When oil started lapping at the shores of the Gulf Coast in 2010, BP CEO Tony Hayward was on the beach for days on end. Even as the Obama Administration made the spill worse by its inaction and prevarications while simultaneously demonizing BP, Hayward stoically stood on the sands of Louisiana and took it like a man.
But when the Los Angeles Unified School District
announced settlements with victims of a molesting teacher, they sent out a press release. There was no news conference with the usual phalanx of reporters, hot lights and cameras to question District officials. Never again would they have optics like the one nearby. Instead, like an adherent waiting to go to confessional, reporters were required to sign up for interviews and wait for a face to face meeting with an official, a process which apparently took some reporters past their deadlines. That afternoon a radio reporter on KFI grumbled about the arrangement, saying he wouldn’t even bother to stay since it would be well into the night before he would get his scheduled audience.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a virtual no show in response to the murders of four Americans, including the Ambassador, in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12 except on the optics she could control: meeting the caskets, tearfully hugging the parents and loved ones and giving a halting, Xanax-induced-sounding speech. National TV networks stopped everything to show ‘the moment.’ The White House trotted out a cover story they knew was a lie–a video nobody saw had been the cause of the attack. A slavish media actually believed there was not a terrorist attack in Benghazi on 9/11. Even Alex Jones didn’t fall for that one. Whoops, spoke too soon.
After that she hid. She stiff-armed outraged lawmakers who demanded she spill why she didn’t do her job and send help during an eight hour fire fight. She became ill and when she finally showed up months later–right before she was to leave office–she came prepared with a response. As she did during the ’08 campaign Clinton bringing her own fake tears, fake fainters and a fake chauvinist who demand she ‘iron my shirt!’ when it finally came time to answer THE QUESTION she brought her fake outrage. In a span milliseconds the Secretary of State went from calm tropical breeze to an F-5 on the Fujita scale and bellowed, “WHAT DIFFERENCE, AT THIS POINT, DOES IT MAKE?!”
It was, as MSNBC’s chorus responded, Hillary “at her very best!” You half expected the panel of lawmakers to hold up their hands and plead, ‘please don’t yell at me!’
When the Tea Party went from holding rallies to going to town halls to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire, elected officials were caught flat (and soot) footed. When they weren’t cribbing answers to their questions via cell phone as Sheila Jackson Lee did during one infamous town hall, these lawmakers stood in amazement with these averages folks’ facility with the facts and fiscal sanity. They were calling them on their bad decisions and it was making the lawmakers look bad.
SOMEthing must be done.
It was decided then that no more would there be some 60 something year old man in jeans and a polo shirt telling Majority Whip Steny Hoyer he was full of crap and it showing up on You Tube. No more would there be a chance that a Marine veteran could tell a sitting US Congressman to stay away from his kids with his ObamaCare plan before a cheering audience at a packed amphitheater. No more would a Congressman get caught saying with glee that, aw heck, he didn’t have time to read the cap and tax bill but he voted for
the huge tax increase anyway.
Lawmakers needed to stop actually meeting with constituents who might yell at them and make them look bad on TV.
So they stopped having news conferences and town halls in the traditional sense. But in order to make this slap at openness and transparency look reasonable to the media, they had to come up with a really, really, really good reason.
So they made stuff up. They created fables that tea party folks were dangerous, terrorists, racists, homophobes, Timothy McVeighs, brownshirts, astroturfed Nazis. They feared for their lives, they said. A picture of Obama as “The Joker” from the Batman film was sent to Congressman Brian Baird’s office and he claimed it as a personal threat. The media were buying it.The FBI later determined the threat wasn’t worth pursuing because it ‘wasn’t credible.’ Good luck trying to find a news story on that.
Some Democrats who were planning to vote for ObamaCare lied about walking through a Capitol Hill Tea Party rally of angry, passionate people chanting, “Kill the Bill! Kill the Bill!” and averring the protesters called civil rights activist turned Congressman, John Lewis a “nigger” “15 times”. Andrew Breitbart offered a $100,000.00 reward for anyone who could produce a recording of just one utterance of the word. Fifteen times? Everybody’s got a cell phone camera! That should be easy, right? Undoubtedly, the political opposition had trackers and stalkers in the crowd. If they weren’t yelling the words themselves they would have captured the very moments the weaponized words were deployed, right? The reward has never been collected. Larry O’Connor of Breitbart.tv was tasked with collecting all the videos from every angle and there was not one time anyone uttered the word. Not once.
Tea Party folks couldn’t possibly earnestly believe Obama’s policies were wrong, lawmakers reasoned. Something else had to be at play. Tea Party folks had to be racists. Or dangerous. Or … something.
When constituents of Congressman David Wu were displaced at a Town Hall by bused in members of the illegal alien union (really) from an area not even in his Congressional District, it made Wu look desperate. By this time in August 2009, even the media were picking up on the Town Hall story. Wu’s obvious attempt to keep out naysayers was exposed.
So Democrat lawmakers had to come up with a less obvious way to discriminate against the people who didn’t agree with them. And that’s when Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader landed upon speed dating.
