Monday, March 8, 2010

Punk a bull, you get the horns

Posted By on March 8, 2010, 3:22 PM

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Note to readers,

I apologize.

As I reported first via my Twitter feed, the press conference calling for a ballot initiative to remove homosexuals from Utah was fake. At best, the organizers put together improv theater that punked the Utah press corps and maybe got people to think about gay rights for a moment. It's fashionable to make fools of news media folk such as myself, so, touche. But at its worst, it was an offensive attention-grabbing play on Holocaust-like imagery and language that does little to advance the argument for gay rights in Utah. ---

The phony press conference is a play out of the Yes Men play book. For example, The Yes Men once punked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by announcing a press conference, then posing as representatives of that group while calling for climate change legisation. It was funny, you see, because the Chamber opposes such legislation. Ha. Zinger. Got 'em.

I'm not sure what Ha-Ha we were supposed to get from today's action, but I think the point they must have been trying to make is that it is somewhat believable that Utah could foster such a movement of concerned citizens that would openly and publicly call for Nazi-like solutions to the "homosexual problem?" (Download the whole document here). Ha?

Here's how it went down:

I saw activist Ashley Anderson moments after entering the Capitol rotunda for the press conference. I was immediately suspicious because I interviewed this guy about his interactions with the Yes Men while he was visiting Copenhagen earlier this year, but I thought maybe he was at the Capitol to counter-protest. Soon after, I also recognized Dillon Hase, a guy who told me just last week that he's a member of Peaceful Uprising, of which Anderson is also a member (note: I have no idea if this was a Peaceful Uprising action, or who besides Anderson and Hase may be behind it, only that the only connection between Anderson and Hase that I know is PU). Hase was dressed with slicked hair and suit, and introduced himself to me and others as "Paul Jackson," of "Patriots for a Moral Utah."

I needed no further confirmation that I had been punked than seeing those two gents, and thus tweeted around 1:15 p.m., "The forced relocation of homos thing is a joke." Moments later, I added, "I recognize two of the guys as local activists." Another few moments later, I tweeted "Some young people are here demonstrating against the initiative. Don't know yet if they are 'in' on the 'joke.'"

They weren't (update 9 a.m. 3-9-10, Anderson tweets "all of the counter-protesters were working with us, BTW." I contacted two individuals who were there. One admits he was "in" on the "joke." The other says he wasn't. Unfortunately, it's hard to know who to trust on this anymore, so take it all with a grain of salt). They'd either read about it in the media--at least one read about it from my report earlier in the day regarding the press conference--and others were alerted to it by text from friends. I've been told others were busily trying to remove the group's Facebook page because they believe it violates rule #7 of Facebook's terms of service: "You will not post content that is hateful."

The kubuki press conference then went down, with everyone playing their foolish parts, knowingly or not. Some woman I don't know or recognize, playing "Nora Young," of "Patriots for a Moral Utah," answered most of the questions with a straight face and tried to rush out when the questions got hot. I asked them, in a tone that should have left no question that I was pissed, "Are you serious?" I also asked her to comment on the allusion to Nazis. Still in character, she claimed she had no idea that Hitler called his plan to forcibly remove and exterminate Jews from Europe his "final solution," a phrase that appeared in their initiative. "Paul Jackson," played by Hase, stood by her during it.

If this is a play out of the Yes Men play book, this effort deserves a red card for poor targeting and poor execution.

First, why go out of your way to invite me? I got the press release at 10 p.m. last night. Both Hase and Anderson know that I know them. Did they expect me to keep the joke to myself? Um.... not gonna happen. Duh. Truth first, truth last, truth truth truth. I don't play along with jokes.

Second, just speaking as a former activist to current activists: it's not a good idea to risk peeving a press corps that's usually pretty good about covering the issues you're punking them on. For all their faults, the local Utah press corps is pretty diligent about covering gay rights issues.

Third, using phrases like "final solution" and purposefully conjuring Nazi-like imagery for your joke probably isn't going to win many fans or respect--except maybe Lenny Bruce, but he's dead.

Fourth, I feel bad for the gay rights counter-protesters who were unwitting participants in the farce. The few that I talked to expressed no strong feelings about being punked, but even still, they took time out of their day to play bit parts in a joke that they weren't privy to.

Finally, what was the point exactly? 

That's the main problem. Again, I guess the point they're making--they wouldn't drop character to actually tell me--is that it's somewhat believable that Utah could foster such a movement of Nazi-like homophobes. Shocking, isn't it? Utah is peculiarly tolerant of homophobia, and perhaps that tolerance emboldens crazy citizens to go public with their crazy ideas. We get it. But this "joke" is likely to garner a helluva lot more groans than laughs--no? If I'm wrong about that, and everybody can hardly catch their breath from laughing long enough to read this post, then I guess I just have sour grapes.

Now, dear readers, some of you have already criticized me for repeating information before knowing enough about it. Although I did express some skepticism and a LOT of ignorance (I was asking you for information, after all) I didn't investigate enough to give you proper context before I posted a portion of the press release on our blog. I should have done more digging--that's my job, not yours. I'll take that. I deserve it. Part of my role is to be a purveyor of information, but today, for a few hours, I gave you fool's gold. Sorry about that. All I can say is there is a tricky line between transparency in the newsroom--in which you get to know what we know, when we know it-- crowd sourcing--in which we ask you, the reader, to supplement the news--and curating information so that only the best information and inquiries are passed on. Today, obviously, I failed at striking that balance. Sorry again. In my defense, had I not gone to the press conference and revealed it for the bullshit that it was, the rest of the media may not have found out. I don't think anyone else in the press corps knew Anderson or Hase.

Trying my best to keep it REAL,


Jesse Fruhwirth


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Jesse Fruhwirth

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