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Bruce rings bell, media salivates

Wed, Aug 19, 2009

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(Editor’s note: This posting has been revised and corrected. See below)

At 10 a.m. on Monday, we, in common with other local media, got a phone call from the ol’ taxcutter himself, Doug Bruce. 

He invited us to attend a press conference in an hour’s time, to be held on the steps of city hall.

Since city hall is less than two blocks from our offices, and since Monday promised to be a slow news day, I thought wotthehell (as Archie said to Mehitabel), and ambled on over to the press conference.

The Dougster, brimming over with fake indignation, breathlessly recounted how the city’s finest, acting upon orders from those tax-lovin’ city council members, had prevented him from circulating petitions in front of Costco, thereby violating not only his rights, but the rights of all citizens.  What about freedom of assembly?  What about the right to collect signatures for a citizen initiative? 

After a few minutes, I left. It seemed clear that this was a manufactured event. Long experience with the Dougster, a superbly accomplished spinmeister, had taught me to be wary. I figured that there was more to this story than met the eye, and that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be used by him, or by anyone for that matter, to advance a personal agenda.

So we ignored the story.

But as the Dougster anticipated, the rest of the media jumped on it like dogs on a dropped slice of pepperoni pizza. 

The Gazette’s coverage was particularly egregious, featuring a largely unquestioning front page story and a lengthy editorial which upheld the poor, persecuted Dougster’s right to petition.

Remember Pavlov’s dogs?  The great Russian physician and Nobel laureate Ivan Pavlov discovered that by first ringing a bell and then giving food to the animals, he established what he called a “conditioned reflex.”  After a certain number of repetitions, the animals would salivate whenever the bell was rung, regardless of reward.

Local media have been conditioned by the Dougster to believe that whatever he does/says/alleges is ipso facto newsworthy.  He rings, we salivate.  It’s called random reinforcement-and he produces just enough newsworthy stuff to keep us slobbering.

I’m proud that, for once, we controlled ourselves.  But I know that the next time he calls, we’ll be there.

You never know – maybe he’ll bring pizza.

 

Correction (8/31/2009)

Some information in this blog posting by John Hazlehurst was incorrect and has been deleted.

The blog originally stated that, “It turned out that Mr. Bruce had been tossed off Costco’s property a year before, for the same reason.” Mr. Bruce was not removed from the property during that prior incident.

The blog also stated that, “It turned out that private property owners have a right to expel trespassers …” At the time, the city’s General Order 701 – First Amendment Rights stated that “Individuals may engage in First Amendment related activities on privately owned property which offers routine public access, whether or not it is property posted and whether or not the owner/manager has granted permission, so long as the individuals do not violate a law such as blocking ingress or egress, harassing or assaulting other persons etc.” General order 701 was revised on Feb. 16 of this year and that language was removed.

The blog also stated that “Mr. Bruce was charged with that offense.” Mr. Bruce was not charged or cited by law enforcement during that prior incident.

 

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