Newsletter questions hit Paul at the right time. (Associated Press)

A recycled controversy over racially charged writings in newsletters published two decades ago in Ron Paul’s name have roiled the Texas congressman’s White House campaign in the days leading up to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Republican presidential caucuses next Tuesday.

Dunham adds that the “issue is old news in Texas,” where Paul has served 11 congressional terms.

A couple of reality checks are in order. One, the story is not that old. Two, the story cannot be recycled enough.

The newsletter scandal first emerged in May 1996, as Paul was competing in a heated congressional race. The offensive comments under his name, however, didn’t come to light via an act of enterprise by the Texas media. Rather, Paul’s Democratic opponent, Charles “Lefty” Morris, dug them up. A Dallas Morning News story from the time acknowledges as much:

According to a Dallas Morning News review of documents circulating among Texas Democrats, Dr. Paul wrote in a 1992 issue of the Ron Paul Political Report: “If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be.”

A couple of months later, Morris produced more clippings reflecting more depravities. In a newsletter dispatch from 1992, Paul or his team of ghostwriters blasted an “affirmative action law professor” named Barbara Jordan, whom they dubbed “Barbara Morondan.”

“If there were ever a modern case of the empress without clothes, this is it. She is the archetypical half-educated victimologist, yet her race and sex protect her from criticism. ‘’

The drivel in these sheets came from an unhinged mind, and there was a sense that what Morris had uncovered was merely a few bubbles of the racist froth in Paul’s newsletter archive. From the Houston Chronicle: “Morris said he received an unsolicited copy of the Paul newsletter with the comments about Jordan through the mail. He has called on Paul to release copies of all his newsletters, but Paul has refused.”

Stonewalling worked for Paul. He defeated Morris by a small margin and has been reelected to his 14th district seat in each election since. The Texas media, too, redeemed his decision not to divulge the back issues of his newsletters; it pretty much classified the outrageous scribblings as old news and moved on.

Says David Corn of Mother Jones magazine: “If you’re in the Texas press, he’s a member from Texas, you should have been all over this from the get-go, particularly because Ron Paul’s explanations were not fulsome.”

It took a news story from late 2007 to help puncture Paul’s stack of nastiness. Don Black, a white supremacist, had donated $500 to Paul’s Republican bid for the White House; despite concerns about the source, Paul declined to return the money, an act of defiance that interested James Kirchick.

Kirchick was a 24-year-old journalist whose hunch meter started acting up. “I thought this strange because any other candidate would turn down the money,” says Kirchick. “I realized it was more than just some random guy giving him a check. Just what is it about this candidate that makes a white supremacist give him a check? It was strange that he’d take money from a white supremacist and take a beating in the media.”

The answer, Kirchick suspected, lay in the archive that Paul was committed to suppressing. “I knew these letters existed. My goal at that point was to find them,” he says. Kirchick began by consulting nerds who track right-wing groups. Those folks, he recalls, were aware of the newsletters but didn’t have them. As he kept poking around, Kirchick happened upon, “the world’s largest library catalog.” Story!

Angry White Man: The Bigoted Past of Ron Paul” appeared in the New Republic on Jan. 8, 2008. It amplified our understanding of just how petty and hateful Paul or his ghostwriters are. The piece’s nut graph is helpful:

[W]hoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him--and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.

So a twentysomething magazine writer in Washington beats the entire Texas press corps to a story about one of its own? A story whose seeds were planted 12 years earlier? Is this a #fail for the Texas media?

Evan Smith, CEO & Editor in Chief of the Texas Tribune, says no. “Ron Paul represents a district that is itself extremely conservative,” he says. ”The people in that district have had ample information over the years about Ron Paul’s positions---the positions that are considered to be in the Republican mainstream and the ones that are not...They know who this guy is...It may not be your choice for Congress, but that’s democracy.” Dunham, of the Houston Chronicle, says, “Voters have reached their decisions. They knew about it. They’ve been told about it by the Democrats. They’ve been told about it by the media.”

Smith adds that Texas is a “blood red” state: “What plays here as a shrug of the shoulders---who cares?---is not going to play that way in the rest of the country.”

Kirchick sharpens that particular elbow a touch: “I thought this would have disqaulified him and ended his political career four years ago.” Nope: Though Paul flamed out as a presidential candidate in 2008, he easily won reelection to his congressional seat in 2008 and 2010.

Yet Kirchick’s revelations may have played a quiet role in Paul’s disqualification. Perhaps it was one of the ambient factors accounting for the much-discussed media “blackout” of Paul for a long stretch of his presidential campaign this year. News outlets just didn’t take the guy too seriously until he came close at the Ames straw poll in August.

After that, Paul booked repeated cable interviews and turned up in news stories, though he faced little or no scrutiny on the subject of the Ron Paul newsletters. Why not? “The theme of a lot of those stories was why was he getting so little attention,” says Dunham. Kirchick throws in another reason why the newsletter didn’t catch on earlier this year: “A lot of Republican primary voters aren’t as offended by the material as independents or Democrats are.”

Crunch time came when the Iowa caucuses were pulling into view and Paul was showing buoyance in the polls. The media and rival campaigns jumped on the newsletters’ content and Paul’s inadequate explanations for them. CNN pressed Paul on the matter; so did many other outlets; voters have gotten into the act as well. Paul and his supporters say the story is old, that he has answered the questions, that he has disavowed the writings.

Squirrelly evasions there — grounds enough for the media to obsess over the newsletters, even if Paul gets huffy and rude when pressed. That news outlets are dogging Paul at such a critical time speaks to the righteousness and elegance of our system. Says Corn: “News is often stuff that people have forgotten.”

Depending on which Paul responses you trust, he’s one of the following:

*A bigot;

*Not a bigot but heedless of things that are printed under his name, and thus a terrible manager.

We need to get to the bottom of this.