By ED OCHS
Crushed in court, the CalCoast Crazies find comfort on the “Dave Congalton Show.”
When CalCoastNews, Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn were convicted of defamation on March 16 and ordered to pay Arroyo Grande businessman Charles Tenborg $1.1 million in damages, not all the guilty were present in the courtroom to hear the verdict and pay their fair share for playing their part. Most conspicuously absent was the one who worked the hardest to fan their flames, who put Velie and Blackburn together to form CalCoastNews, who promoted them and turned their libel into slander over the airwaves, spreading their lies to every corner of the county.
The day after the verdict, KVEC talk-radio host Dave Congalton – CalCoastNews co-founder and former contributing editor – something he doesn’t disclose on the air when he promotes them on his show – brought in Velie attorney James Duenow and Velie by phone to get their raw reactions to the verdict. The occasion served up a golden opportunity for Congalton to proclaim his undying support for the convicted defamers and rally the downhearted. What else could he do? He’s invested so heavily in Velie, emotionally if not financially, that even though she got caught red-handed, there was no turning back for the die-hard double-downer who had so faithfully and tirelessly churned Velie’s libel and attacked their common enemies over the air. Like Bill Loving, CalCoastNews editor who rubber-stamped Velie’s defamation and resigned his journalism professorship at Cal Poly, Congalton had escaped accountability by the skin of his teeth. Unlike Loving, though, Congalton wasn’t running from the mess he made; he was rolling in it like a pig in mud.
If Congalton has any conscience about how badly he failed Velie, any idea how badly he’s failed his job at KVEC serving two masters, he won’t show it publicly. He has too many other people to blame before he ever looks in the mirror at the one person who should have known better, who could have made a difference. On his March 17 show with Duenow and Velie, call-ins Keith Gurnee and Julie Tacker, a supremely arrogant and ignorant Congalton offered an 11-minute rant on Velie’s guilt versus, as Congalton sees it, her gifts.
“At the end of the day, what’s changed?” Congalton asked. “It’s not like Karen’s gonna have to pay any of that money. Karen doesn’t have anything. I know because I’m always buying her lunch. She has no money, so Mr. Tenborg isn’t going to get anything out of her.”
Aside from the crudity of publicly bragging about buying a woman’s lunch to confirm her poverty, Congalton takes solace in knowing Velie won’t be paying for her mistakes and never will, not now, not ever. Tenborg’s victory has sealed her game. But how, if Velie’s so comfortable with a lifestyle of taking handouts and living off of others to avoid paying for her mistakes, how will she ever really learn not to repeat them? It doesn’t bother Congalton at all that Velie uses her lack of income as yet another convenient shield to defame and avoid responsibility for her malicious handiwork. Congalton doesn’t buy all her food and drink. Velie continues to eat and pay her bills. She’s not as dreadfully penniless as she plays, as Congalton desperately tries to portray her.
Worse, not having to pay the consequences for the damage she’s done is nothing more than a license for her to continue her wicked ways – attacking her enemies with one-sided, half-baked, fact-starved, poisoned-tipped screeds that any real journalist would be ashamed to publish. Not Karen Velie. She’s haplessly addicted to impersonating a journalist. It’s the role of a lifetime. No matter what, she can’t stop writing badly. For Congalton, that’s the good-news silver-lining.
“CalCoastNews isn’t gonna shut down. People are not gonna stop advertising. People are certainty not going to stop reading it, and it’s gonna continue,” Congalton proclaimed. “Newspapers and websites … make mistakes and they have to pay for their mistakes, as they should, but you know what? Then they get back off the ground, they get back on the bicycle, and they keep going.”
Opining with 20/20 hindsight, however, Congalton admitted “Karen made a fundamental mistake. … I would have taken the article down” when Tenborg first objected to the article. “I would have kept this series going, because apparently this first article was just part of several articles to come. And for whatever reason, Karen and her attorneys made the decision not to touch the article and just to leave it alone. … Or at least (they should have) continued the reporting and address(ed) these concerns in future reporting. But you can’t have it both ways, and I can understand how a jury would have been bothered by that. So I think that that was a mistake.”
A million-dollar mistake.
Congalton encouraged Velie, “if she is indeed going to continue with CalCoastNews, to re-think her editorial process.” He mentioned that newspapers have people called copy editors and editors “who go over (the article) … and I think that Karen would benefit from that. Jeez, Karen, if you’re gonna play in the big leagues, you gotta be more careful… !” Unfortunately, CalCoastNews does have an editor. His name is Bill Loving and he didn’t do a very good job editing Velie’s Tenborg story or defending her on the witness stand.
“But make no mistake about it,” added Congalton, ringmaster of the circus that must go on. “On its worst day CalCoastNews is still better than anything else in town in terms of the type of subjects that Karen is covering… Maybe I’m wrong. Has the New Times investigated Mr. Tenborg and found him innocent of the charges? Has the Tribune? Has KSBY? Has KCBX? Because if the answer is no, then OK, what if Karen was even close to being right?”
