By Len Lazarick
Patrick O’Brien follows Bob Ehrlich everywhere he can, taping the Republican ex-governor with a little flip cam. Blogger Amy Becker is on the same beat, and shows up at lots of Ehrlich events.
We got to see some of their handiwork Tuesday as the Maryland Democratic Party released a video titled “Bashful Bob.” The Democrats released the spliced together video because O’Brien and Becker are not independent journalists, as the tape implies. They work for the Democratic Party as part of its opposition research, and the video has an authority line from the party in the last few seconds.
The tape gives the impression that Ehrlich wouldn’t talk to any reporters the day of Monday’s debate. The ex-gov did inexplicably scoot out the back door of WJZ and would not talk to a few reporters who had staked out his SUV. “No questions right now. Happy, very happy,” he says on the tape.
The bulk of the more than 30 reporters and videographers covering the event, including me, were out in front of the WJZ building waiting to be spinned by both campaigns. Gov. Martin O’Malley got to put his spin on the event, after other top Democrats had heaped praise on him.
It was left for Ehrlich communications director Andy Barth, who apparently lost the coin toss, to try to explain why Ehrlich wasn’t there, and that “he always takes questions from reporters.” But not today.
Ehrlich usually does take questions from reporters after most events – and O’Malley often doesn’t. But the party video, out of sequence, shows Becker pursuing Ehrlich as he enters the back door of the building. She asks him, “Are you uncomfortable with the O’Malley supporters?” as if he were some bad guy in a “60 Minutes” ambush interview. Ehrlich and his team laugh at the question.
Then the Dems splice in a scene from the ballroom at the BWI Marriott Hotel, where Ehrlich and O’Malley had just spoken to the Maryland Disabilities Forum. I was standing, waiting to talk to Ehrlich, about three feet from where the action on camera takes place.
At most events I’ve seen, Ehrlich is usually tolerant of Patrick – the campaign says it only knew him by his first name – and often greets him with a smile and a wave. Patrick usually holds his flip cam in unsmiling, stony silence.
But for some reason, as Ehrlich was about to talk to Lou Davis of Maryland Public TV on camera, with Julie Scharper of the Sun and myself standing by, he decided he’d had enough of Patrick, who was slowly creeping forward. Ehrlich told him to leave, and Patrick edged up. Then Ehrlich tells Barth and his body guard to get rid of O’Brien.
“This is a press conference,” he says. It was a little awkward for those of us in close proximity. Who knows what we would have done if this was actually a fellow reporter who was getting the heave ho, but it wasn’t. It was a Democratic Party operative trying to catch Ehrlich with the sort of slip of the tongue that helped undo Sen. George Allen in Virginia in the famous “macaca” incident.
That incident, wonderfully documented in a segment of Meet the Press with late Tim Russert, shows Allen referring to a dark-skinned opposition operative with a video camcorder as “macaca.” The video and Allen’s fumbling response went viral.
Even before that exchange, someone from the opposition – usually a young guy — trails all major candidates.
O’Malley deputy campaign manager Rick Abbruzzese said the current governor is dogged on Ehrlich’s behalf by a flip cam wielder named “Ralph.” I don’t recall seeing any video from Ralph.
In this day and age, a guy or gal with an $150 flip cam, and a journalism-trained blogger like Amy with a partisan website are a constant presence on the campaign trail.
In public settings, there’s very little a candidate can do, except watch his words and grin and bear it. Or watch what he doesn’t say.