The reason why I had that firsthand knowledge was after meeting with a lady in Page County who had been planning a lawsuit against the Trump administration. Here's the short story: I spoke with her, went and interviewed her, wrote an article about her, then it all fell apart and we never printed the article.
Note: I'm not mentioning her name in any of this. She asked for anonymity after the fact. From a journalistic standpoint, I don't have to give her that. She gave me information in an on-the-record interview and I have every right to print everything she said. But, I'm not for two reasons: 1) She mentioned that all of this publicity was causing issues with her son getting bullied in school and 2) She is "out there" to put it nicely and her ideas don't need any more publicity.
There was the short story. Here's the long story:
In early February of 2017, I was told by my editor, Randy, that he had received an email from a lady saying she was planning a lawsuit against the Trump administration. She lived in Page County. He forwarded me the email and told me to check into it -- see if she was credible and had something worth looking into.
The basis for her lawsuit was kind of a stretch, but I could see where she was going with it. It all started with the Trump administration's first attempt at the "Muslim Ban" legislation. An article in Politico noted that the Trump admin used members of the House Judiciary Committee to help craft the legislation. The members then signed a nondisclosure agreement saying that they would not talk about their work with the ban. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is Bob Goodlatte, the Congressman for Virginia's 6th District. The 6th District includes Page County, where that lady lives. She was basing her suit on the fact that Goodlatte cannot answer certain questions about the Muslim Ban because his committee members signed those NDA's and he cannot properly serve as her congressman because of that.
Here is a copy of the email. It's actually written to the writers of the Politico article, but she forwarded it to us like that. I made a few highlights and wrote some notes on there.
So, I read that and tried to figure things out. Then I called and talked to her for a few minutes one Friday afternoon. She was very happy that a media representative was reaching out to her and very eager to talk to me. We agreed to meet on Monday morning during Congressman Goodlatte's "Open House" event at the Luray Town Office.
A couple times a month, Congressman Goodlatte has a representative from his office show up in Luray and take questions and concerns from residents. Goodlatte never shows up to these. It's never a big deal and nobody ever goes. The way she was talking about it, she was implying that Goodlatte was going to be there. So, I figured that would be interesting.
Monday comes and I show up outside the town office, where we agreed to meet. I sit outside for about 15 minutes before I walk inside and find her already at the meeting. Oddly enough, there are like 20 people there. Of course, Bob Goodlatte is not there. It's a representative from his office, who seems very overwhelmed with the amount of angry people there.
She repeatedly tells them that she cannot answer any questions, nor can she speak for Goodlatte. All she was sent there to do was to take down questions and concerns and she will bring them to Goodlatte. The people there are asking when Goodlatte will make an appearance in Luray. She keeps sending them to his Facebook and website for his list of upcoming events. That's not enough for them. The lady I'm there to meet says that the group needs to decide on a date and if Goodlatte isn't there by then, they will go to his office and protest. Another lady randomly says March 15 -- aka the "Ides Of March" -- and that becomes the official "protest date."
At one point, I noticed an older couple got up and left. Shortly after, the police chief Bow Cook came into the room. He's very personable, and a cool guy, but I noticed his hello wasn't as "friendly" this time and he was acting a little differently. He was "being a cop." Those people who left had gone and said something about the "hostile environment" in there or something.
After the meeting is over, I try to speak to the representative. She won't comment on the record, but directs me to Beth Breeding, Goodlatte's director of communications, or whatever her official title is. I'm very familiar with her, as I get her weekly "Here's what Goodlatte has done lately" PR emails, and I've occasionally talked to her.
The group of 20 has narrowed down to about 10 and they walk across the street to Gathering Grounds, the coffee shop, as the lady wants to talk to them about possibly joining this lawsuit. I come with them. As I sit down, a couple of the people in the group take a few minutes to chastise me for an error I made in a recent article, then complain about every other problem they have with the Page News and Courier.
Some of the people there are wary to speak, since the reporter for the newspaper is sitting there. The lady who brought everybody there is very adamant that I should be a part of this. Since Trump was anti-press, she wanted to be super pro-press. They were hesitant to go on the record and speak and a couple were worried about what they had already said.
To explain what was going on, and to help them relax about everything, I said "Everything we've said before is officially off the record." I pulled out my voice recorder. "I'm going to sit this here and turn it on and ask some questions. Everything during that time will be on the record, and whoever wants to speak can."
That lady was the only one who answered any questions. I took all that information and walked back to my office. The newspaper came out every Wednesday, and the deadline for the article was Tuesday, late afternoon or early evening. It was presently Monday afternoon.
I reached out to Beth Breeding, to see if Goodlatte had any comments about the lawsuit or anything that had happened at the open house meeting earlier. Then I began sifting through all of the content I had and making sense of what she said and what was happening.
Randy and I had initially thought she had already filed the lawsuit. Once I found out it was still in the planning stages, the article went from "This is happening" to "Let's talk about what could possibly happen." It was no longer as important, but still something interesting that the residents of Page County should know about.
Here's the article. I blacked out every reference to her name.
I spent most of Monday afternoon and night working on that. It wasn't much and didn't say a whole lot in terms of what was really happening, but during the writing process I realized there wasn't really a whole lot to say.
The whole point of the article was basically "Lady thinks she can sue Trump administration, talks to a group of people about it."
By early Tuesday afternoon, I was basically done with that article and working on the other things I had for that week's paper. Randy calls me and asks if I've seen the email that lady sent both of us. He tells me to take a minute and read it, then come into his office and we're going to talk about it.
Here's the email:
I spent most of my Monday talking to her and writing about her, then she emails us to say that it turns out she can't file that lawsuit she was talking about, and she doesn't want to have her name in the article.
He was reading over my article, since he hadn't seen it yet. And, I was going over this email again. We were both stumped by this lady. She was so intense about getting all of this started and wanted all of this publicity, then within a day she no longer wanted anything to do with it.
I was taking notes on the paper about what we were going to do. We initially talked about holding the article for one week, but then decided to use the term "permanently on hold" and he wanted me to make sure when I talked to her to emphasize that if we chose to run the article that we would not do so anonymously.
I called her and left a voicemail. She called me back. She was cool with the not being anonymous part, since I made sure to emphasize the "permanently on hold" part.
We had our weekly staff meeting that Wednesday and talked more about the article. That's when we decided that we were never going to run it, because there was nothing there and it wasn't worth looking into further.
A couple weeks later, I had noticed the national trend of Republican elected officials skipping town hall events and their constituents getting upset with it. That was happening here in the 6th district. While some of those people weren't on board with that attempt at a lawsuit, they were all angry that Goodlatte wasn't showing up.
I suggested doing that as an article. I was told no. I was trying to explain that it was a national trend and this was our local tie to it. I think the thought in the room was that it would involve that lady again, and we wanted nothing to do with her.
So, the Page News and Courier didn't get to write about Goodlatte not showing up to the 6th District in February. The Washington Post wrote about it in April.
But yeah, that was an interesting couple days with an interesting lady. I have one other "never published" Page News and Courier article. It's not as interesting of a story, but maybe I'll tell it one day.