Leave Joe Alone!

In the space of a week, “Joe the Plumber” from Toledo, Ohio has become a minor celebrity. Since he asked Barak Obama on the campaign trail about the effect of Obama’s tax policy last week, he was repeatedly used by John McCain as an example and archetype of a small business owner.

I think the story is a bit of an archetype of inadvertent celebrity and dirt-digging that just about anyone is vulnerable to when their private life is thrown into the prevailing media orgy. Dirt is dug with little concern about the effect on the unwitting subject.

So what happens next in the current environment of 24 hour news and general media frenzy? Joe the Plumber is not only thrown into the spotlight, but his life is laid under the microscope. All because he dared to step into a camera’s eye by asking serious question to a political candidate. Instead of a serious discussion of tax policy and its effect on business growth, the media goes after Joe as if his private life is newsworthy. And it provides an illustration of how much info about a private citizen can be quickly ferreted out in a very brief period.

Within 24 hours of the Debate, Joe’s records have been pulled and supposedly newsworthy tidbits are dangled before the public.

Stop the presses, he’s not really named Joe! It’s Samuel J. Wurzelbacher!

What else is he hiding?
He’s a registered Republican (voters lists are public and he registered for the GOP to vote in the primary).

Dig deeper!
His name is misspelled on the voters list!

What else?
He’s not a plumber! OMG!

Not scandalous enough! Get us more!
He owes taxes and a lien has been filed against his house. (Read all about it: The Associated Press: Is ‘Joe the Plumber’ a plumber? That’s debatable.)

How is this relevant? How is this newsworthy?

Meanwhile, he was the star of a Saturday Night Live Thursday night special as John McCain’s invisible friend with a magical plunger (along with Simon the unicorn who lives under McCain’s bed). The real Joe the Plumber has also been offered $800,000 for the joetheplumber.com domain name.

The man is not Britney Spears and he didn’t make himself a public figure. I’m left thinking “leave Joe alone”.

But maybe he’s not a victim of zealous media and doesn’t want to be left alone. Apparently, he’s passed on an invitation to appear with McCain at a campaign rally since he’ll be in New York for TV interviews.

But ask yourself: what would the media be able to find out about you if you dared speak at a public forum?

For a chuckle, check out: What is “Joe the Plumber” hiding from the American people?.


  1. Interesting post. I agree, the media makes celebrities out of anyone they feel can give them more viewers.

    But my question is how does this relate to the mandate of this blog? Isn’t this blog supposed to be about legal issues? I am finding more and more posts that are only tentatively related to law or technology. Let’s not get too far off track.

  2. For one person’s perspective on how you can make a decision to support Obama AND vote for John McCain, see the YouTube video below:


    Feel free to forward this to any “undecided” voters you know of. This will be a VERY close election and we need every single vote we can get. Demonizing Obama will get us a few votes (and also lose us at least a few votes) but I hope that a rational, positive thought process will persuade a few people who are still on the fence.

    Regards, Dan

  3. Point well-taken, Denise. David’s specialty is privacy law, so I believe this does fit within that area. But I will watch my own posts for law-related content.


  4. David,

    I think you are missing the forest for the trees here.

    Like any celebrity, “Joe” legally became fair game when he stepped into the limelight. While he may not have have been fair game just because John McCain mentioned him, his appearance on the talk show circuit certainly made him fair game. Given the discoveries that:

    1. He is related by marriage to Charles Keating (that good friend of John McCain)
    2. He is not a licensed plumber and never has been.
    3. He can’t legally supervise the work of the 2 man business he is claiming he wants to buy.
    3. He did not have the funds — until now at any rate — to purchase price of said business.
    4. He dramatically misrepresented the income of the business in his claims.

    Simply put, the truth that has emerged is that Joe would be better off taking the Obama tax “hikes.”

    One has to wonder at a) Joe’s truthfulness and more importantly b) whether or not the whole event is simply a setup by the McCain campaign to score political points. Given the above facts, I think it’s clear that the media was justified in investigating “Joe’s claims” once he stepped into the limelight. Note, I said Joe’s and not McCain’s. Having said that, the story here has morphed so that it is turning into whether or not “Joe” was a McCain campaign plant.

    If there had been no “story” –i.e. if Joe had been a tax-paying plumber from Toledo who had tried to buy a $250K/annum business but couldn’t make the numbers work due to the impending Obama tax changes — a farcical claim on its face if you understand the tax plan — then the embarrassment due to the invasion of his privacy would have been minimal at most. He still would have made great money off of his TV appearances.