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Quarrel at health-care reform rally with local news videographer in Jonesboro, Ark.

This will crosspost to my personal blog. Video to come, plus any replies I get.

To: Hatton Weeks, KAIT news director
CC: Keith Boles, reporter/photographer

Hatton and Keith,

I’m a health-care reform activist who had a squabble with Keith Boles in front of the federal building in Jonesboro today. I could have misread his press credentials, but if your Keith Boles is a somewhat overweight (as am I) middle-aged man with facial hair, then this is the same guy . Before I go on I want to acknowledge that Keith eventually apologized for what he said, but as an activist and journalist I feel obligated to report this incident to the KAIT news director, and to try to pick out why exactly Keith said what he said.

What happened: On Tuesday Wednesday members of the SEIU and Progressive Democrats were about to depart the noon rally for lunch sometime after 12:30 p.m., when Boles showed up and began to set up his camera on the lawn of the federal building. I was called back when another activist and I heard Boles say, "My wife is going to throw something at me tonight for covering this," and he then indicated that his wife works in the health industry. Hearing this disdain for health-care reform legislation — from a supposedly objective journalist — aggravated us activists, and we wanted to make sure Boles had the facts straight about this debate. Also, as a currently unemployed journalist who has three years of experience covering local news in Arkansas (In two weeks I start work on a masters in journalism at Ohio University), I took particular umbrage.

I asked Boles what his wife did for a living and what she stood to lose if a robust public option is passed through congress, and without answering my question Boles got in my face and told me to watch what I said about his wife, but I wasn’t saying anything ad hominem about his wife — I was merely asking what she did for a living. I asked him again what his wife did and what she stood to lose, and in reply Boles said "her job," before he folded up his tripod and walked away from the event. In turn, we called Boles a coward and began our chant of "Love thy neighbor; healthcare for all." Boles then turned around, set up his camera and got a wide shot of us chanting at him, in an expression of anger that he instigated. After getting his wide shot, he returned to our spot, apologized, and interviewed some of our volunteers. I left without confronting him any further, upon the advice of a fellow activist who didn’t want our event to lose media coverage.

But the confrontation concerns me. While on the clock as a supposedly dispassionate party, Boles entered the health-care reform debate and made a serious claim about our legislation. If Boles’ wife works as a pharma rep or a private insurance salesperson, I could see how she might fear for her job — since a robust public option will in fact displace about 5% of our nation’s GDP according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. I understand this fear, though I don’t apologize for supporting legislation that will offer affordable health-care to working citizens and which will, I promise you, create more jobs for nurses, EMTs, trainers and nutritionists.

If it’s indeed the case that Boles’ wife works for a pharmaceutical or health insurance firm, he shouldn’t have opened his mouth about it while covering a cause that in theory could threaten her livelihood. I’ve covered my share of organizations whom I don’t care for, but I’ve stayed quiet about it because that’s the professional thing to do. It exhibits a serious lack of craft on Boles’ part if he doesn’t understand this.

Furthermore, and here’s the important thing — if Boles’ wife doesn’t work for pharma or private insurance, but is actually a medical practitioner such as a nurse, doctor, or EMT, then fearing for her job security is illogical. A robust public option will provide doctors with more patients and thusly more business. More paying customers will warrant a need for more medical practitioners and though some pharmaceutical and private insurance representatives could suffer job loss, the actual health-care industry is due to experience considerable growth. This fact seems to be falling on some deaf ears in the course of our health-care debate.

Lastly, I don’t appreciate Boles’ smug tone. He made it seem like we riled-up activists were lucky to have our fringe cause covered by the local TV station — the same TV station which four years ago ran a slew of self-congratulatory stories about how our community stepped up and showed compassion to citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi who were forced to flee their hometowns with hats in hand after the federal government left many of their loved ones there to die, and many more to suffer. Republicans and moderate Democrats would have our government continue to look away from a far larger suffering population, but unfortunately for these politicians we won’t allow ourselves to be quarantined to the Ninth Ward. At the risk of coming off as smug myself, the issue of health-care reform is one of morality and civil liberty — not of economic number crunching, and opponents of this movement will one day look back in shame that they opposed human progress. Of course we deserve coverage.

So please, Mr. Boles, if you’re going to open your mouth — back it up. Tell me: What were you referring to when you made that remark about your wife? I want to make sure you have the facts in this important national debate. Being misinformed at this point is nothing to be embarrassed about, since we’re up against the most disgusting misinformation campaign in the history of modern propaganda. But don’t allow yourself to be played for a fool.


Daniel Doyle

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