Edwards campaign mum on mysterious T-shirt flap … but they did send me spam.

I still don't know if the story that started all of this is true or not. ... But the spam is real.

The plaintive plea from a Texas mom on presidential candidate John Edwards' official Web site blog had touched off one of those fast-moving blogosphere brush fires on Monday: Seems the woman's teen-age son - an Edwards supporter - had been suspended simply for wearing a pro-Edwards T-shirt to school.

"Clearly, this violates his protected right to free speech, and is the subject of a federal suit that he anticipates filing within the week, should the situation not be resolved to our satisfaction," wrote someone identified on the blog only as "jandopete."

You can read the post in its entirety and a sample of the 'Net reaction here on Digg and here on Reddit.

Now, having an intense interest in both free-speech issues and frivolous lawsuits - it wasn't obvious to me which we had here - I wanted to get more details about the story, but there was nothing in the post to indicate where in the vast state of Texas or to which of its residents this incident had occurred. The post had that ring of authenticity, but so does a lot of stuff on the Internet that turns out to be bogus. (Update: Finally, a genuine press account -- well, OK, it's FOX, but still.)

I figured the Edwards campaign might know something, given that it was on their forum, so I sent an inquiry via the only mechanism I could find on the candidate's site: this Web "contact" form. Of course, I knew it was a long shot, but like I said it was the only option presented by this apparently press-shy outfit.

Here it is Friday and I've heard exactly zip from the Edwards campaign regarding the T-shirt story, which no doubt was noticed there because the tale has become the most-read item on that site in the past week with some 32,000 hits. (Questions from reporters go unanswered all the time; that's not the primary point here.)

Now, it's nearly impossible to prove that something did not happen and I am hesitant to cast doubts on the veracity of the "mom" telling of the Texas T-Shirt Masacre, but I cannot find a single mainstream media account of the dust-up, having checked Google News, The Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, comments posted to Digg and Reddit, and as many blogs that wrote about the matter as I could stand to read. I even tried Googling "Jan Dopete."

Maybe I didn't spend enough time looking. (Send me a link if you've seen this covered in a news story, as opposed to yammered about in blogs.) And my failure to find anything doesn't mean it didn't happen - in fact, I'm still leaning toward the basics of the story being true. I'm just saying you can't prove it by me.

Or, apparently, the Edwards campaign.

But at least I know for certain that the Edwards campaign did receive my inquiry via that handy-dandy Web form because into my inbox a short while ago dropped a missive from David Bonior, the candidate's national campaign manager, with whom I have never previously corresponded.

The letter asked me to contribute to the Edwards cause and suggested that $250 would be a swell amount, since it would be matched by taxpayer funds.

My reply: Not a dime ... not even if it would get me to the bottom of the T-shirt business.

(Update: Received another "send money" plea from the Edwards campaign on Sunday, this one from the candidate's "senior advisor" Joe Trippi, who political junkies may recall as the guy who received so much credit for Howard Dean's ground-breaking online tactics during the former Vermont governor's flashy but failed 2004 campaign. I don't recall Trippi advocating the spamming of journalists, but perhaps I missed that part of the lesson.)

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