Claremont Insider: The Empire Strikes Back!

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Empire Strikes Back!

Well, the Claremonster Empire, never one to be content to take a media whuppin', has been fighting back on the Ellen Taylor front. First it was in the letters to the Claremont Courier, now in the Inland Empire Weekly, the free tabloid paper on newsstands in around the area.

(You may remember the IE Weekly as the paper that carried the ad last month for the guerrilla strip club event in Cahuilla Park.)

The IE Weekly's writer, David Silva, blasts anonymity and one anonymous blog in particular in a feature article titled "Anonymity Sucks, What really happened with the Claremont Cookie Monster..."

Silva's article takes the LA Times to task for some sloppy reporting by Times writer David Pierson, whose front-page article last month catapulted the Insider to new heights of digital popularity, according to Silva:

Pierson wrote in breathless detail how the story of the incident was broken by the Claremont Insider, which Pierson described as a “popular blog in town known for gossipy items and sharp jabs at local politicians.”

The tale wrapped up with Taylor publicly apologizing for the episode.

The article, the first sentence of which referred to Taylor as the “Claremont Cookie Monster,” was an instant media sensation. For more than a week after its publication, Pierson’s article was listed among the top five “most read” and “most emailed” stories on the Times website, and was picked up by newspapers and blogs across the country. In Claremont, it galvanized Taylor’s supporters and enemies like nothing else, resurrecting—again, the incident was three months in the past by July 19—what had become in many residents’ minds a dead issue. And it represented a major coup for the Claremont Insider, which until Pierson’s article was little known outside the college community.

But there were a few problems with the article, the most minor of which being it contained numerous factual errors. The biggest problem with it is what Pierson didn’t write: He ignored the very real possibility that, while Taylor’s run-in with the Scouts certainly happened, the creature known as the “Claremont Cookie Monster” is at its Scout-hating heart a creation of an anonymous blog—the Claremont Insider.

Do reporters have an obligation to pay extra attention to the motivations of the anonymous blogs they cover? And, while we’re on the subject of obligations: Just what ethical responsibilities, if any, do anonymous blogs bear themselves—particularly entities as prone to rumor mongering and innuendo as the anonymous site Pierson promoted to national prominence?

Silva touched on the "few problems" with the Pierson article, though he neglected to mention that the Insider was the first to point those errors out and that we took pains to note that it was the Claremont Courier's Tony Krickl who broke the story. That's the kind of thing that makes us wonder about Silva's own biases.

We found it curious, for instance, that the article seemed out of balance in its exploration of the issues. Silva starts out with the premise that "the creature known as the “Claremont Cookie Monster” is at its Scout-hating heart a creation of an anonymous blog—the Claremont Insider." Yet, as we've pointed out, not only did we not break the story, we didn't even apply the Cookie Monster tag to Taylor - the credit for that one has to go to the Foothills Cities' Centinel, another anonymous blogster! (Do we sense a conspiracy here?)

To prove his thesis, Silva relies primarily on interviews with Claremont Mayor and Scout-hater Ellen Taylor and Councilmember Sam Pedroza, himself a beneficiary of the largess of Ellen's supporters in his own election to city council in 2007.

It seems odd that in an article that starts out talking about the Girl Scout incident, Silva doesn't include any quote from any of the Girl Scouts' parents. He seems content to take Taylor's version of events ("I was concerned about their safety") at face value without any apparent attempt at interviewing the other parties.

Nor did Silva take the time to put the event into the context of Taylor's own public history - her arrogant behavior towards public speakers as a councilmember and mayor, for instance. Silva ignored our suggestion in response to his questions that he contact and interview people who've opposed Taylor and her supporters on various issues for their take on things. In fact, from the tenor of the article, we suspect that Silva simply tossed most of our answers to his questions in the circular file.

Silva seemed quite willing to buy into Pedroza's false claim that we are some sort of campaign blog, even though we've been at this regularly for a 1-1/2 years with no election going, and accused the Insider of being "prone to rumor mongering and innuendo." Yet, Silva failed to note that Taylor and Pedroza's supporters have made a regular sport of using rumor and innuendo time and again during city elections.

If he had actually interviewed people other than Taylor and Pedroza, Silva would have learned that in 2001 the Claremont 400 cabal that Silva dismissively pooh-poohs spread false rumors that candidate Llewellyn Miller was against inter-racial marriage. And four years later, the same group organized a very public "Preserve Claremont" smear campaign that ran ads using false information in an unsuccessful campaign to defeat then-candidate Corey Calaycay and to try to have sitting Councilmember Jackie McHenry censured.

The Silva article quotes Pedroza as denying the idea of a Claremont 400:
“This concept of a Claremont 400 has been a way to designate anyone involved in the community as holding all the power,” says Pedroza, who, next to Taylor and the League, has been the Insider’s biggest boogeyman. “I’m sure if you look at any city, you’ll find people who are more involved in their community than others. But what these bloggers do is point to these people, call them the 400, and if something doesn’t go the way the bloggers want, say, ‘Oh, that’s just the 400. Either you’re part of the 400, or you’re one of us.’“

Pedroza, never the sharpest pencil in the box, seems to forget that, like the Cookie Monster, we didn't invent the term "Claremont 400." That was was floating around years before the Insider ever came into being. The other thing Pedroza ignores is that it's not just that these are people who are "more involved in their community than others." It's that they actively exclude anyone not in their circle from having an equal say in things. That has been the real problem in Claremont. And Pedroza also knows that its quite different for people who control all the power in town to say either your with us or agin' us, as Pedroza's friend do, and another for a blog or anyone else who has no power over anything to point out the cliquishness involved.

Finally, the Silva article notably lacked any direct quotes from the Girl Scouts or their parents. For all of Silva's complaints about the Times' Pierson and the Insider, and despite the claims of his article's title, Silva doesn't seem much interested in getting at the truth of the event or in placing it in proper perspective.

Yesterday, we wrote about the spin you can expect to see in Indio, where former Claremont City Manager Glenn Southard is wrapped up in a fight over millions in uncollected taxes. What we're seeing played out with this Girl Scout business is the Claremont 400, Taylor, and Pedroza spinning their hearts out in a fight to regain a little bit of their lost credibility.

The fact that they have to resort to a story in the IE Weekly, as opposed to the Courier, the Times, or the Daily Bulletin, shows how much their reach has ebbed. As for the Insider, we'll continue to let the facts (and the events) speak for themselves.

We suppose we really should be flattered. The potshots from the Claremont 400 began in May, 2007, when former Mayor Diann Ring dropped some thinly veiled threats of lawsuits to silence the Insider. Then, in September, 2007, the Claremont City Attorney forgot she was in the United States and demanded that Google shut down our blog - over the City's mistake! Now comes the spin by Taylor, Pedroza & Co.

We suspect that at the end of the day we'll still be standing. Long time Claremont dissidents know: That which does not kill us....