Make no mistake about it: The jury’s unanimous verdict eliminated any and all doubt about Velie “even close to being right.” She was a Grand Canyon away from being close to right. If Congalton had just taken the time to get off his couch, if he truly cared enough to go to court and attend the trial of his dear friend, which he failed to do, he would have had all his questions answered, if the truth was what he was after, which it wasn’t. Instead, he moronically expects the Tribune to investigate proven-false claims made in a fabricated, libelous story written by two failed writers from a cannibalistic, extremist website. Why would any legit media waste their time going down that psychotic rabbit hole? Because the fake news site published a false and damaging story it couldn’t prove, and Congalton now wants the local media to do what CalCoastNews should have done in the first place: investigate? He would have been far more believable claiming that Tenborg’s attorney, James Wagstaffe, had somehow managed to hypnotize the jury.
“That does not excuse Karen if and when she is proven wrong – I’m not covering for Karen,” Congalton insisted, “but it’s just like, I’m with her. I’m sticking with her until you give me a better alternative, and I don’t see it out there. So on their worst day, Karen and Dan are still better than anything else we have in town when it comes to exposing the bad guys. And I agree with Jim Duenow that what this was really about are the bad guys trying to shut Karen up with a high-priced attorney from San Francisco. How did that come to be? I find that to be very curious.”
What’s curious is how little brain matter it takes to hold down a job as a talk-radio host in SLO County in 2017. Apparently, the job requires absolutely no talent or intelligence whatsoever. But credit Velie and Blackburn for exposing two of the worst “bad guys” in the county – Velie and Blackburn. On their worst day when, according to Congalton, they’re still the best reporters in town, they lost a $1.1 million-dollar defamation suit. So that “on their worst day” analogy doesn’t really work. Had he attended the trial instead being stupid on the air, all his nagging questions about who did what to whom would have been answered then and there. He wouldn’t have to be curious; he’d know. But he was too busy to support a dear old friend who was hanging herself on the witness stand. The answers would only have scared him anyway. He would have had to admit how wrong he’s been all this time, and that he enabled Velie rather than provide her the wise counsel expected from an adult and true friend, which led to her downfall. Had he shown a single strand of moral fiber, he could have saved her from the world of hurt the convicted liar finds herself in today. And he wouldn’t find himself in the situation he’s in today – having to apologize for being a total jerk.
“They’re trying to shut her up because of all the trouble she’s caused over the last eight years,” rails Congaton. “You tried to take away her grandchildren, and you’ve said some really disgusting things about her on the Internet, but she keeps going. You can do all this stuff to her, but she’s like that Terminator (sic) Rabbit commercial. She just keeps going and going and going.”
Looking to spread the blame for the verdict, Congalton wanted to know: Was it “some less than stellar lawyering on behalf of CalCoastNews”? That may or may not have some validity. But even if James Wagstaffe had represented Velie instead of Tenborg, he still couldn’t have conjured up evidence that simply didn’t exist. “I’m told, for example, that they really didn’t pursue a cross-examination of Charles Tenborg,” muttered Congalton in disbelief. “How do you not cross-examine the guy who brought the lawsuit?” Well, for those who weren’t paying attention, Tenborg was cross-examined, and Velie’s lawyers – good, bad or indifferent – couldn’t get much out of him apart from the dull truth.
“But at the end of the day this is squarely on Karen,” said Congalton in full, manic flip-flop mode. “It’s her reputation. A jury found that they were disappointed in her reporting on Tenborg, and I’m going to respect that decision. But I’m standing by Karen Velie, and I think that we all should until somebody else in the media steps forward and says, OK, we can do what she’s doing and we can do it better.”
There’s a lot Congalton doesn’t want to understand. He doesn’t understand what real investigative reporting is. He doesn’t understand the Journalists’ Code of Ethics, and he doesn’t understand that Velie and Blackburn got it flat-out wrong right off the bat in the very first article of the series they never rolled out. It was a lie from the beginning and no “future reporting” was ever going to make the lie become true, not unless the lie was corrected in that first story, which it wasn’t. That’s what the jury determined as they considered the verdict. But Congalton was right about one scary observation: CalCoastNews a/k/a Karen Velie is going to keep going. Not because there’s a genuine, insatiable demand for her pernicious brand of fake news, but because it’s all she knows how to do – pretend to be someone the jury ruled she wasn’t: a real reporter. She won’t stop because she can’t stop. Congalton accidentally explained it best: Velie is the “Terminator Rabbit.”
Does Congalton sound like someone who’s learned anything at all from what’s happened to Karen Velie and his role in bringing her down? Does Karen Velie act like someone who’s learned something from being exposed as a huge liar and paying the price most – except her – have to pay for lying so publicly and viciously?
Remarked Tenborg’s attorney, James Wagstaffe, after the trial: “[CalCoastNews] is not a newspaper; this is an online rag sheet that sensationalizes. And a local community can be terrorized by that activity. When there are false statements — I believe in the First Amendment, I believe in great investigative journalism. This was not that.”
When the jury announced its verdict at noon on March 16, convicting CalCoastNews, Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn of defamation for libeling Charles Tenborg, awarding him $1.1 million in damages, not all the guilty were present in the courtroom to hear a liar’s fate. One of the guiltiest and slimiest of the no-shows was three hours away from going on the air at KVEC to terrorize a community, because after 25 years rusting on the throne, it’s the only thing that old slanderer Congalton, the corrupt King of “Terror Town Radio,” really knows how to do well.