Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Understanding the media's role in town-hall protests

With Rep. Doug LaMalfa hosting a town-hall meeting tonight in Redding and with his gathering Monday night in Oroville becoming quite the scene, it's time for a refresher course on just who the people are that are causing these disruptions.

The group Sentinel Intelligence Services, Inc., put out this memo in early March (emphasis added):
The protests taking place across the country are not spontaneous nor are the participants “grassroots” types similar to the Tea Party participants of several years ago. The protests at Town Hall meetings, and the bombardment of emails, postcards, and phone calls into various legislatures are part of a well-organized, formally trained, scripted, and even paid response by from anarchists sincerely working to sabotage the constitutional form of government.

Under an umbrella of “Organizing for America” established by Barack Obama dating back to his first year in the White House, there are approximately 30,000 participants working out of 250 offices nationwide. Under this all-encompassing organization various named groups come to the forefront given their specific task; i.e., protest at City Council meetings, state legislative hearings, Congressional Town Halls, or on the streets. The protestors who lead these actions have attended formal training in camps set aside to keep eyes from peering in to learn what is occurring.

Training in counter measures to law enforcement, signs and various forms of symbol/placards, and banners all geared for cameras, tactics to disrupt and bring serious economic slowdown to the targeted area, physical contact measures, logistics, even First-Aid to wounded protestors are taught.

The protest organizers and field captains are paid, and many of the protestors are paid $12Hr, as was the case in Arizona during a Trump rally that literally blocked traffic on a highway. Buses and other forms of transportation to the event are arranged. At Town Hall meetings a script is followed similar to the script employed by those phoning state legislatures or writing postcards.
At town-hall meetings, these professional protesters recite lines from prepared scripts while trying to look and sound sincere. The online news blog NTEB reported recently:
An organization partnered with far-left groups that calls itself the Revolutionary Love Project distributed an actual script with anti-Trump talking points for citizens to use when meeting with constituents in town halls, including during last week’s Congressional recess.

The script provides word-for-word language suggestions that accuse the Trump administration of “xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia.”
Many of the demonstrators are from a group called Indivisible, which offers a "practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda." From CNS News:
The detailed guide was written by "former congressional staffers" who "reveal best practices for making Congress listen."

And what's happening at so many congressional town halls is clearly laid out in Chapter 4, which advises Trump opponents to:

-- Get there early: "Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar."

-- Get seated and spread out: "Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not all sit together. Sit by yourself or in groups of two, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus."

-- Demand real answers: Lawmakers are "very good at deflecting or dodging questions," the guide says. "If they aren't giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the MoC (Member of Congress) or applauding you."

-- Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer.

-- Keep the pressure on. "After one member of the group finishes, everyone should raise their hands again. The next member of the group to be called on should move down the list of questions and ask the next one."

-- Support the group and reinforce the message. "After one member of your group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience."

-- Record everything! "Assign someone in the group to use their smart phone or video camera to record other advocates asking questions and the MoC’s response. While written transcripts are nice, unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for MoCs. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media."

-- Reach out to media, during and after the town hall. "If there’s media at the town hall, the people who asked questions should approach them afterward and offer to speak about their concerns. When the event is over, you should engage local reporters on Twitter or by email and offer to provide an in-person account of what happened, as well as the video footage you collected."

-- "Ensure that the members of your group who are directly affected by specific threats are the ones whose voices are elevated when you reach out to media."
Two things must be kept in mind. First, this is happening all across the country, and it's all coordinated. The Medford-based theDoveTV reported that Indivisible sent out an email instructing people to disrupt a recent town-hall meeting with Rep. Greg Walden in Southern Oregon. Secondly, and the larger point: the media are a BIG part of this group's plan, and in many cases they participate knowingly and willingly.

What is the purpose of a town-hall meeting for a member of Congress? To help him or her take the pulse of voters in the home district about various issues, and give district residents a chance to provide feedback to their elected member. There are a few exceptions to this, as when a Central Valley farmer might opine on something LaMalfa is considering in the House Agriculture Committee. But as a general rule, non-local loudmouths do a gross disservice to actual residents who are truly affected by what the congressman does and want honest input into his or her decisions.

Which brings us to Oroville. Nearly 200,000 people were evacuated from that community and surrounding areas in February when the nation's tallest dam was considered in danger of failing, but only one question in the two-hour meeting was about the spillway and its repairs. That suggests to me that the people making a lot of the noise weren't from anywhere near Oroville. At least some of them may have driven in from Sacramento or the Bay Area with the intent of causing a scene, and some may have been students at Chico State.

But we wouldn't know from reading or viewing news accounts from the meeting. Most quoted participants without telling us what city they were from, or what they did for a living. Instead we had CBS Sacramento reporting that a dejected LaMalfa was booed off the stage (at a two-hour meeting, mind you). That got picked up on the Drudge Report, and now the whole country had the impression that this poor California congressman is hated in his own district.

And that was deliberate.

So what's the solution? For news organizations, either you make every attempt to give the city and occupation of the people that you quote, as well as maybe an explanation of how they're affected by the congressman's actions or positions, or we can just assume you're a willing part of the disruption effort. It involves getting up off your arse and walking over to the person who just spoke and finding out who he or she is. It's what I did at school board, city council and county supervisors' meetings for 20 years. It's just basic journalism.

And for congressional staffers, these are at the very least quasi-government proceedings. It seems fair to me to ask speakers to give their name, city of residence and occupation when they come to the microphone. If they're unwilling to give that information, they lose all credibility as far as I'm concerned.

Accountability is a two-way street. While we rightly demand it of elected officials, it's fair to expect it from the audience, too. And from the people on press row.

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