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Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh, Media Critic

Fledgling media critic Les Baugh. From Facebook.

The following is an open letter in response to Shasta County District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh’s Dec. 23 Facebook post maligning my journalist colleagues Annelise Pierce and A News Café publisher Doni Chamberlain in a deliberate attempt to harm Pierce’s reputation and Chamberlain’s business. The behavior of this elected public official is so crass, I felt compelled to respond.

Dear Les,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I was wondering what I was going to write about this week when two days after Christmas I ran across your Dec. 23 Facebook post attacking the journalistic integrity of my colleagues Annelise Pierce and A News Café publisher Doni Chamberlain.

It may be the nicest gift I’ve ever been given by an elected public official, and I wanted to express my gratitude. It’s not often I’m granted the opportunity to give someone an education in journalism, especially someone with your stature. Thank you!

First of all, you posted your critique of Annelise’s recent essay, “Redding Cops Kill Again” at 9:52 p.m., so if you happened to be drinking at the time, I forgive you. People say stupid things on Facebook when they’re drunk, especially during the holidays. Believe me, I’ve been there. Apologize and take the post down, and you’ll be fine.

But I think it’s far more likely you’re one of those strait-laced sober guys, given you’re the pastor of Anderson Community Church, and also given your unceasing efforts over the past decade to ensure Shasta County collects as little tax revenue as possible from the medical and recreational marijuana industries.

If you were sober, Les, that’s problematic, because your post is the most uninformed, mean-spirited and dishonest attack on a journalist and a news outlet by an elected public official I’ve seen during my 30 years in journalism, including President Donald J. Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter. I dare say your words are not only un-American, they’re un-Christian. Punching down is never a good look.

Since you didn’t get the gist of Pierce’s essay, perhaps purposely, it concerns the euphemisms used by law enforcement PR officials when police officers in the line of duty shoot and kill civilians, and how they can shape media coverage of such fatal encounters. This is not a new topic; it has been covered by journalists and scholars nationwide for at least the past decade, here and here, for example.

The ubiquitous “officer-involved shooting,” which headlined the RPD press release reporting the latest civilian killed by a police officer in Shasta County two Sundays ago, and inspired Pierce’s article, is just such a euphemism. If you haven’t been counting Les, that’s five civilians killed by Shasta County law enforcement officers this year, and 38 since 2000.

Last April I wrote an article documenting fatal encounters with Shasta County law enforcement since 2000. At the time, Shasta County ranked No. 2 in the state for the number of civilians killed by police per capita. Obviously, this issue is of great concern to law enforcement and the community at large, and a worthy topic for Pierce’s journalistic skills, which are abundant.

Sadly, you lack such skills, and your attempted media critique goes wrong from the very beginning, with the headline, “Yellow journalism at it lowest.”

First of all, “yellow journalism” is a singular subject requiring the singular pronoun “its,” not “it.” Secondly, I’ll wager you know nothing about the origins of the term “yellow journalism,” nor do you understand that today it applies more to the media I’m guessing you consume—Fox News, right-wing talk radio, Drudge, don’t deny it—than it does A News Café. Like most folks in Hannityville, you probably believe “yellow journalism” is synonymous with “fake news,” which is synonymous with “news I don’t like.”

All in all, not an auspicious beginning. Thirty years ago, my journalism 101 professor would have flunked you right out of the gate.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Your first sentence mislabels Pierce’s essay as “sensationalism” and makes a fact-free claim that A News Café’s readership is declining. Surprisingly, considering the nationwide hostile environment local journalism currently exists in, A News Café had a great 2019, in no small part thanks to the addition of Pierce as one of its primary writers. Upon what did you base that comment, Les? Wishful thinking?

In your second sentence, you call my colleague Pierce’s work “cowardly,” which is rather bold talk for someone who, according to his own bio, never served in the military or in law enforcement. I’ve coined a phrase for politicians such as yourself who’ve never served yet who wrap themselves in the flag and pledge their unconditional fealty to the military and law enforcement, no matter how many civilians they kill: borrowed valor. You’re puffing yourself up like a banty rooster, but it’s all show.

Your third sentence, in which you say, “the author admits she doesn’t know a darn thing,” is classical right-wing evangelical projection. In other words, you’re talking about yourself. Remember, when you point your finger at someone else, you’re pointing three fingers back at you!

From Les’s Facebook page.

Then we get to your real problem, that Pierce used the word “kill,” which implies intent, in the headline of an article about the use of euphemisms by law enforcement public relations officials in so-called officer-involved shootings.

I get it, Les. You’re probably frightened by the idea that a law enforcement officer might intentionally take the life of another human being he or she perceived as a lethal threat. Kill them, in other words. Perhaps you should stick to pastoring.

