‘Roshomon,’ or who said what to whom? | TheUnion.com

‘Roshomon,’ or who said what to whom?

Richard Somerville

The issue of whether The Union should continue to try – within limits – to allow a free-flowing exchange of ideas on the Opinion Page took on some added relevance in the past week. Recent events have highlighted instances where people have made it clear that they do not want some ideas or views to see the light of day.

One example, the Quaker meeting episode, is the subject of The Union’s editorial today. An innocuous three-paragraph notice about a meeting to discuss alternatives to military service led to a community uproar.

The office of the county superintendent of schools has two meeting rooms that are used by all sorts of nonprofit community groups, and Terry McAteer, the superintendent, until now hasn’t worried too much about the users’ agendas, only that the dirty coffee cups be thrown in the trash.

This time, though, the reaction he got, thanks to The Union’s notice, made him so fearful that he called the organizer of the meeting and asked him to move things elsewhere on that day. Although McAteer could not say that specific violent acts were threatened, the calls were so “off the chart” that he feared for the safety of his staff and offices.

He didn’t call police because of fear of inflaming the situation, he said, instead turning up at the meeting site on Saturday with his wife, who brought a cell phone in case a 911 call had to be made in a hurry. Nothing happened, however. The meeting was held in the park, and the Republicans were mollified.

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The anti-Bush/anti-war backlash was just getting started, however, with e-mails flying around asking about rumors – repeated on KVMR – that Republicans had threatened to “beat the (expletive deleted)” out of McAteer.

KVMR tipped me that in an interview with Mike Thornton to be aired Thursday morning, McAteer was going to blame The Union for the whole mess, in case I wanted to offer my reaction. In fact, the superintendent did say The Union had “twisted” facts and inflamed the situation, which led to some angry calls to me. (I did not go to the park, however.)

Later, McAteer told me he was just repeating what the meeting organizer, Steve Weiss, told him. When we asked Weiss, however, he said our story was accurate.

Meanwhile, Republican chair Tony Gilchrease, who started the whole thing, was basking in the positive response he got for standing up to the Quakers, although he was a little ticked at The Union for not quoting from an e-mail where he responded to questions from the media about whether he made physical threats against McAteer. So here, for the record, is what he wrote:

“Terry is a Republican and I had not seen him in two months since he had spoken at our Republican Central Committee meeting.”

(This whole episode is a little like the movie “Roshomon.” Everyone has a different take on what happened.)

Gilchrease also may be as worn out from the controversy as McAteer, because he added in his e-mail: “Should anyone on the Central Committee want my resignation, please, please ask!”


The other faction The Union has been hearing from in the past week are the haters of Drew Bedwell, who is resigning from the Board of Supervisors as of Tuesday to seek treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease.

After his announcement, The Union ran a story and editorial that noted how Bedwell rose to power as leader of a property rights movement opposed to a county environmental study called Natural Heritage 2020. We thought it was worth noting his impact on the county political scene, which undeniably has been considerable, if not without controversy.

Concerns for freedom of speech – so important for some in the Quaker episode – were conveniently set aside in this case. Some responses (anonymous, of course) that we received:

• “Enough with the phony, sappy good things to say about Drew Bedwell now that he is dying. If this happened to one of his “foes” he would be dancing a jig in the streets. He is a wretched man filled with so much hate and venom that he was rotting away on the inside from his own doing. …” (There was a lot more, and worse. But regarding hate and venom, this writer would do well to check his or her own innards.)

• “I hope we don’t have to see any more stories about Bidwell [sic]. It’s repulsive, and if that continues, I’m going to cancel my subscription.”

• “I’m sick and tired of seeing his ugly face on the front page of our paper. I don’t agree with his policies, and that’s enough. I’ve never seen anybody else get as much coverage.”

• “I’ve been reading your Bedwell lies. He’s obnoxious. Why do you keep giving him kudos? He only beat the other guy by 16 votes; why not feature the other guy, whatever his name is? This is getting to be a real rag when I get my paper and see this little fat-faced gnome. ‘Bedwell’s death,’ that would be a nice headline.”

• “My husband and I are deeply saddened and quite disappointed in The Union for this story about what should be a nonpartisan seat. Bedwell has caused the people of Nevada County an enormous amount of grief. Why don’t you feature those who voted against Drew Bedwell? Has it occurred to you that his problems with cancer have been brought about by his negative attitude?”

How people are able to walk around carrying such a load of hate, I don’t know.

Anyway, I was going to share a few more comments about our letters policy, but I’m too depressed. We’ll follow up on that after the holiday.


Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears each Saturday.

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