Not wanting to be asked inconvenient questions about the health care bill, Congressman Schrader held one-on-one meetings with constituents in what looked to be a bizarre hours long speed dating session. Constituents had two minutes to ask him questions and then they had to move along. No photos. No recording devices. He held the “Town Hall” in a lesser populated area of his district. It appears the LA Unified School District was taking notes.
After his disastrous Town Hall, Congressman Brian Baird went to telephone Town Halls with pre selected constituents. You couldn’t just dial in, you had to make an appointment for a telephone call and he would call you. Baird eventually apologized for lying about his constituents and holding fake telephone meetings to ‘engage’ them.
Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer who sits in a safe congressional district in one of the most liberal areas of the country also did not want to face people who disagreed with him. The bow tie wearing Congressman with a reputation for thinking he’s the smartest guy in the room didn’t want to be seen with any outlet-mall-shopping hayseed from East Multnomah County who might ask him hard questions about why the Congressman wanted to spend more of our money. So when he wasn’t holding phony telephone meetings, Blumenauer held a lottery for his Town Hall. One conservative got in.
And nobody’s been kicked out. Notice that? At Town Halls no Tea Party folks have been escorted off the premises because they were out of control or dangerous or racist. Well, there was one incident when a left wing talk show host was thrown out because she wouldn’t let anyone talk. But she was hectoring a black Republican Congressman so I guess on the racistometer, that’s OK.
And lawmakers are still hiding.
Oregon State Senator Ginny Burdick announced a town hall to be held at Portland State University on March 4th. But after Sandy Hook, the reliably anti gun lawmaker was handed a bevy of anti gun bills to introduce to the new legislature. When she got the predictable blow-back from civil rights activists, she cancelled the Town Hall saying she had a ‘scheduling conflict.’ Citizen journalist Bare It or Bear It caught her in the lie. Burdick later told Al Sharpton on his MSNBC TV show that she’d been ‘threatened’ (a claim she hasn’t proven). She felt the “gun extremists” and “gun lobbyists” would show up and make her feel uncomfortable and didn’t want to expose those poor children to people she has alternately called “whackos” and “Rambos.”
She was worried about PSU students? PSU, home base for many Occupy Portlanders, home to the International Socialist Organization who sent their band of screeching magpies to the April 15, 2011 Tea Party to jeer and name call black and homosexual Tea Partiers? (See Daylight Disinfectant’s video for yourself here.) She was worried about these children, who take classes that could be called Rabble 101? Not really, but Sharpton was buying her act. (Burdick would later help organize an anti anti gun rights rally, recovering apparently, from her fear of the mob)
Last month Oregon State Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson held a Town Hall and invited her constituents to come on down! She is an outspoken supporter of the Ginny Burdick gun bills, but did she want to talk about those? No. Constituents were told they would have to ask questions only about education. Education: not a hot button issue with constituents right now. But talk about constitutionally protected gun rights? Why whatever for?
Now Republicans are hiding. From Politico,
Another tactic for avoiding crowds of angry voters is being employed by members like Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), who held two town hall events — but in far-flung, relatively unpopulated parts of his northeastern Minnesota district, while doing only paid events in Duluth, the district’s population and media hub. [emph mine]
Also from Politico,
Barletta, according to the Times-Tribune of Scranton, Penn., spoke at a $30-per-plate Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry “CEO to CEO” forum last week. Would-be protesters were not allowed to buy tickets and reporters were barred, the paper wrote, “because [they] are not chamber members or CEOs.”
Let’s go to the Public Official Hidey Hole Tote Board, shall we? We’ve gone from:
*Open Town Halls to
*Bused in phonies to
*’Holla Back’ Telephone to
*Speed dating to
*PAID Town Halls.
Crisis management expert, Ryan Knoll of RSC Partners in Los Angeles told me recently,
“This is a natural extension of the foxhole mentality.”
For my corporate clients I want to take the media out as gatekeepers. I want to control the message and control the timing. That’s why I’ll record a You Tube video of a CEO responding to a story and put it out at 7 pm on a Friday night. But public officials should be held to a higher standard.”
Of course the economy and creative destruction have taken a toll on the 4th and 5th Estates. Knoll says the shrinking traditional media allows public officials the ability to skirt the rules because, after all, who’s paying attention? Who’s reporting their misdeeds?
“The [traditional] media have been removed as the gatekeeper.”
Knoll says the new approach to Town Halls makes sense from a strategic and tactical point of view “if you can get away with it.” But ultimately “you want someone to take responsibility, to assure the public.”
And who’s doing that?
Many elected officials especially in one party rule places like Oregon, Washington and California aren’t assuring the public that their tax dollars are being well managed or programs won’t grow out of control. They don’t have to. They’re assured office as long as they want. They don’t fear the voters. There’s no accountability. They hide from voters who don’t agree with them and listen only to those who do.
“Things are politically much more polarized now,” says Knoll.
Indeed. It seems to me that public officials could take a cue from the private sector and remember who their customers are. But they won’t. This is going to get worse, actually. The citizen journalists, bloggers and alt media will keep catching them behaving badly. Maybe somebody will eventually notice.