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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Note to Occupy Pittsburgh: Put on your Guy Fawkes mask before talking to the Trib

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 4:56 PM

click to enlarge I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Scaife
  • I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Scaife

In all the coverage of Occupy Pittsburgh, you may have seen a handful of protesters wearing funny masks, or scarves over their faces. And you've probably wondered, "If they aren't criminals, why do they hide their identity?"

Well, I give you Exhibit A, courtesy of our own Tribune-Review. Where today we learned the following: 

One of the Occupy Pittsburgh movement's most vocal figures announced on Wednesday that he is quitting the organization because the Tribune-Review began asking questions about his finances.

Nathaniel Glosser, 46, of Friendship left the group on a day 100 protesters rallied outside the Downtown offices of BNY Mellon, a global financial services giant.

Oh, man. This is gonna be good. It has to be, right? After all, the Trib put this story on its front page.
click to enlarge frontpage.jpg

I mean, come on: They gave it top billing over the story about exotic animals escaping from an Ohio farm. One of those animals is an escaped monkey carrying the herpes virus. And I can tell you: When the Trib gets hold of a diseased monkey, it doesn't let go. In fact, it often hires that monkey to write its editorials.

Haha! I kid the Tribune-Review!

Because sure enough, it turns out that Glosser, this perfidious charlatan, this public menace, this shiny-pated Mephistopheles who smiles out at us*, is the type of guy who ... racks up a bunch of overdue bills. And then pays them. 

Oh, it's true. Tribune-Review reporter Bill Vidonic gives us the details:

  • Over the past 15 years, Glosser has been hit with federal income-tax liens totaling just under $20,000. He's since paid them.
  • In the past eight years, Glosser racked up $8,000 in local tax liens to the county, school district, and city. Those liens have also been paid.
  • Last year, Glosser had a dispute with a landlord, who was seeking $3,700 in back rent and legal costs. Glosser paid that bill several months ago.
  • Glosser once ran up a bill with a credit-card company. He paid that $4,500 bill more than five years ago.
  • Also, Glosser inherited a Highland Park home from his family, which he sold earlier this year for just under a half-million dollars. 

Given a chance to comment, Glosser cited some "very personal issues" he didn't want to discuss. He also surmised that "you're going to run something with no news value and no value other than to personally destroy me." 

I want to thank the Trib for bringing this to my attention. Should I ever encounter Glosser socially, I will insist that he buy the first round. A valuable public service has been performed. 

Or has it? It's not like Glosser is running for county treasurer. The story itself can't seem to cite a reason why any of this matters. About as close as it gets is this: "Glosser emerged as the main person fielding media calls ... and his name appeared on the permit with Pittsburgh police allowing last Saturday's march and rally."

So I guess the lesson here is: If you want to have a march decrying economic hardship, make sure that the person applying for the permit has a good credit score.* 

As for the rest, yes, the Trib itself quoted Glosser multiple times in the days prior to Vidonic's big expose. On each occasion, Glosser spoke -- quite accurately -- about the movement's tactics and plans. He didn't offer his own critiques of capitalism or the wealthy. 

But no matter: Having relied on Glosser so much for information, the Trib could justify its story at least partly on the grounds that he was so vocal. If Glosser didn't want the Trib poking into his private affairs, he shouldn't have answered its phone calls. Based on some conversations I had over on Mellon Green this afternoon, I've got a feeling you won't see Occupiers making that mistake again.

I should say here that Vidonic himself has a good reputation as a reporter and human being, and much of the rest of his reporting on the Occupy movement has been quite good. And in any case, it wasn't Vidonic who put this thing on page 1.

But if you're looking for reasons to deride the Occupy movement -- as publisher Richard Mellon Scaife's coterie of editors no doubt is-- the story will no doubt have you licking your lips. "The guy owned a half-million-dollar house! He must be one of those trust-fund lefties you hear about! And while these Occupiers complain that the rich don't pay their fair share of taxes, he let his own taxes be overdue! It's liberal hypocrisy!" 

And yes, it certainly makes a great right-wing talking point. (Glosser himself clearly understood the danger: On Tuesday night, Glosser sent fellow Occupy organizers a message "disassociating" himself from the group "due to the possibility of negative publicity and perception about me.")

But that just raises the question: Why is a daily newspaper devoting its front page to right-wing talking points? The front page ought to be devoted to the important stuff -- like wars, the economy, and the strange death of Vince Foster. What's happened to news judgment in the House of Scaife?

Well, I think it's pretty clear: We're seeing a daily newspaper using its resources to bully people around, embarrassing them with personal information the paper can't even claim any public interest in -- simply for availing themselves of their First Amendment freedoms. Not the noblest use of a printing press I've ever seen. 

It probably goes without saying that right-wing figures don't have to worry about the same degree of scrutiny from the Trib. Folks who join the Tea Party movement, for example, can count on the Trib not asking too many questions. 

Consider the case of Dale "Dale the Electrician" McCoy, a Beaver County fixture on the local Tea Party circuit. McCoy purports to have been a Democrat and a union member at one time, and his role at Tea Party rallies has been to make people feel OK about hating unions. McCoy has appeared in the Trib plenty of times, but without attracting any apparent scrutiny.

Check out this story -- written by Vidonic himself -- that mentions an appearance by McCoy this past April:

Rally speaker Dale McCoy, 49, of Hopewell, Beaver County, an electrical foreman with a local company that he declined to name, said he does not have a problem with individual union members, but many members don't believe they are represented well by their leadership.

Wait a minute: "A local company that he declined to name"? C'mon, Tribune-Review -- are you just gonna take that? Here you've got a guy claiming to speak for "many" union members. Don't you think your readers deserve to know whether his company is a union shop? How are labor relations there? You've had six months to follow up on that stuff. 

At a bare minimum, I think we're entitled to know how much McCoy's house is worth. Or would that be too intrusive?

* Editor's note: More over-the-top language was added to this post hours later. I'm still irked by this.

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