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I hate to get crude, of course, but sometimes the right analogy is indelicate: the recent denials by Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President Todd Ament that the Chamber has anything whatsoever to do with Matt Cunningham’s AnaheimBlog.net website remind me of arguments that I have heard at times from women and men engaged in the sex trade (or some more legal but morally similar equivalents, such as when an extramarital girlfriend is set up with her own apartment and credit card — and, in the old days, a pager.)
These arguments are along the lines of the clients of (or the “vendors” in) a illicit massage parlor saying: “I am (or he is) only paying for the massage.”
If that “massage” culminates in a “happy ending,” why, that’s just a free and unrelated post-massage add-on — a separate voluntary interaction between consenting adults rather than a commercial transaction itself — and it’s therefore legal and no more immoral than any other sexual activity between adults. (Besides, the “masseuse” wasn’t paid; the client just happened to leave some money on the dresser!)
(Note: I’m not specifying what I mean by “happy ending” because some of the innocent children watching Fox News at 9 p.m. that Megyn Kelly wants to reassure that “Santa Claus just is white” may also be reading this blog.)
So with that metaphor in mind, let’s look at some of the statements that have recently been made about the relationship — or purported lack thereof — between the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and AnaheimBlog.net — the latter not to be confused (except inevitably) with the City of Anaheim’s anaheim.net website.
Now that the story has gone (mildly) national, the hometown Register has picked up on it.
Cunningham is a longtime Republican operative and considered part of Anaheim’s power structure. He was deputy press secretary for former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, when Pringle was State Assembly speaker, and he worked on Rep. Darrell Issa’s, R-Vista, first campaign for Congress.
In 2004, Cunningham launched OC Blog, which is now defunct but was the premier county blog for Republicans for several years. His current blog, anaheimblog.net, focuses on “city government, candidates and campaigns, issues and events, moving and shaking.”
Cunningham also consults for the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, which is a major player in the current political power structure. Some media reports linked the chamber to the blog. On Wednesday, the chamber issued a statement saying it didn’t own or control the website, but that it works with Cunningham on other communications projects.
“While we also believe that this post was insensitive,” Chamber President Todd Ament wrote, “Mr. Cunningham has since apologized for the post and removed it. At this time, we will continue to engage his professional services on unrelated matters.”
Cunningham’s wife, Laura, is also active in Republican politics and has served as executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County. She is also a Mexican immigrant, Cunningham noted.
I will probably follow up on this in time (or maybe OJB’s friends Cynthia Ward and Jason Young will be able to recite the facts from memory in comments), but Cunningham didn’t used to blog much about Anaheim. Anaheimblog.net was set up relatively recently — and, in appears to many of us observers, at right around the time when Cunningham started doing work for the Chamber. That the website does the PR work of the Chamber — and of the Pringle Ring that controls the Council majority until and unless Councilmembers Kring and Eastman (or, sigh, Brandman) wise up to the inevitable political price – should be beyond rebuttal. (Go ahead, guys, make us prove it.)
So what exactly is the argument of Cunningham and Ament here? Is it that Cunningham got a contract from the Chamber to do something else and coincidentally started and ran his Anaheim blog, running the views of Pringle and Ament through his site like a pressure hose? Did the Chamber not realize that he was doing this? If they were not involved, did they ever say “hey, buddy, maybe while you’re under contract with us you should ease up, because what you’re doing there could easily be misconstrued as coming from us”? Was Cunningham just acting out of sudden but heartfelt love for the Chamber, not because they were paying him, but because he just appreciated how great they were?
Or was Cunningham going to be “paid for the massage” so long as the Chamber (and those funneling money through it) were, um, “satisfied by the end”? Did he know that he had to perform as desired to obtain return business?
Well, let’s see what people have had to say.
Jason Young was blunt and to the point:
“Todd Ament is a liar. Matt is paid by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to write AnaheimBlog.net.”
His critics will say that Young can’t prove that. Well, if he can prove that Cunningham was hired (even if only for a message massage) and that he keeps providing the Chamber stories with happy endings, then we just have to ask the question of what we think the evidence suggests. Proof, even in criminal prosecutions, need not be 100%.
Cunningham himself isn’t quoted in the Register article addressing this question, but in comments he offers his exculpatory apology:
Matthew Cunningham · Top Commenter · Principal at Pacific Strategies
I appreciate the opportunity to talk to Mike Reicher about what happened, and express my apologies for any hurt my post has caused to anyone. Even though that was absolutely not my intent, feelings were clearly hurt nonetheless, independently of anyone’s politics, and for that I am sorry. I understand the pain of losing a family member, and the loss of a child must be the most inconsolable of all, and I sincerely wish I’d had more awareness when writing the post. I have four children, and cannot imagine losing any of them. I’m sure it’s the same for any parent, no matter the circumstances of the death or the path of decisions made and not made that led to it. But I had absolutely no intent or thought of diminishing anyone’s grief or loss.
As a clarification: there might have been a miscommunication when I spoke to Mr. Reicher, but contrary to the how the article can be read, I didn’t do anything to the teddy bear, but found it as it was. Also, in the post I did not “liken the bear to racially charged police shootings” or make “light of activists’ responses.” But again, I see now how someone could take it that way – which is why I removed the post and would again like to apologize.
This suggests that Cunningham still doesn’t get what he did.
