Politico’s Wednesday news article on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) endorsement of Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker illustrated a troubling pattern: As Republicans have gotten behind the Trump-endorsed former pro football player, news pieces are giving less acknowledgment to the multiple reports of domestic violence in his past.
“Walker initially drew skepticism from Senate GOP leaders who worried that revelations about his past behavior would make him a weak nominee,” Politico said in the article, before adding that “those concerns have abated in recent days, with Republican officials saying they have been impressed with Walker’s fundraising abilities and the campaign team he has put together.”
It was not until the ninth paragraph that the piece explained what those “revelations about his past behavior” involved. “Walker has faced scrutiny over his past behavior, including his divorce from a woman who accused him of pointing a gun at her head and engaging in controlling behavior,” the article said. The article then juxtaposed accusations of domestic violence alongside “questions about his management of a chicken company he owns, Renaissance Man Food Services.”
In between these paragraphs, the narrative was separated by various descriptions of internal Senate Republican deliberations, such as their desire to avoid a contested primary.
When Walker released a memoir in 2008, detailing his struggles with mental illness, his first wife described to ABC News that he had threatened to kill her (the two divorced in 2001). More details emerged this year in The Associated Press, involving affidavits for a protective order that his ex-wife received against him in 2005, in which his former sister-in-law reported that he had “stated unequivocally that he was going to shoot my sister Cindy and her boyfriend in the head.”
In addition, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in August on a police report from 2012, claiming that Walker had also threatened to shoot an ex-girlfriend. The woman has since died, and a Walker campaign spokesperson told the paper that “Herschel emphatically denies these false claims.”
Back in late July, before Walker had officially entered the race, Politico gave more prominence to the reports in the context of McConnell’s reported reticence about his candidacy. The following was in the second paragraph of the Playbook newsletter on July 29, which was titled “McConnell’s Herschel Walker problem.”
A recent AP story detailed Walker’s record of threatening and violent behavior — including once allegedly holding a pistol to his then-wife’s head and threatening to “blow [her] f---ing brains out.” (Walker has spoken openly about having dissociative identity disorder.) JOSH HOLMES, the GOP leader’s political right-hand man, tweeted a link to the article, writing: “This is about as comprehensive a takedown as I’ve ever read. My lord.”
An article the next day also featured a direct quote from a prominent Republican senator near the top. “Some of it’s pretty bad, obviously: physical abuse and pulling a gun on his wife, if that’s true,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the outlet. “I want to win that race. And to the extent that he’s handicapped by some of these things that would make that unlikely, I’d prefer to have somebody else.”
But as Walker’s campaign gained momentum with Trump’s endorsement, and Senate Republicans began getting behind his candidacy, Politico’s coverage began giving lower positioning and less details to the reports.
Walker received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who had encouraged him to enter the race. Though their relationship dates back to the 1980s, Trump may well have been recently attracted to Walker because of the former NFL player’s vocal advocacy of Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and calls to imprison people.