Anyway, neither you nor the platoon of right-wing trolls you sicced on A News Café complained about the “Redding Record Searchlight” article concerning the same officer-involved shooting, which came out the day before Pierce’s story, titled, “Redding Police Officer Shoots and Kills Man.”

Incredibly, you ramble on with your bullying tirade. You repeat Pierce’s true claim that there’s no evidence because the killing just happened, then you accuse her of “hating cops” because there’s no evidence. This bogus assertion is circular in its reasoning, categorically untrue and potentially threatens Pierce’s well-being should she have to call upon law enforcement in the future. As we’ll see below, the sheriff already knows her name.

Proving my borrowed-valor hypothesis may be close to the mark in your case, you then put yourself in the shoes of the cop on the beat. It’s embarrassing, coming from a public official who’s never served. Listen to yourself:

“This lower-than-low, biased ‘editorial’ used enough disgusting words for people like me, who both admire and appreciate law enforcement and the tough job they face day-in, day-out, to speak up and declare this kind of tilted, rock-bottom reporting as beyond unacceptable.”

You’ve got to be kidding me, Les. Disgusting words for people like you? Rock bottom? That’s not Pierce’s department. It’s mine. I feel slighted! What are you campaigning for, fascist goober of the week? We have a winner!

Perhaps this is who Les gets his rhetorical ideas from? White House photo.

You end your Facebook diatribe with a link to Pierce’s article and instruct your followers to read it, for which I commend you. Some 328 people commented on your post; last time I checked, my comments were the last two. The post was shared 58 times! No doubt we gained more than a few new readers, thanks to your efforts. But in the interest of Christian charity, you could have stated it a little more nicely.

“Yes, I want you to read it as the LAST thing you ever read from @anewscafe. Shame on you Doni Chamberlain!” you wrote.

As much as I enjoy drinking the tears of crybaby conservative snowflakes, I’m not letting your attempt to torpedo A News Café go without comment, Les. You’re using the power of your elected office and your Facebook platforms to attack a hardworking local publisher and businesswoman, Doni Chamberlain, who through sheer tenacity has kept A News Café up-and-running for more than a dozen years, in your effort to silence any and all criticism of Shasta County’s ongoing epidemic of officer-involved shootings.

This behavior is not only un-American, it’s fascistic, a word I never use lightly. It’s right out of the Nazi playbook. Look it up, under Goebbels.

Furthermore, your vile character assassination of Pierce is not only fake news written by a ham-fisted amateur, as I have shown above, it’s profoundly un-Christian in its dishonesty and tone. You’re not seeking the truth, Les, you’re seeking power, like some sort of tinpot despot. Jesus would not be amused.

Granted, Les, there’s a high probability you don’t know what the heck you’re doing, and if that’s the case, again, you are forgiven. It’s also possible something deeper is going on here. I noticed that recently retired Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko commented directly about Pierce on your loathsome post.

“She was on the grand jury a couple of years ago,” wrote the man who lives in local infamy for not solving the Sherri Papini case before he left office. “You could tell she had an ax to grind with LE even then.”

This makes me think you and your ilk aren’t out to smear just journalists, but any citizen who volunteers for the Shasta County Grand Jury and participates in a report you disagree with. We’re treading deep in fascist waters now, Les.

Bosenko is correct in only one respect. Pierce did serve on the same Shasta County Grand Jury that in 2018 reported Shasta County officials may be mishandling millions of dollars in state prison realignment funding to balance the county budget. You and the other board members may have forgotten that report the second you unanimously dismissed it, but ProPublica recently mentioned it in an article titled, “California Gave Billions in Taxpayer Dollars to Improve Jails. But That’s Not How These Sheriffs Are Spending It.”

Here’s their take on the report:

“In Shasta County, for example, the civil grand jury — a group of volunteers that inspects parts of local government — said the sheriff’s office broke the rules when it tapped realignment cash instead of county funds to pay for its entire jail work-release program.”

Is that what this is all about, Les? I’m speculating, but it seems like you’re afraid someone might take a hard look at Shasta County’s books to see how you and your cohorts have been spending state law enforcement funds, right as the Board of Supervisors is rolling out a proposed one-cent public safety sales tax initiative in notoriously tax-averse Shasta County.

Good luck with that!

To conclude, Les, I again thank you for this unexpected gift during the holiday season. I’d like to appeal to your Christian nature, which presumably you have, being a pastor, and invite you to write in response to this open letter, which A News Café will publish gladly.

Don’t forget you owe Annelise Pierce and Doni Chamberlain a public apology. Trust me, you’ll feel better.

Happy New Year!

R.V.