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Dear Sponsors,

I want to thank you for not only taking the initiative to sponsor a panel on fake news, but also canceling the panel when you realized the event could no longer provide constructive dialogue.

From the onset, it was clear the Cal Poly College Republicans chose to invite panelists like blogger Bill Whittle and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulus to espouse their derogatory views more than weigh in on “fake news.” They were vastly unqualified to broach the subject. There are many nonpartisan media figures that could’ve discussed fake news, but College Republicans couldn’t come up with any.

According to a statement by College Republicans, they thought Yiannopoulus was “a victim of the fake news media.”

If victims of fake news media are considered qualified panelists, then you should consider me as a future panelist.

One of the event’s sponsors was the Cal Poly Department of Journalism. Oddly enough, a former member of the department’s faculty is an editor of a locally owned and operated fake news site CalCoastNews. For some reason, they also run another news site Cal Coast Times.

Bill Loving is the editor of CalCoastNews and has been during his tenure at Cal Poly when he taught media ethics.

When CalCoastNews was sued for defamation, Loving testified during their trial that as the site’s “gatekeeper,” he believed reporting — which they were being sued over — was accurate.

A unanimous jury disagreed and awarded the plaintiff $1.1 million in damages. Neither Loving nor CalCoastNews apologized for reporting deemed erroneous and defamatory by the court of law.

In light of their guilty verdict, the New Times reported their pattern of publishing defamatory was nothing new, having terrorized grieving families, residents, non-profit organizations and local businesses with accusations that were demonstrably false.

I reported on CalCoastNews’ controversial reporting practices for six years. As a result, their co-owner Karen Velie threatened my former employer and her family, me and my family. One of the threats she made was to write a story in order to humiliate my employer, who was running for Congress at the time. I consider that blackmail.

Since then, Velie published a series of articles and claims about me, falsely accusing me of being a “government troll” paid by a county supervisor, threatening one of her contributors with a firearm; impersonating her online; forgery; personally harassing children and grandchildren of CalCoastNews reporters; “cyber harassment” of CalCoastNews reporters; harassing CalCoastNews advertisers; calling on my followers to personally and physically “harm” her; being somehow involved in placing dead cats on her porch and poisoning her beloved family dog; stalking her at her home; falsely accusing my father of stalking her at her home; that “multiple people” have reported my “stalking” and “cyber harassment” to law enforcement; that I discussed tossing bleach into her daughter’s eyes.

In July last year, Velie attempted to file a restraining order on me after I politely asked her questions about the false allegations she wrote about me. She claimed I physically threatened her and her daughters inside the courthouse where I asked her questions; that I reportedly fled the courthouse with the bailiff chasing me. The bailiff couldn’t recall any of that happening.

The judge found no evidence that I stalked or harassed her, though he admonished me based on her tearful and perjured testimony.

As a result of her allegations, my family and I endured significant mental and physical anguish. I have applied for jobs only for potential employers to turn me down either because of her “reporting” on me or personal retaliation by Velie if she learned I was employed by them. When I found work, I had to keep my professional whereabouts anonymous. I’ve also been the recipient of many harassing messages and death threats from her readers. To this day, I continue to receive harassment from her supporters. Because she discussed purchasing a firearm in her restraining order filing to deal with incidents conjured by her wild imagination, I’ve had numerous conversations with law enforcement about her own behavior.

Recently, Velie filed a lawsuit against the same county supervisor she alleged was paying me to “troll” and falsely claimed I was his “business associate.”

Yes, I know a thing or two about fake news.

Yes, I have spoken up about it and will continue to do so with candor and transparency.

If you are interested in bringing back the idea of a fake news panel, please allow me to participate and set the truth free for my sake and everyone else’s. It’s time to bring integrity back to Cal Poly Journalism Dept. by discussing a fake news site their faculty helped enable.

Best regards,

Aaron Ochs

Hate Speech

I watched the Jan. 9 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting. What I saw was one-sided, hyperbolic and capricious partisanship aimed directly at one left-leaning board member.

On the first item of their meeting agenda, the board voted 3-2 to reappoint District 1 Supervisor John Peschong as chair and District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold as vice-chair. The vote came after public comment overwhelmingly opposed District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill for incoming chair.

