January 22nd, 2021

On Media

Yearbook scoopster: People are 'uniting in their hatred of Ralph Northam'

Erik Wemple

By Erik Wemple The Washington Post

Published Feb. 6, 2019

 Yearbook scoopster: People are 'uniting in their hatred of Ralph Northam'
Had a representative of the mainstream media corralled the huge story involving the racist page from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook, we can guess how they'd talk about the story:

"We confirmed the authenticity of the page, and we thought it was a newsworthy piece of information for Virginia residents. They can decide what conclusions to draw from the material."

The actual scoopster, Patrick Howley of the website, cares little for such bromides. "You're seeing conservatives and progressives and independents all over the country really uniting in their hatred of Ralph Northam, and I think that's a good thing for our country," said Howley, who serves as editor in chief of the site, in a WMAL radio interview on Monday. The source who tipped off Howley to the page - which contains a picture of one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit - was a "concerned citizen" who acted after Northam's controversial remarks last week regarding abortion. "This person wanted to bring this information to me and said, 'Please expose this man,' and we did," said Howley in the radio interview.

In an uneven performance at a Saturday news conference, Northam addressed the provenance of the story that threatens to vault him from office: "I don't ever want to judge someone's intent but it is perhaps coincidental. I guess most accurately is to probably ask the person. I've heard kind of secondhand from that person why he did this, but I would rather it come from you, but there was an agenda involved," Northam told a reporter. Asked about that comment, Howley didn't show much reportorial restraint: "It's hard to understand him because he might have been drunk in that press conference, it was the worst press conference I've ever seen."

Fair assessment: The press conference gave those calling for Northam's resignation further grounds for their appeals. In that session, Northam mentioned that he'd worn blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance contest in the 1980s. "It is because my memory of that episode is so vivid that I truly do not believe I am in that picture in my yearbook," Northam told reporters.

At one point, CBS News reporter Ed O'Keefe asked Northam whether he could still do Jackson's "moonwalk." Rather than tell O'Keefe that he was entertaining only serious questions, Northam began surveying his immediate surroundings, as if scouting a hard, shiny surface on which to pulse his lower extremities. It wasn't until his wife, Pam Northam, uttered the phrase "inappropriate circumstances" that the governor appeared to ditch his whims.

As O'Keefe said in a CBSN interview on Monday, he asked other, more conventional questions in the press conference. But it was the governor's fixation on dancing that drew the inquiry. "He kept bringing it up," said O'Keefe.

The result of all this? We know far more about Ralph Northam than we ever did, and we owe it all to people with an "agenda," to borrow the governor's word. Sure, Howley's source had an agenda. Howley, too, has a certain worldview. When he was at the Daily Caller, he wrote some misogynistic things on Twitter about a female peer. He was suspended from Breitbart for doubting the account of a female co-worker who'd alleged that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had forcefully grabbed her. As for the leanings of, here's The Post's Paul Farhi:

"Big League Politics's co-owners include Noel Fritsch, a consultant who worked for the campaign of Corey Stewart, a conservative, neo-Confederate sympathizer who unsuccessfully challenged Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, D, for his seat last year, and Reilly O'Neal, another consultant who worked for Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate who accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

"In its short existence, the website has reliably boosted Trump, attacked Democrats and liberal figures and written many articles promoting a discredited conspiracy theory popular among far-right conservatives about the murder of a young Democratic National Committee staffer named Seth Rich in 2016."

Talk about agendas.

But people don't need to embrace Howley's past conduct or his ideological leanings in order to reckon with the information he unearthed. And everyone can continue scratching their heads as to why his source apparently didn't howl about the yearbook page back in 2017, when Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor's race. Sources, it turns out, don't think like political strategists.

Asked to comment about this stuff, Howley hung up after citing my coverage of Daily Caller co-founder and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. "I've seen things you've done . . . you're not a fair reporter."

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