Thankful for my enemies

More on the GOP

Just another day

Last week, in a subscriber only email, I wrote about how the head of the Iowa GOP screamed at me the first time I met him. To briefly recap: I had no idea who this man was. I’m not new to Iowa, but I am new to my job as a columnist. I’m getting to know all the players here in Iowa as more than just names in a news story.

I went to cover an anti-impeachment rally and the head of Iowa GOP was there, he was leading the rally. During his speech, he immediately singled me out of the crowd and pointed to me and called me fake news and when I turned my phone camera away from him to look at the crowd of counterprotesters, he demanded I turn back towards him. After his speech, he refused to answer questions from me. My colleague had to ask my questions for me.

A month later, I published an op-ed from him and others. My newsletter, was about that weird dynamic. The closeness between people here. How we live together and need each other. I kind of thought it was over.

I should have known better.

Yesterday, I got an email from someone alerting me to the fact that six days after publishing his op-ed, the head of the Iowa GOP was targeting me and my colleagues in a Facebook post. When I clicked on the post, I saw that it included headlines from some of my op-eds and more weirdly, screenshots of some of my tweets with my handle blacked out. He’d clearly been planning this for a while and watching my tweets.

This person is an elected official for his county.

Today, he wrote on Facebook that he tried multiple times to contact the newspaper to air his grievances and ask that we be more fair. This is demonstrably false. He hasn’t contacted us since I’ve been been an employee. Both the editor of my paper and I replied encouraging him to reach out. Also, in regards to balance. The newspaper I work for has had a historically conservative editorial board. They endorsed Romney and Grassley and well, so many many Republicans for so long. So this is just the actual fake news.

This is where we need to back up, to talk about the Des Moines Register. This summer the Register published a profile of an accidental local hero, Carson King, who raised a lot of money for the University Hospital off of a beer money sign gone viral. Part of the reporting process for the story, revealed some racists tweets authored by King. The reporter, Aaron Calvin asked King about the Tweets. And King held a press conference, before the story even ran, to admit to the tweets and apologize for them.

There was immediate backlash at the Register, specifically targeting Calvin. People all over the state, including elected officials joined in the pile on, claiming King was the victim of the media. Calvin’s own bad Tweets were used against him. Calvin lost his job and had to move out of his apartment because of the death threats. (Read Calvin’s story here.)

When I saw the post with the screenshots of my tweets, I thought of Calvin. I thought of how he was targeted and lost his job. I’m sure that’s what is happening here.

This is the point. It’s the Trumpian playbook. Target a vulnerable journalist. Attack them. Discredit them. Fire up the base. It’s a deeply cynical political theater that engages in attacks in order to bolster it’s victim mentality. It’s a bad game when it puts people’s lives in danger and also, it’s not a game at all. My life and my career are not a game. You picked the wrong lady.

Destroying journalists to hype up your base is thoughtless, reckless, dangerous for the journalists and short sighted, because who is going to publish your op-eds when we are gone? Social media only works if you can drum up a base, but how do you get that base in the first place? When everyone in your aging party dies off, how do you replace them? How do you make your case?

The end game here is thoughtless, cynical, and callous.

But it also shows what’s happening on the ground in the middle of the country. It’s one thing when the President attacks the New York Times and they get more subscribers. They have resources. They have big names. But even they are skittish. And if Dean Baquet is skittish and placating, imagine how the editor of one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Iowa feels? My paper, we live and die by the small handful of subscribers we get a week. The Washington Post the New York Times, they aren’t the war. We are. Local news is the battleground for the heart and hope of America. And this battle is being fought by reporters who are poorly paid and constantly attacked and left out to dry for doing their jobs.

You want to know why does Steve King keep getting elected? Look at the circulation of the newspaper there. (By the way, the newspaper is great, I am not attacking them.) Who is watching the news? Who is reading it? Who is holding King accountable?

Honestly, I deserve a better enemy than the Iowa GOP. But if this is the fight they want, they picked the wrong person.

Also, a note: I chose not to name the person in this newsletter for many reasons. And I do not want anyone going to attack him or yell at him, it only feeds the victim mentality. So, please please please don’t go after him. THANK YOU!! I love you all. Have a good weekend.

Down with the GOP? You know me

The Fyre Fest of the Heartland

The story me and drunken friends yelled at a visitor one time

This weekend I had a housewarming party for my house. I was very worried no one would come. But I bought a dress off of Amazon that’s basically a nightgown, mixed up some boozy apple cider and chili and made my kids clean their rooms. I used to throw parties all the time. I love people. I love feeding them and shouting with them in my house. I love it when chicken wings get dipped in the chocolate fountain (RIP big dawg) and when I crawl under the table tipsy to whisper with my friends. My life hasn’t been like that in a while. But now in this house, in this place, I hope it will be.

One of the people who came to my housewarming party was ESTEEMED LA Times journalist, Matt Pearce. He was in town for some political event and it’s Iowa and we have one of those all the time. And he graciously stopped over for chili and to be shouted at by drunk strangers.