Despite Peschong prefacing public comment by requesting no personal attacks from speakers, his fervent base went the opposite direction — and Peschong let them.

Starting off public comment was Los Osos resident Julie Tacker. She was one of the public commenters who opposed Hill’s chairmanship. After listening to Hill’s remarks, she asked, “Where is his responsibility in all of this?” The same question can be asked of Tacker, who was one of the earliest backers of an anonymous Facebook page called “Fire Adam Hill.” Page administrators bragged about spending thousands on an advertising campaign that accused Hill of paying his supporters and critics, including myself, to “troll” his critics. They plastered the faces of private citizens and critics on flyers and called for their arrest while notifying their employers and associations they belonged to.

Tacker called on the board to investigate Hill’s alleged misuse of county resources to “harass private citizens,” though she had no problem with one of her colleagues using county resources to harass me under the faulty guise that I “trolled” for Hill. No irony lost there.

One of the public comment speakers was T. Keith Gurnee, former principal of RRM design group, who used the board to appoint a chair out of merit, not habit. But for Gurnee, old habits die hard. Gurnee developed a reputation for penning critical editorials about Hill, at times openly bragging about his obsession with the supervisor and yearning for a confrontation. When that confrontation came and Hill accused him of having a homoerotic obsession, Gurnee wrote several editorials about that particular incident. I found it disingenuous for Gurnee to portray himself as the mild-mannered, garden variety victim of Hill’s behavior, given his own behavior and conflicts of interest. Gurnee’s wave of critical editorials appeared after Hill voted against one of his development projects in South County.

Following Tacker were several citizens who’ve historically issued politically charged public comment against liberals, progressives and their ideals — or what they assume their ideals are. That’s not to say their criticism against Hill’s behavior is unfounded, but the foundation for their dissent is undoubtedly cradled in partisanship. Many of these speakers promote ideologies, opinions and expressions often touted by President Donald Trump. It’s difficult to reconcile their tacit approval for a president who’s erratic behavior has reduced our country’s standing in the world while they express moral indignation over Hill complaining about the “bloviating foolishness” of a conservative political lobbyist.

Some of the commenters are active, vocal members of the North County Tea Party while others support the legislative agenda of Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB). So it was a curious sight to behold when San Luis Obispo resident and CalCoastNews contributor Dr. C. Hite — a self-proclaimed liberal — juxtaposed Hill’s remarks about COLAB’s lobbyist to Chinese anti-censorship protests. It’s definitely a stretch to compare a county supervisor’s critical remarks about a deeply partisan, public figure to a foreign government’s draconian censorship measures, but it’s certainly theatrical if not misguided.

From there, public comment speakers criticized the supervisor for “negative behavior,” but that criticism appears disingenuous when the same speakers took aim at “smoking wreckage of his personal life” or his mental state. Many of the speakers held the supervisor to a higher standard than they hold for themselves. While public officials should be setting the gold standard for decorum, there’s nothing to stop private citizens from striving to meet that standard.

There were speakers who opposed Hill because of his behavior toward women. This is a talking point commonly seen on CalCoastNews/Cal Coast Times, a website co-founded by Karen Velie, a conspiracy theorist who believes Hill is part of an elaborate effort to shut down her “investigative reporting.” Though she’s routinely failed to disclose that she’s suing Hill over her unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, Velie has alleged that Hill’s conduct is rooted in sexism.

To demonstrate this sexism, Velie pointed to Hill using the word “Svengali” to describe Peschong in a social media post, insinuating Hill used that term specifically in a misogynistic context. Velie apparently lifted that portion of her article and the screenshot of Hill’s post from COLAB’s Weekly Update newsletter, which was uploaded one day before she published her piece. On top of the pseudonymous comments she continues to leave on The Tribune, Velie’s obsessive and psychotic bias is well-known.

People should be free to criticize the conduct of people they elected to serve as their representatives, but that criticism should be a teaching moment for them and their own uncivil shortcomings. Prioritizing politics over personal accountability leads to one inevitable conclusion: our public process is being infected with poisonous, hyperpartisan trolling.

T. Keith Gurnee

I took two wonderful months off from writing columns.

For the most part, it’s been peaceful and quiet. I managed to clear my mind, read the news from a safe distance and focused on doing absolutely nothing except relax. I’ve had a rough couple of years, so it was nice to take a break from the daily drama.