He didn’t just innocently and inadvertently trigger the grieving mothers’ memories of “the pain of losing a child” (although he certainly did that too.) He also visually likened the corpses on the streets of Anaheim to toy brown bears with the stuffing spilling onto the street. (What was the bear to represent if not a victim of violence? And if it wasn’t police violence in his story, why have Dr. Jose Moreno come out to talk about it? And how was that NOT “making light of activists’ responses”?) And in one picture — the one with the candles — he went out of his way to evoke the culturally predominant mourning rituals of the affected community.
But beyond that — sorry, I can’t help myself — the three photos without the candles prove that someone did do something to the bear, apparently prior to Cunningham’s shopping trip for hilarious candles of mourning. Take a look at the Voice of OC story, under the “Why This Post Is Gone” message, at the trio of photos. In the one on the right, the bear in perched on the ledge of a planter. (Somewhat precariously, it seems to me, given its apparent center of gravity — suggesting that it was placed there deliberately.) Now either this happened before the other pictures or after. If before, how did the bear get down onto the ground? If it happened after, how did the bear get onto the ledge?
I hate to accuse Matt of being parsimonious with the truth, but the phrase “I didn’t do anything to the teddy bear, but found it as it was” suggests an easy explanation: Matt had at least one accomplice. Some commenters have already suggested that the Anaheim Police may have been involved — perhaps upset at Theresa Smith’s memorial for her son Cesar Cruz the previous day. If one of them put the bear there and then told Matt to show up — regardless of whether such an appointment had been previously planned — then Matt himself “found it as it was.” And if someone else moved the bear around for him, or for their own purposes but allowing him to take the different shots, then he can accurately say “I didn’t do anything to the teddy bear.”
This is technically accurate — just as it’s true that if someone leaves cash on a dresser and then after a transaction another person picks it up (and, if I have this procedure wrong, pardon my lack of direct knowledge of how such things work) then the first person can accurately state that the other person “never gave them money” — but it’s not honest. In court, witnesses are told to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” That’s what Cunningham should do now. The whole story, leaving nothing relevant out, of how this situation came about — including whether anyone planned it and anyone else participated in it.
Finally, let’s take a look at what Cynthia Ward had to say in a comment to Gustavo Arellano’s story on Cunningham. (Gustavo’s story itself can be boiled down to the following excerpt: “May this episode show Orange County once and for all what we’ve been saying for years: Matty Cunningham is a powerless wuss who folds like the wuss that he is the moment anyone challenges him.”) Cynthia transcended wuss-baiting:
I would suggest sharing your thoughts on this issue with those who employ him. The Chamber of Commerce is run by CEO/President Todd Ament, and if you think Matt Cunningham is a bully you should see the guy who signs those checks. Pure evil open to anything for a buck. Todd Ament answers to a Board of Directors who run the non-profit organization, thus far they have looked the other way, I assume Todd produces something of value, not sure what yet, his leadership drops the Chamber further into the red with each passing year, including a six-figure tab for unpaid payroll taxes. If you discover what Todd or Matt bring to the table in terms of benefit to the Chamber let me know. In the meantime, you may send your thoughts, prayers, poems, to the Board of Directors at the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, 201 E. Center Street Anaheim CA 92805 or anaheimchamber.org but I suspect they go straight to Todd and I have no reason to believe he will pass along those messages to the board, where mail is harder to stash.
Should you wonder where a flat-on-their-ass-broke Chamber of Commerce gets the scratch to pay Matt to fund Suite C, as a non-profit they are not required to disclose donors, but we do know their benefactors that make up the Anaheim City Council majority are very good at inventing little make-work projects for the Chamber at inflated price tags. Yep, there is a fairly good chance that if you are an Anaheim resident or business owner it is YOUR tax money that eventually worms its way into the bank account of the scum-bucket who finds it humorous to mock the mourning customs of Latino families one day after a candlelight vigil was held at Anaheim PD in memory of the shooting death of Cesar Cruz. Cesar’s Mom, Theresa Smith, was at Council tonight with Donna Acevedo, mother of Joel, whose shooting death helped spark the “unrest” in July 2012. Both mothers spoke about the mocking of their sons’ deaths and their own pain and mourning in the loss of their children, Theresa held up a photo of her son on a coroner’s slab, along with the teddy bear screen shot. You wanna talk about being ashamed to be part of the same human race as Cunningham in that brief moment, it was AWFUL some of us openly weeping in Council Chambers…and while Gail Eastman expressed sorrow that the women endured that loss not one of them addresses the issue of the Chamber funding this crap, much less that the biggest funding source for Matt’s employer is the City Council themselves. Accountability? Nope, just whining about how we don’t offer them civility and respect when we come groveling to them from the podium. I have spent the last few days needing to scream or vomit, or both.
As it happens, I spoke just before Theresa Smith, finishing just as Cynthia arrived at the meeting, and in that speech I suggested that the Council majority address this very question of Chamber funding for Cunningham’s blog. None did. Gail Eastman, in fact, said that she has never read it. Maybe if she does, this long-time etiquette advocate and her critics will be able to find some common ground.
(Oh, and a special message to Matt: even someone married to a Latina may do something mind-bogglingly racist. Your or your spouse’s ethnicity doesn’t mean that you won’t do something like that; it just means that you really ought to know better.)