By STEVEN TAVARES
At least three journalists, citizen bloggers, including this reporter, were asked to leave today’s gathering of Tea Party supporters in Pleasanton because of fears by organizers coverage of the event would paint the group in a poor light.
An official representing the Pleasanton Tea Party, who not give her name (in fact, nobody from the group would provide their name), said media credentials were needed to ask questions of the fairly large gathering of over 2,000 attendees gathered from the afternoon rally featuring U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. Badges labeled “Staff” were needed to interview patrons at an event publicized as free to the public, they said. Reporters from KTVU, the Contra Costa Times and a man with a video camera emblazoned with conservative radio host Michael Savage’s logo were seen without visible credentials.
The mistrust of anything media is detailed on the groups web site under a section titled “Frequented Asked Questions” where the question is posed, “Is this legal? Will I be thrown in jail for doing this–I have never done anything like this before?”
When I posed a question to a man from Pleasanton asking why he believed so many here felt disaffected by the current adminsitration, the gentleman ran off of litany of grievances, but the interview was halted by a volunteer for the organizing group. “You can’t be asking questions,” he said. “You need a pass.” When I told him who I was he stopped me and said, “We know what you’re up to.”
After inquiring why someone would need to be screened to attend an event advertised as open to all or why credentials were needed to pose questions to people who chose to speak freely I was told, “We don’t know who you are. You could take what they say, turn it around and make them look foolish.” Once the word censorship was used, the event worker said she had ejected people for using the same word or calling the group “communists.”
At this point, I was not specifically told to leave, just to not interview people. Back inside the event, canopy-covered booths belonging to several Republican candidates including Fiorina and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman ringed the audience. When questioned about the Pleasanton Tea Party group escorting out journalists, a volunteer for Fiorina frowned and said “It’s a free country.” A gentlemen handing out campaign literature and bumper stickers for the Whitman campaign had no comment, but said he was instructed to pass any press inquiries to a campaign spokesperson.
Sarah Pompei, a spokesperson for the Whitman campaign, distanced herself from the volunteers at the Pleasanton Tea Party event saying they were not part of the campaign and later said she was not aware of the gathering, although, the event was billed as one of the biggest Tax Day Tea Party events in the state.
Pompei, who is featured on a video shot by the San Francisco Chronicle telling reporters invited to interview Whitman only to learn they could not ask questions, would not elaborate on her statement volunteers passing out materials with the offical Meg2010 logo were not affiliated with the campaign. At one point, Pompei asked what Steve Poizner, Whitman’s fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate for the party’s nomination would do about reporters being ejected from the event. Poizner had no presence at the event.
Aside from roars of derision anytime House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s name was uttered, the crowd was passionate, yet sedate lounging in beach chairs and carrying clever signs mocking most things Democrat. One sign sat unattended that read, “I’m Republican because we can’t all be on welfare,” while “Obama is a Socialist” was quite common. A few dressed in revolutionary-era garb, while many waved American flags of all sizes.
Outside the festivities, a small group of protesters made up primarily of people in wheelchairs hoping to close tax loopholes to fund social services were sequestered across the road in a location labeled the “Free Speech Area.” An older gentlemen, who declined to state his name said part of the group had been moved from a spot down the road and mocked the Tea Partiers, joking, “We’re a real dangerous group, huh?” Pleasanton resident Carole Smith said, “We’re not against what they’re doing inside there, but they want all these services and don’t want to pay the taxes.”
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