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Kansas Senate candidate under fire for jokes about gunshot victims

Republican Senate candidate Milton Wolf, who is hoping to unseat Sen. Pat Roberts in a Kansas primary this year, was criticized yesterday for making jokes online about gory X-ray images of gunshot victims and other patients he posted on his Facebook page.

Wolf, a radiologist who has characterized Roberts as being out of touch with the state, had been making headway against the three-term incumbent. But his campaign found itself in the midst of an uproar after the Topeka Capital-Journal posted video of an interview with Wolf about his decision earlier in his career to engage in a running commentary about images of his patients, as well as pictures of other victims. In one exchange, he joked that he wanted to know where to buy a gun that so effectively blew off a person’s head; in another he wrote that it did not matter how a victim’s body was positioned, because “it’s not like the patient’s going to complain.”

“Several years ago I made some comments about these images that were insensitive to the seriousness of what the images revealed. Soon thereafter, I removed those images and comments, again several years ago,” Wolf said in a statement. “For them to be published in a much more public context now, by a political adversary who would rather declare war on doctors than answer serious questions that Kansans have, is truly sad. However, my mistakes are my own and I take full responsibility for them.”

In the interview with the Capital-Journal, Wolf offered a few explanations for posting the graphic images, saying at one point, “It is an educational thing for people to see these consequences,” and at another, “It is no joke taking care of patients.” Although he initially said the images were all of his patients, Wolf referred to one gunshot victim by remarking, “This is not about trying to violate anybody’s rights or privacy. This is not even a patient of mine.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Brad Dayspring tweeted yesterday, “When a candidate posts & mocks pictures of the dead on Facebook, that’s an issue – of character, judgement, & stability.”

The Senate Conservatives Fund, which has backed Wolf in his bid to oust Roberts, had tweeted earlier, “The NRSC can’t compete on the issues so they have to attack the character of conservatives.”

When asked about Wolf yesterday, Roberts’s executive campaign manager, Leroy Towns, wrote in an email, “The story speaks for itself.”

Roberts was put on the defensive this month when he confirmed a report by the New York Times that he does not own a home in Kansas and instead stays with a pair of longtime supporters and donors in a house on a country-club golf course in Dodge City.

I'm not offended by what this Republican did or said. His explanation seems reasonable enough, and it can be hard to know whether something was intended as a "joke" when it's posted on the internet. What this story does reinforce for me is that once you've put something on the internet, it's there forever. You might delete it in the place you posted it, but you can't know where else it's been copied to. If you have any misgivings at all about posting something, just don't risk it.

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