libertarian-leaning Republican who ran for the GOP nomination for president in 2016. He's also the son of libertarian hero Ron Paul, a three-time presidential candidate.
Here's what the media have done with this story in recent days:
1.) CNN: It's no big deal! CNN stories have highlighted statements by Boucher's lawyer, Matthew Baker, to the effect that this was just a simple dispute between two neighbors, and really no big deal at all.
A story published on CNN.com on November 7, "Attorney Calls Attack on Sen. Rand Paul 'Regrettable Dispute Between Two Neighbors'" led with Baker's insisting that the dispute was not about politics, and quoted him as saying the attack "was a very regrettable dispute" over "a matter that most people would regard as trivial." But Baker did not, CNN notes, say what the nature of the dispute was, and the CNN story does not include the important information that the neighbor, a retired anesthesiologist whose lot abuts Paul's lot, is a registered Democrat whose Facebook page was filled with anti-Trump postings. It also does not include that a former city commissioner said Boucher is a socialist.
The story includes a video in which Baker says he hopes that the two "gentlemen" can "get back to being neighbors as soon as possible," painting a picture of quickly restored harmony that does not seem too likely.
2.) The Washington Post: Landscaping's just like that. The Washington Post published a story on Tuesday entitled "Rand Paul's Beating and the Violent History of Lawn Maintenance" by a writer named Avi Selk. It's difficult to imagine a similar headline on a story about an attack on someone like former President Barack Obama or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). LifeZette grabbed a snip of the headline on Twitter, as on first glance it seemed something that might have been posted by a renegade millennial working behind the scenes and would be removed as soon as the embarrassing mistake was noticed.
The article plays off reports that Paul and Boucher have a long history of disputes over lawn care, and in particular over leaves blown onto the neighbor's property. But it ignores the reporting by the Associated Press, which quoted Porter as saying Paul "doesn't really have any interaction with the guy" and saying that Boucher had approached from behind, without Paul hearing him, and had "slammed him to the ground."
The assault, The Post reporter wrote, was "by no means the worst thing to have befallen two neighbors in the long history of our obsession with trimmed grass."
3.) GQ: Rand Paul had it coming. He probably deserved it, a young writer for GQ mused in a Tuesday blog entry entitled "Rand Paul Sounds Like the Worst Guy to Have as a Neighbor." The subtitle on the post is: "He was allegedly beaten up by his neighbor for not respecting property lines," though nothing is offered to support this claim.
The writer points to a New York Times report that the senator and his wife grow pumpkins as evidence that Paul is "a bit of an ass**** about his yard."
He repeats the curse word again to describe what kind of neighbor Paul is, though it might be a bit head-scratching, as it's hard to imagine the senator has spent much time at the home over the past few years — given that he was running for president in 2015 and 2016 and spends at least half of every week in Washington, D.C., and is frequently appearing on television and at events around Kentucky. How bothersome could he really be?
4.) The(Louisville) Courier Journal: Rand Paul was a pain because he wanted property rights to his property. The largest newspaper in the state of Kentucky quotes the developer of the gated community where Sen. Rand Paul lives as implying that Paul had been a difficult member of the homeowners association because "he actually wanted to own the property rights."
"I think this is something that has been festering," Jim Skaggs, the developer, is quoted as saying at the top of the article, though much further down Porter said he'd never heard Boucher's name, that Paul said they hadn't spoken in years, and he was not aware of any dispute between them.
"Since when does a grown-up assault someone by sneaking up and tackling them from behind and break their ribs, affect their lungs and otherwise bruise, harm and lay them up? There is no excuse, real or anything, from the uninformed silly conjecture of a person who wasn't even present," wrote a person commenting on the newspaper's website.
The paper mentions Boucher's political affiliation, but then quickly brushes off any notion that politics could have had anything to do with the attack.
"Voter records from March 2017 show Boucher registered as a Democrat, but his lawyer said Monday that politics had nothing to do with the 'trivial' dispute between neighbors."
The article, says Tim Graham of the Media Research Center, is a blatant "blame-the-victim story."
What happened to Sen. Rand Paul, he says, is being seriously underplayed by the media.
"It was a brutal assault," he told LifeZette on Wednesday, "and the perpetrator obviously has an out-of-control rage, and these terms aren't being used as far as I can see."
Rene Boucher. He was arrested by police after admitting to attacking Paul on Friday, November 3, and was released on $7,500 bail. Boucher is charged with one fourth-degree misdemeanor count of assault and is due in court on Thursday to enter his plea.
But things won't end there.
A spokesman for the Kentucky State Police told LifeZette on Tuesday that given the news that the senator has several broken ribs and at least one bruised lung, investigators are waiting for medical records plus a revised and expanded report of the incident, to be completed by the officer who was called to Paul's home. The prosecuting attorney, he said, will be reviewing the additional information to see if the charges should be upgraded.
Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating to see if federal charges should also be brought against Boucher for assaulting a member of Congress.
Boucher is a 59-year-old retired anesthesiologist. Both he and Rand Paul have lived in the Bowling Green community, called Rivergreen, for 17 years, and previously worked in the same hospital. Boucher is the inventor of the Therm-a-Vest, a rice-filled vest that is supposed to help ease back pain.
A former city commissioner in Bowling Green told The Washington Post on November 5 that Boucher is a socialist and that he is divorced and lives alone.
The arrest warrant lists Boucher as being 5 foot 8 inches tall and 166 pounds and says he "admitted to going onto Paul's property and tackling him."
Rand Paul's condition. Paul tweeted on Wednesday just after noon that the "final report" shows he has six broken ribs and also pleural effusion — a buildup of fluid in the tissue around the lungs.
It is unknown how long he may be out of work due to his injuries.
"We don't have a return date just yet," Paul's spokesman, Sergio Gor, told LifeZette in an email — "hopefully soon."
(photo credit, homepage image: Rand Paul , CC BY-SA 2.0 , by Gage Skidmore  / Imagery @2017 Google, Map data @2017 Google; photo credit, article image: Rand Paul , CC BY-SA 2.0 , by Gage Skidmore )