My initial intention in covering this event was to talk to attendees and participants to see where the Conservative movement is heading. Now that the health care reform legislation has become law, it is a forum like this that can give some insight into the direction that the Republican Party will choose to take.
However my initial goal was sidetracked once the Republican Candidate for Ohio State Treasurer, Josh Mandel, took the stage. At 32, Mandel is currently the youngest member of the Ohio House of Representatives, has served in the Marine Corp. and has been on two tours of duty in Iraq. As Mandel took the stage, he was given a standing ovation for his service and it was clear during the first few moments of his speech that he was going to be well-received.
Shortly into my videotaping of Mandel's remarks, my attention was drawn to my right, where another gentleman was videotaping the speech. A member of Mandel's campaign, who I would later identify as Joel Riter, was trying to block this man's camera. (Riter is also the Legislative Aide for Josh Mandel in the Ohio House) It took me a moment to realize what was happening, but I quickly turned my own camera lens on this situation.
Once Riter noticed that he was being recorded, he promptly came over to me as I turned my lens back to the speech. Riter proceeded to hold his Blackberry approximately six inches from my face and take multiple pictures of me. In-between pictures, he proceeded to block my camera lens from videotaping Josh Mandel's speech.
I confronted Riter, asking what why he was standing in front of my camera to which he replied: "Are you working with the Democrats?" When I told him that I wasn't he said, "I thought you were, you're not?" Again, I said that I wasn't and Riter informed me that he was blocking the other man's camera because he did work with the Democrats. Here is the video:
After the candidate forum ended and I had packed up my video equipment, I ran into Josh Mandel outside. I approached him to ask about this incident, but as you will hear, once he heard that The Cincinnati Beacon has a "liberal" perspective, he completely ignored me.
Mandel made time for Republicans Phil and Rebecca Heimlich and even Democratic City Council member Cecil Thomas, but ignored my attempts to ask him about his staffer. I approached Councilman Thomas about the situation after Mandel had finished with him. Here is the audio beginning with my questioning of Mandel:
After the event, I asked the other gentleman who was having his camera blocked, if he had a moment for a question or two. He referred me to Seth Bringman, the Communications Director for the Ohio Democratic Party. Bringman issued this statement:
“Tracking your opponents is a standard practice of both parties. We had a tracker from the Ohio Democratic Party at this event, which was open to the public. Like any of our trackers, he was both respectful and professional.”
Even though both Joel Riter and Josh Mandel did not comment on this matter at the event, I also made an attempt to contact Michael Long, the Political Director for Mandel's campaign. He did not respond to either my email request or to the message that I left with his office. If I hear back, I will post his response in full.
While the majority of the Candidate forum was calm and civil, this incident took several by surprise. I had more than one citizen come up to me in the ballroom asking who the "man blocking the cameras" was. When I explained who he was and why he was blocking the cameras, these attendees expressed disgust and made mention that they would contact the campaign. You even heard COAST member Mark Miller say that this behavior is "not cool" in my interview with Cecil Thomas.
As the Mandel Campaign and Mandel himself remain silent on this issue, the fact remains that they felt it appropriate to block the cameras of those who they disagreed with during a public forum. Joel Riter operated under the assumption that I was with the Democrats and though he apologized to me personally when he realized I was not, still felt justified in blocking the camera of the gentleman who was working for the Democrats.
Josh Mandel also decided that he would only permit himself to be asked questions by media outlets who have a "Conservative" lean as evidenced by his repeated dismissal of my questions. These actions are quite curious for a candidate who claims to run his campaign with "honesty" and "integrity".
This piece is cross posted here.