Nothing makes you feel more at home at a public candidate debate than to have an officer of the Prince William Committee of 100 invite you to photograph his balls.
Tonight I attended the debate in Lake Ridge for the 31st and 51st House Districts, and as I have done for the past five years or so, I brought along cameras. I’ve filmed Bob Fitzsimmonds and Chuck Colgan, Toddy Puller and Jeff Frederick, Bob Marshall and Shawn Mitchell, Keith Fimian and Gerry Connolly, Jeanette Rishell and Jackson Miller, and well, you get the idea. I’ve been filming every one of these in the county that I could get to for many years now. When Denny Daugherty politely explained to me that filming by bloggers wouldn’t be allowed, and that has been a longstanding policy, I was awfully surprised and a just bit upset.
A whole room full of people, just about all of them carrying smartphones, and you have to be credentialed media to film anything at a public event? That’s just stupid, and absolutely counter to their mission of engaging the public in the political process, but it’s their room. If they want to make inane, counterproductive rules they can’t hope to enforce, well good luck folks. Here’s School Board Member Lillie Jesse’s daughter shooting video with her phone during the debate, as one example. Somebody on the committee must be awfully nervous about Reed Heddleston or Jeremy McPike if they are afraid of having them filmed at public campaign events.
I went to the Committee’s videographer anyways and offered my spanking-new, state-of-the-art equipment to them as a “B” camera, which would at least allow them to get some close-ups in the mix, which they never get. They typically shoot one static angle with an obsolete camera, for the whole event, which drives me nuts. He declined, saying it would add too much work to the edit, which he wanted to turn around quickly. Okay.
So I pulled out a stills camera with a big telephoto lens, and for good measure got a voice recorder so I’d be able to make sure I remember what I’ve heard correctly. I find a good sight line, sit on the floor, and snap away during the first Debate between Scott Lingamfelter and Jeremy McPike without incident.
Just as the debate between Rich Anderson and Reed Heddleston gets underway, up comes Harry Wiggins sporting his badge that identifies him as the treasurer of the Committee of 100 who starts accusing me of breaking the rules. He stands right in front of me, blocking my shot and says in a voice loud enough that plenty of people overheard “you can take a picture of my balls.” Wiggins then tells me that now I am not allowed to photograph, either. I was kind of shocked, because we’d previously gotten along pretty well despite being on different sides of the political aisle. He’s making up new rules, just to harass me, while Rich Anderson is making his opening remarks? This is crazy.
I figure at that point it’s time to stand up and use some of my height advantage, and Wiggins decides he’s going to put his hand in front of my lens and prevent me from taking pictures. We end up in a standoff for a while with me holding my camera and lens up and him holding his hand up to see who will tire first as people in the audience start getting distracted by this spectacle. Even though I’ve got about five pounds in my hands and he’s got nothing, I end up winning that contest, and then Wiggins decides to turn around and try to block my lens with his head. At one point he gets a demonstration about how it’s not a great idea to be backing up into a Canon EF 70-200mm IS USM lens and bumps his head. He seemed fine though, thankfully, and soon afterwards just gives up on the harassment.
The score at that point: Professional camera guy one, petty tyrant with a name badge and an attitude zero. But really, you have to add this to the score: the public minus one.
The Committee of 100’s purpose, according to their website, is as follows:
The Prince William Committee of 100 provides a non-partisan, educational forum to study essential interests, problems and goals of the people of Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park.
Anyone showing up to one of their events with the intent of disseminating content from that event to a wider audience, and not asking them for money to do so should be welcomed, not harassed. If the committee wants to have closed, members-only, plus mainstream press and a small smattering of local citizens events it absolutely takes away from their mission. Making a low quality video recording generally available after the fact is a good concept, but hardly anybody is going to suffer through an hour-plus long security camera view of an event. Their last program video has 28 people who watched at least part if it, and according to the YouTube stats the average length those viewers stuck with the hour and seventeen minute program was 10.7 minutes.
If they cared at all about their stated purpose, they’d be offering a free meal or something to anyone who might come and provide any coverage at all of the events they hold. They wouldn’t be pushing their junk into people’s camera lenses trying to harass them.
UPDATE (10/3/2013): Harry Wiggins phoned me tonight and apologized for his behavior, and I accepted that apology. Our conversation was cordial and friendly, and I was pleased to have the chance to return to that kind of relationship with Mr. Wiggins. I appreciate him reaching out to me this evening, and I am pretty confident that the ultimate result of this episode will be for the Committee of 100 to get a chance to review their policies so they work for the benefit of their organization, the participants and the public. Perhaps even more significantly, this may end up inspiring a higher level of cordiality among political partisans in the county. If in the end this all turns out for the better, I don’t really mind something like this happening all that much.
UPDATE 10/7/2013: The video from the forum is finally available.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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