Forget the ol’ 97: The new Danville trainwreck
by Michael Ernette
Much has been made of the July 18th Rural Tour event put on by the US Department of Agriculture in Blairs, Virginia. Throughout the blogosphere, the coverage has been even handed and fair with few exceptions. The events that took place have elicited mentions on Politico.com, Yahoo news, and were even cited in an interview between Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin.
Unfortunately though not surprisingly, the newspaper of record, the Danville Register and Bee has proved what conservatives have been saying all along about media bias and wrote two very slanted pieces that have portrayed this writer and the attendant TEA party activists virtually as potential terrorists. The whitewash would have been perfect except for the coverage’s glaring holes, incorrect assertions, and inaccuracies that make it impossible to ignore. In a stunning display ala Officer Barbrady from South Park’s “Move along! Nothing to see here,” the Danville Register and Bee revealed the propaganda tactics that are being employed by the left through the mainstream media.
The first rule of spin is to not make the plausibility of the story so outrageous that the average person won’t believe it. The Danville stories failed on all accounts. In fact, the original title of the story was “TEA Party Attacks Rural Tour Event”. Let me emphasize that in case you didn’t get it, “TEA Party Attacks Rural Tour Event”! Sensational? Yes. Honest? Hardly. The following is my humble attempt to set the record straight, in a letter that the “truth loving” bastions of the print media saw unfit to release for public consumption. Let the truth be told.
Heretofore, I have been quiet in this and other forums about the coverage of the Rural Tour in the Danville Register and Bee. With the release of last week’s editorial, which held eerie similarities to Matt Tomsic’s “news piece” on 22 July, I felt the need to finally break my silence and respond to the spurious coverage that has been doled out to the readers of the DR&B over the past week.
I personally attended the event as a private citizen with Mssrs. Conner and Coleman. I note this because in the interest of full disclosure, I am the campaign manager for Bradley Rees, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the Congressional race in the 5th district next year. I did not however attend this event in that capacity and went to hear what Secretaries Chu and Vilsack had to say.
What disappoints me about the media coverage of the event and ensuing police contact is that the members of the TEA Party organization that attended the event are being portrayed inaccurately by one very slanted article, while the truth of the matter is still in question.
To wit, I was interviewed about the incident for a full 30 minutes by Mr. Tomsic. In addition, I personally emailed him evidence that directly corroborated the sequence of events that have been documented on various other internet media outlets ~ all of which never made the Danville Register story. At the heart of the matter was a note that I had made on the back of the envelope (see picture below) containing my personal question to the Secretaries and Congressman Perriello. On the envelope, I had privately suggested that the member of our group with the camera get a picture of Congressman Perriello and me should the opportunity arise. In an odd twist, Mr. Conner was asked by the Virginia State Police on Monday, 20 July why I wanted to “take pictures of the crowd.” The photographer in our group was the only person at the event privy to this note prior to Monday. So the question becomes first, why in a group full of reporters and citizens taking notes was my private correspondence with another attendee cause for alarm? Further, even if their version of my note was accurate, how would taking pictures of the crowd ~ with over 50 cameras at the event ~ be cause to follow up a full 48 hours later by a visit from the VA State Police? Debra Cox, spokesperson for the VA State Police told Doc Thompson, a radio talk show host with WRVA in Richmond, intimated that they were assisting another agency. When pressed, the agency in question was the US Department of Energy Protection Unit. Calls to the Department of Energy have gone unanswered at this time.
The odd thing is that the editorial acknowledges that perhaps the police “overreacted”, and then proceeds to dispelling this assertion by finding the attendees equally culpable. I find this strange based on a variety of facts. First and foremost was Sergeant Davis’ statement that, “you look into these things when people act differently than the rest of the crowd,” and Tomsic’s quote that, “The group talked audibly to each other during the forum and looked upset at times with the secretaries’ answers and some questions.” The original article ran a picture. That picture shows both Bobby and I intently listening to what Secretary Chu was saying at the time. My hand is rubbing my beard, which is a habit that I have when I’m listening to what someone has to say, and Bobby has his arms crossed and is looking directly at the Secretary Chu. Some would call this defensive body language, but “upset”? Different? I hardly think a disagreement over policy statements at a public event are cause for police pressure, certainly when everyone attending would acknowledge that we in no way disrupted the event. As proof, it was not until he started receiving phone calls from the press that Mr. Mayhew was even aware that there were any “problems”. So I ask, how differently could our group possibly have been reacting? I would even concede that the choice of the others to attempt to picket may not have been the wisest maneuver ~ I was not personally involved in that action ~ and the standing orders of the police were quite in order given the location of the event and the security involved. Unfortunately, that’s where it should have stopped. The Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office calling in license plate tags at a restaurant, tailing cars, and the visit from the state troopers 2 days after the event were completely unwarranted and stand as citizen intimidation of the first order!
Finally, I would like to clarify a couple inaccuracies that have been perpetuated by the Tomsic article and further expounded upon by this editorial. First, our group was there to ask questions of the speakers pertaining to cap and trade. The assertion that we were there for “Obamacare” is inaccurate. This was my question, “I applaud Rep. Perriello for signing the Democratic Freshman ‘no surtax’ letter. Recently, the Goodyear Plant in Danville extended their contract deadline. Since the Administration proclaims itself to be pro-union, how do you expect the union to negotiate from a position of strength, when the 2 proposed bills (ACES and healthcare) will create higher corporate taxation demanding the union take concessions?” Yes, I will concede that healthcare is part of the question, but this query was intended to highlight the onerous taxation of both items, specifically ACES. The rest of our party had questions of similar intent. In fact, Congressman Perriello’s staff has contacted Conner and Coleman to personally answer such questions, proving that they weren’t unmerited. We did not intend to come to a meeting of the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy to ask questions that they could not answer intelligently.
I also wanted to point out one last thing that seems rather insulting among the insinuations leveled in both articles. Sergeant Davis was quoted, “We were trying to inquire that they were asking a question and didn’t know how to go about it.” So we are to believe that now the Virginia State Police sends its officers on “courtesy calls” to ensure that the provincial masses know how to properly ask a question at an event? Come on! I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Either the police had a continued concern for the safety of two cabinet members who were already in Louisiana according to the USDA website, or this was a classic strong arm tactic on the part of someone to instill fear into the group as a whole. Had there been ANY legitimate threat to the safety of any person involved, there were countless occasions on Saturday to question the “intent” of the actors involved. Obviously, there weren’t or else we would have been pulled aside by Secret Service, the State Police, or the PCSO, all of whom were well represented at the event. Also, this quote makes the inference that the four people who were harassed by the police did not know how to get the attention of the floor.
The ludicrous idea that a Congressional Campaign Manager, 2 men who have organized two events with over 500 people and a list of prominent speakers, and a grassroots organizer with 3 years experience aren’t intelligent enough to raise their hands and ask a question, thus warranting a visit from armed police officers, is the height of either the arrogance of the spokesman or it is slander in the first degree! The fact is the PCSO and the Virginia State Police, acting at the behest of an organization that does not answer phone calls, are attempting to cover their tracks for overreaching their authority and using scare tactics on private citizens. I am not suggesting that anyone within either organization acted deliberately untoward, only that they were following orders.
I have the highest respect for both police forces as well as the President of the United States and his agents, but the entire situation stinks to high heaven, and I would have expected the “Fourth Estate” to see this and act accordingly. As these two articles have shown, that will obviously not be forthcoming. I only hope that other media contacts will not be as “in the tank” about this as the Danville Register and Bee has become.
Campaign Manager, Rees for Congress