The story we told Matt that night was the best story Cedar Rapids has to offer, the story of the NewBo Evolve Festival aka the Fyre Festival of the Heartland. He tweeted about it the next day. Clearly impacted by the storytelling. But I thought I’d tell you the tale. But I want you to imagine me in what is probably a nightgown, eye makeup smeared, drinking a White Claw, and shouting THERE WUZ APPOSED TO BE A ZIP LINE at you while reclining on my green velvet couch, which I bought from WalMart DOT COM.

Let’s begin…

In 2018 marked 10 years since historic flooding devastated Cedar Rapids. The areas hit the hardest where downtown and two areas called NewBo, short for New Bohemia and Czech Village. The names are so derived because of a strong Czech heritage here in town. We have our Kolach festivals and everyone is very proud of Andy Warhol who came here one time. It’s very intense.

But 10 years after a flood and the NewBo area was roaring back to life. We had a market and shops, new restaurants, housing. It was fun. And it was time to celebrate and show what Cedar Rapids had to offer.

Enter GO Cedar Rapids GO. GO CR was basically a separate tourism entity designed to bring people to Cedar Rapids. They got grant money, sure, but they also got a lot of money from the city. GO CR came up with a bunch of fun things to do in town like a competition between local chefs. And, I’m told they got the state volleyball tournament here, which is big money. But that wasn’t enough and they decided to go big, be LEGENDS and get Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 to come to Cedar Rapids, for a festival that would be like SXSW, but really white, male, and expensive. $375 for festival tickets. Maybe $375 for tickets works in NEW YORK CITY, but here, shit. That’s a lot. Also, they were gonna block off access to the entire NewBo area without talking to residents or business owners. They wanted a zip line called the Cedar Screamer to run over the river. What could go wrong?

It’s important to note that this festival was also planned on the same weekend as two other large well established festivals in Iowa. Also, the population of our town is about 140,000. That’s it.

Everything went wrong. No one came.

I was contacted about a month before the festival to ask if I could get some more “diverse” writers to be part of the event. I said, only if you pay them Kelly Clarkson money and they didn’t respond. They wanted me to come, but I already had a vacation planned. And also, I was really concerned. I sent a letter to a couple city council people and some other people involved in planning asking about diversity, representation, how the festival would affect low income people in the area who couldn’t afford to go, but also were now trapped by the festivities.

“Don’t you want Cedar Rapids to succeed?” one woman asked me. “If you want it to succeed, help it, don’t criticize it.”

I left.

Here is what happened. Let me quote from an article by my colleague Brian Morelli, who is feared in this town as a journalist who actually does his job. He knows more about NewBo Evolve than anyone. Please contact him for all documentary needs. He should receive Kelly Clarkson money.

The Aug. 3-5 event received positive reviews, including from talent and city officials. But attendance was well below promises — 602 three-day passes sold out of 4,000 and 8,340 general admission concert tickets sold out of 22,000. Complimentary tickets amounted to 3,804.

The Zip line never was built.

Days after, the GO CR board of directors revealed the festival lost $2.3 million, organization President Aaron McCreight and community events director Scott Tallman had been fired, and the board had been misled about ticket sales, sponsorships and spending.

Numerous checks bounced, vendors were owed $800,000 and Bankers Trust was owed $1.5 million for a loan.

People are still owed money. Small businesses saw huge losses they will never recoup. The local theater lost tens of thousands of dollars. Everyone in town was hit. If Fyre Festival was notable for people defrauding rich people, well NewBo Evolve ripped off a town getting back on its feet and also John Waters who hates Cedar Rapids, more than any town in America.

Here is what John Waters had to say about his appearance at NewBo Evolve:

“I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and this is only the third time I’ve been ripped off, so I don’t like your city,” Waters said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Who would have thought the city of Cedar Rapids would have ripped me off? I’m not going back there and I’m going to tell anyone who asks not to go there.”

Aaron McCreight, the director of the festival recently found a new job in Alabama, where his new bosses told Brian Morelli that McCreight was a scapegoat. McCreight has only ever said this in his defense:

“We took a calculated risk that didn’t work. At the end of the day it was up to me to answer for that and I did. It’s not the first time an event failed and it won’t be the last time.”

We might not even have shouted the story to Matt that Saturday night if it weren’t for the cups. Over a year after the festival failed, thousands and thousands of blue plastic cups labeled “NewBo Evolve” ended up in a thrift store. Like little blue toxic ghosts.

The cups were donated anonymously to the religiously affiliated store. The owner wouldn’t indicate who had sent them, but did tell me one city council member had been in to buy some. I bought 40 and gave a bunch to my new boss and my coworkers, all of whom covered the disaster. I also have a bunch in my new home and I brought them out at the party that night, so we could #NeverForget.

ALSO

I’m still writing columns these days. You should read them.

