For Hipechik and MichelleinCal: A few criticisms of Filner’s recent TV appearances
On Friday, I appeared on Mike Slater‘s new morning political talk show on KFMB 760AM (mp3 download) to talk about, among many topics, Rep. Bob Filner’s recent appearances on national television. I’ve been fairly irritated with the Democratic Congressman, particularly after his segment on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on Wednesday, when he used my reporting to politicize the Tucson shooting.
Two local conservatives on Twitter, hipechik and michelleincal, made it clear that I did not get my criticism across, so I’ve decided to add a little bit more to the narrative. Be forewarned: I editorialize shamelessly in this blog post.
Let’s set aside the opinion held by many that Filner should have been at San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ State of the City address rather than soaking up the cable-news limelight. Last time I spoke with Filner, he put his feet up and said the mayor’s office was his for the taking. That might’ve been a joke, but it was a claim too bold for some, who also noted cynically his absence at Balboa Theatre. That’s not the source of my grief.
Instead, I’m pissed that I’ve had to spend the last few days clarifying his complete and utter miscommunication of several CityBeat stories. Almost everything Filner said on television was unclear, tenuous, or completely inaccurate. It’s as if he only skimmed our reporting or just hadn’t bothered to organize his thoughts before clipping on the microphone. He spewed all the elements onto the airwarves, with little regard to how the facts function in relationship to one another.
The last thing the country needs in a time of tragedy and confusion is another politician spinning inflammatory nonsense. That’s the worst part of it: At a time where leaders are out calling for calm and bipartisanship more than ever, Filner stirred up emotions unnecessarily by simply being sloppy with his words.
Back on election night (November 2 seems so long ago), Filner was swarmed by supporters of his Republican opponent, Nick Popaditch. It got pretty ugly. You can take my word for it–I, along with three of my co-workers, was right in the middle of it—or you can watch the shocking video captured by the Chula Vista Star-News. Regardless of whether you think it was justified or not, we can all agree, it wasn’t the celebratory atmosphere Election Central is supposed to engender.
A few days after the election-night confrontation, a local white supremacist uploaded disturbing video of himself at the event and a montage of violent imagery–including AK-47s, grenade launchers, and masked members of the IRA. Calling himself “Aurick the Great White Elf,” he posted a call to arms, declaring that the election didn’t work and it was time to “force our government to respect our demands at gunpoint.”
CityBeat reported it, and there were no further developments in the story until the day of the Tucson shooting, when Aurick posted this message to a white-supremacist website about Loughner:
…whatever his motive I’m sure he was justified and I am enjoying this moment because this is how a revolution begins people, and it’s funny. I’m going to celebrate!
The website deleted the post and froze his account and that’s the last we’ve heard of him. (CityBeat can confirm that the FBI and San Diego Police Department are aware of Aurick, but both agencies have a standing policy not to disclose information in open investigations. We’ve also reported that it can take a surprisingly long time for law enforcement to track online threats to physical addresses.)
After MSNBC played the Star-News footage of election night, Filner said:
The next day, Lawrence and also right after Gabby’s shooting, there were blogs to say that clearly politics doesn’t work for us because Filner, the sneaky Jewish guy, obviously defrauded us, and we have to go to violence. And here’s some AK-47s, here’s how you do sniper work, and that was repeated a couple days ago with—then they said this is the start of the revolution, the shooting of Gabby Giffords. This not an isolated incident.
There’s not a lot that’s coherent in there. But, to be perfectly clear:
There’s no evidence of a “they,” as Filner claims. Aurick is one guy and Popaditch’s supporters seemed as shocked as anyone that he was there with them on election night. No Popaditch supporters gave instructions on sniper work and no one said the Loughner’s attack was “the start of the revolution.”
On other stations, Filner said he has been threatened. I can’t speak for any letter, email or phone threats his office may have received, but I can say CityBeat witnessed no such threats on election night. We did hear slurs on ethnicity and sexuality, plus “Bob’s a bitch,” and other profanity, we saw brief physical altercations, but nothing regarding anything close to a threat of assassination.
Filner’s attempt to establish a causal relationship between what happened to him on election night and what happened to Giffords is pretty absurd. The information emerging indicates that Loughner was not a Tea Party activist, influenced by Sarah Palin or in anyway conservative. I’ll say it again: There is no evidence of a connection between Popaditch’s campaign and the Tucson tragedy. Filner comes off sleazy spinning it so.
The Tea Party
That said, I’m not about to let the Tea Party off the hook. (I use the catch-all ‘Tea Party” for lack of a better term.)
