On second thought, I'm no longer sure this is "my" country, when citizens and the legitimate press are assaulted at republican rallies or simply shut out, as they were in 2004 by the Bush team.
This is not the country I was taught to believe in!
Update: Bloggers note: there is editing throughout this post at 10 a.m. or so this morning to clean up grammar and spelling errors committed at the end of a 16 hour day. As well, some fixes have been made with regards to quote marks that did not publish correctly. My apologies to the English teachers in the audience.
Joe was working with me on a package for tomorrow's newspaper covering Gov. Sarah Palin's visit to Elon and Greensboro.
"Dude," he says when I called to check on him. "Some guy just kicked me in the back of the leg."
Let me just digress for a second. I sometimes supervise people. Much more often, I work in teams with folks. I'm usually the old fart in the group so I feel responsible for them. The last thing I ever want to hear is that one of my people got hurt on assignment. Usually the worry has to do with covering a traffic accident along a highway or a natural disaster like a flood, where conditions are inherently dangerous.
What I don't expect is for some troglodyte at a campaign rally to decide that the proper way to express his frustration with Democrats, Barack Obama or the "left-wing liberal media" is to commit assault on a colleague.
Here's the back-story:
As you probably know, the crowds at McCain-Palin events have gotten, um, saucy as of late. My boss blogs about that here.
Covering Sen. John McCain's appearance in Wilmington Monday, you could definitely sense some of that vibe.
Cut to today, Palin in town. In general, I walked in sensing the crowd had a more positive vibe than the McCain rally.
That changed when I heard a ruckus behind me. A couple folks there for the rally called campaign staff over, complaining about people several rows back chanting "Obama" when the rest of the crowd cheered at Palin's applause lines. Obnoxious? Yes. But I dig me some First Amendment.
The campaign staff dutifully fetched a couple of police officers who dutifully threw the handful of individuals out. I watched just to make sure ruckus didn't develop into something more. That apparently gave other McCain-Palin supporters license to yell at me.
"Hey! Hey you! The story's up there," yelled one point at the stage. "You don't need to worry about that. The story is up there."
The presence of a barricade, the more pressing need of gathering a story and, well, that whole First Amendment thing just led me to ignore them. They can pop off if they like.
Joe was near a second group of protestors who got tossed. And he got some push back for investigating as well. After the rally wound down, he went to find some Obama folks and see if he could talk to who got put out.
That's when at least one guy from the crowd decided he needed to interject his opinion into the conversation. As Joe tells it:
I sidled up to one of the Obama supporters and asked why they were there, what they were trying to accomplish.
As he was telling me a large, bearded man in full McCain-Palin campaign regalia got in his face to yell at him.
"Hey, hey, " I said. "I'm trying to interview him. Just a minute, okay? "
The man began to say something about how of course I was interviewing the Obama people when suddenly, from behind us, the sound of a pro-Obama rap song came blaring out of the windows of a dorm building. We all turned our heads to see Obama signs in the windows.
This was met with curses, screams and chants of "U.S.A" by McCain-Palin folks who crowded under the windows trying to drown it out and yell at the person playing the stereo.
It was a moment of levity in an otherwise very tense situation and so I let out a gentle chuckle and shook my head.
"Oh, you think that 's funny?! " the large bearded man said. His face was turning red. "Yeah, that 's real funny…" he said.
And then he kicked the back of my leg, buckling my right knee and sending me sprawling onto the ground.
There was no cop or security officer around to report this lug nut to, and Joe resisted the temptation to smack the guy back, which I commend. But let me say this: the guy who attacked Joe is a criminal, no better that the lunk-head who steals your car stereo or snatches a purse.
Do I hold the McCain campaign responsible? Not entirely. No one on their staff said, "Hey, after the event, go smack around a reporter."
Although, I will say that complaints about "the media," "mainstream media," "Eastern media elite," etc... have become a pervasive in Republican talking points, increasingly so as we get closer to the election. I've heard the complaints from folks like U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and certainly both Palin and McCain have used those phrases in their speeches. Then, there are the opening lines of Hank Williams Jr.'s campaign theme song for McCain-Palin: "The left-wing liberal media have always been a real close-knit family, but most of the American people, don't believe them anyway you see."
Fair enough. We're big boys and girls who put ourselves out there and part of the job is tacking flak from both sides. Certainly I have heard complaints from Democrats about "the media" and have been accused of being too conservative. But I have never had the sense that a Democrat was going to get physical in that kind of way. Even though McCain and Palin have taken a kinder gentler tone in their speeches, there was still a real undercurrent of anger at the rallies I covered this week.
After today I'm wondering - and this is just wondering at this point - whether Republicans aren't in some respect giving their supporters license for this sort of crap. If the story you peddle is that your guys are the good guys and all those who stand against them are the bad guys, and the "liberal media" is in that second column, might there be a message there – even if it is one that is misconstrued and carried to a stupid extreme in some cases?
Full disclosure: I'm not real happy with the McCain campaign today. After the Elon event Palin did a fundraiser and I was told the local pool would be able to cover that. It's a major reason I took the pool assignment. I was told mid-way through my day that the fundraiser would be closed. And I just found out that the campaign tossed a one-on-one to an out-of-town competitor rather than to the paper that staffed their pool today.
But that's peanuts, mere whining, an issue of protocol. This other thing with Joe reflects something far more troubling. I just hope it's not a trend.
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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.