Chemical warfare

My daughter strikes back

In early 2018, fed up with a boy in her class, my daughter engaged in chemical warfare. She was 6 at the time and her little life had just fallen apart. I had moved out of the house. And she didn’t understand what any of it meant.

And then, on top of all of that, there was a boy in her class who was bugging her. For now, we will call him Taylor and it’s clearly not his real name. My daughter is a rule follower. She invented toe-ing the line. If there is no line, she will create one. In pre-school she once refused to go to class one day because she said the teachers had yelled at her. Not understanding how that was possible, I called to ask what had happened. It turns out, some other kids in class had been purposefully putting toys in the wrong bins. Those kids had been reprimanded. My daughter overheard the reprimand and took it personally. “I can’t do anyfing wight!” she had wailed.

What I am trying to tell you is that to make her snap, well you have to really be trying. And honestly, the whole year, I’d been telling her just to fight back with this kid. Enough was enough. He’d shoved his hand up her shirt at one point. But she refused to even call him mean, because she insisted she had to do the right thing.

I’m not sure what made her break. Maybe it was one thing, that I cannot remember and I’ll learn later when she’s 23 and we are drinking wine and arguing over memories. Or maybe it was everything. The whole horrible year. Her life not in control. Maybe it was the one thing she could do to reassert herself. I don’t know.

What I do know is one afternoon, I picked her up from school and she pulled a small jar out of her backpack. I often save tiny bottles and little jars for her, because they are adorable and she likes them and uses them for her American Girl doll, which is also my American Girl doll that I handed down to her. This jar was one of those jars, but it was filled with what looked like gray and white down.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Cat hair,” she said.

“Why do you have a jar of cat hair?”

“Taylor is allergic to cats,” she said.

I kept driving.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

I couldn’t see her face. But I assumed it was resolute. Her still baby cheeks firm with righteousness. What happened was this. Taylor is allergic to cats. She had brought the jar to threaten him and maybe even put some on his desk. She told me her friend had explained that sometimes people can get seriously sick from allergies, so she never put any on his desk. But she did wave it in his face.

“I said to him, ‘Taylor don’t mess with me, I have cat hair!’” She explained.

“What did Taylor say?”

“He was scared enough,” she said.

There was a moment. A frantic moment when I had not idea what to say or what to do. Here she was fighting back, exactly like she needed to. But also it was dangerous and I didn’t know the extent of Taylor’s allergies (I learned later, not fatal, but still. Also, she didn’t know allergies could be fatal otherwise she never would have). I was so impressed, but also really worried.

“I don’t think we should do that again,” I said.

“I know mom, I don’t think I will need to.” Is what she told me.

This year, Taylor hasn’t bugged her at all.

I don’t tell many of my kids stories anymore. We are at the age when their stories are their stories, not mine. And maybe I might have been wrong to write so much about them in the beginning. I hope they can forgive me, I was lonely and they are exceptional. But I worry a lot about my kids. Like every parent. But I remember that moment, with the jar and about that little girl with the glasses that slip down her nose and the resolute cheeks and I think we are going to be okay.


Speaking of which…I’m dragging those delightful jerks with me to the Texas Book Festival. Here are the places I will be! I would LOVE TO MEET YOU! I have had a really good run of luck and have only met the best and nicest and smartest and most earnest people on my book stops. This is my last big stop before I take a break and gear up for BOOK NUMBER TWO OUT NEXT YEAR PLEASE KILL ME @($@%(*)@!%*

SATURDAY

PANEL: 11:15 AM - 12:00 PM

Faith and Feminism: Staying True to Self and Spirit

Capitol Extension Room E2.012 (1100 Congress Avenue)

BOOK SIGNING: 12:15PM Main Signing Tent presented by Texas Monthly.

SUNDAY

PANEL:  12:00 pm - 12:45 pm

Read. Think. Act. Exploring the Vital Role of University Press Publishing

Capitol Extension Room 1.016

1100 Congress Avenue, Austin TX

BOOK SIGNING: 4:15 PM Main Signing Tent presented by Texas Monthly.

Barring that. You can find me writing hot garbage for my local newspaper. Here is a bit of something I wrote after attending a “stop the madness” rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“Abby’s constituents don’t want this,” yelled Kaufmann. Meanwhile, across the street over 70 of Abby’s constituents held up signs saying “Impeach Trump!” It was a five to one ratio.

A protester who didn’t want to be identified told me she’s just upset that everyone else is upset. She’s mad the Democrats are mad. “But are you mad the president violated the constitution?” I asked. “You are missing the point,” she told me. She gestured to the protesters protesting her protest. “They are full of hate,” she said. “In Minneapolis protesters burned hats, in Des Moines a protester shouted over an elected official. It’s madness.” But what about Giuliani, I asked. What about the president? She turned to walk away. “You’re fake news,” she told me.

It’s the collapse of a dying star — logic folding in on itself. Anger over anger. Outrage over outrage. A demand to impeach over impeachment. Madness over madness. No mention of the thing itself.

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