What transpired on election night was ugly. Having lost the election, Popaditch organized his supporters into a military-like mob to intimidate Filner; the scene made the political arena of Golden Hall unpleasant for everyone, regardless of political affiliation. If we can take anything away from the Giffords tragedy, it should be how precious it is that we live in a country where public officials can engage with voters in public. In my opinion, the position of a patriot would be to defend that civic space, to make sure it is a safe venue for all.
On election night, Popaditch could have displayed leadership by showing restraint and calming his supporters. Instead, he goaded them to the brink. One thing Filner did not get wrong in his interview is that police—namely, the mayor’s security detail—had to extract him from the mob.
It’s unclear why Popaditch and his supporters were so angry. Popaditch himself claimed it was because Filner smeared him in a television ad. If that’s the case, then Popaditch doesn’t have thick enough to skin to run for office; the ad was piddling compared to the mud Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown, Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer were slinging. Some of his volunteers said it was because Filner avoided debates. Big deal. Rep. Darrell Issa refused to debate his Democratic opponent at all, while Rep. Duncan D. Hunter’s Democratic and Libertarian challengers went on an 11-day hunger strike to force the Republican to debate. Other Tea Partiers were angry with Filner’s vote on health care reform, his unwavering sympathy for undocumented immigrants, and the fact that he has no problem earmarking pork for his district. (I recommend that Popaditch’s supporters read SDRostra’s account of how Popaditch dropped the ball with his NRA endorsement.)
The fact remains, that while Popaditch lost, Republicans won big nationwide and locally, and they could’ve, should’ve been celebrating.
The insertion of Aurick, the white supremacist, complicates the story. Here’s how he interpreted Popaditch’s supporters’ behavior
Bob Filner was terrrified of us we outnumbered his paid support staff. He ran like a coward through the hall last night and refused to talk with Popaditch. We cornered him up against a poll and shouted at him but I could get all of that on video but you’ll see we’re running and very excited at one point that was the best part to see Filner’s fear and even the cops were afraid of us! At several times there were minor fights between Nick’s supporters and the paid staff of Filner.
One man said this is just the begining. Yes, I say its the begining of a rebellion! I make a comparative look at simmilar rebellions of the past.
I ask you what is left to us when politics fails?
Popaditch’s supporters say they didn’t know this guy and the evidence so far indicates that he was hanging out on the fringe of the campaign and the Tea Party movement. They say the left shouldn’t hold them responsible, since they can’t run a background check on every individual who shows up at a rally. That’s probably true (though, in an March interview Popaditch said he was aware of the element and the need for both sides to police their ranks).
But I think we need to move beyond blame. If we take Aurick at his word, he has reached the point where he believes the time has come to “force our government to respect our demands at gunpoint.” Regardless of whether you’re Republican or Democrat, this should concern you. As House Speaker John Boehner said:
An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.
The big remaining question is whether Aurick posed a threat on election night. If so, then everyone—especially Gunny’s Corps—could have been in danger. Another lesson we can learn from Loughner is collateral damage; while Giffords was his target, six others paid the ultimate price.
I would hope that Popaditch’s supporters would take a look a the video, read his words, and ask themselves whether their actions encouraged a potentially dangerous individual. I hope that next time, they will take that into consideration when crafting their ground-game strategy.
I’d also ask the Tea Party to open themselves to the possibility of finding common ground, and understand they may make bigger strides with a thoughtful, clear message rather than expressing their frustration only in terms of rage and volume. One of my favorite bloggers right now is B-Daddy, the “Unofficial Chief Ideologist of the San Diego County Tea Party movement.” We may fall on different sides of the political spectrum, but we can engage in smart discourse and agree on holding our politicians accountable
I realize being open is difficult when Filner’s out there unfairly vilifying his opponents, politicizing the Tucson tragedy and spreading garbled information. The left jumped to conclusions far too quickly and progressives must remember that Republicans are also worried and Tea Party leaders too receiving threats. All of this needs to stop before it gets worse.
I hope this blog post indicates to hipechick and michelleincal that at least I’m willing to engage in dialogue. I acknowledge the value in a country where there is a multitude of voices, a wide spectrum of thought. That’s how we balance out. But just give it to me straight. I think ‘tude is fine, but there’s no need to shout.
(For the record, I’m not registered to any political party. The only reason I’m editorializing here is because I believe this has little do with any political position–only behavior, public safety, the facts of one of my stories and how we communicate. To tell you the truth, it makes me a little uncomfortable to put my personal feelings out here, but hey, I promised.)