The Alaska Republican Party held their biennial state convention last weekend in Anchorage. I was not a delegate this year but I was a delegate at the 2016 convention in Fairbanks and the 2008 convention in Anchorage. I also attended the crazy 2012 convention in Anchorage (not as a delegate). As conventions go, this year’s was relatively tame. Very few loose units and no wild protests of Senator Lisa Murkowski by far right folks. That happened in 2012, among other things.
The closing dinner on Saturday night featured speaker Liz Wheeler from One America News (OAN). If you haven’t watched OAN, it makes Fox News look moderate. Wheeler gave the kind of speech that you’d expect at a Republican dinner. She railed against the “liberal media”, put forth strategies on how to stand up against it, and complained about how unfair they are to Trump. She, of course, made sure to encourage the audience to watch her show and buy her book… The crowd really enjoyed it. I felt a lot of what she said was empty rhetoric that sounds good when you are in a T.V. studio or an echo chamber.
Like many political commentators, on both sides, Wheeler is good at shooting off talking points and not so good at being able to have complex discussions when presented with intelligent arguments. That requires knowledge and an open mind. It does not, however, get big ratings or sell books.
After her speech, she took questions from the audience. They were softballs asking about how to challenge the liberal media and how to defend support for Trump to liberal friends. I decided to ask a provocative question based on a comment she made during her speech. I wasn’t going to write about what happened after as it was a private event; that was until Suzanne Downing, the Alaska GOP mouthpiece who runs Must Read Alaska, who was also at the dinner, decided to write about it.
She wrote this in her Monday newsletter:
Suzanne did what she does best – lie to benefit her partisan agenda. So what really happened?
Wheeler’s speech included a bit/piece about the media coverage of Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong at the recent Winter Olympics. She said they gave her favorable coverage and ignored the atrocities that the North Korean government commits. She referenced the 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 by the North Koreans as an example of how bad their regime is.
She was right about one thing – North Korea is a bad place. The regime commits atrocities every day and its citizens are among the poorest in the world. You can see the distinct difference between North and South Korea in night-time satellite photos showing both countries. North Korea is practically pitch black while South Korea is full of lights. How do we know this? Because the media has done countless stories on North Korea’s economic and political problems. These include their horrendous prison camps, what happens to the family members of those who defect, and how most North Koreans are basically cut off from the outside world by their government. Wheeler forgot to mention that.
After the softball questions, I raised my hand. My question had come to mind when Wheeler mentioned the North Korean bombing of Flight 858 as an example of how evil the regime is. Having listened to her disdain for the media and empty talking points, coupled with a few drinks, I couldn’t resist messing with her a bit. After a few minutes with my hand up, the person with the mic came over to me. Side note, it was Mary Ann Pruitt, wife of Representative Lance Pruitt.
I reminded Wheeler that she’d mentioned the North Korean bombing of KAL Flight 858. I then asked what she thought about the United States Navy shooting down Iran Air Flight 655 (many in the audience booed). If you are not aware of this, the U.S. Navy accidentally shot down Flight 655 in 1988, thinking it was an F-14 (which we sold them in the 1970s before the Iranian Revolution). All 290 innocent people on board were killed. The jetliner was in Iranian air space and on course. This occurred seven months after Flight 858 was blown up by the North Koreans.
After the incident, Vice President George Bush told a crowd at a campaign rally, “I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are… I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”
In 1996, the U.S. agreed to pay over $130 million to settle the matter, though we have yet to formally apologize.
At first, Wheeler said she did not hear the question. So I repeated it. She then said she did not have any knowledge of the incident and could not provide an answer. She seemed quite bothered that I asked her a non-softball question, and especially one that she had no clue about. So she told me to send her an email about it. Not making that up.
Clearly, the two incidents aren’t the same thing. The North Korean one was malicious and planned, while the American one was an accident. An informed and educated person could have easily provided a good response. If she was armed with more than talking points, or was willing to have a brief discussion, she actually could have made me look quite dumb. Instead, she was bothered/flustered that someone would challenge her in a situation which she was not in control of, like on her T.V. show.
After her speech was over, I went to get a picture with her, like many others were doing. I was also going to suggest that she read up on Flight 655. As I was waiting to get a pic, someone whispered something in her ear. Then her bodyguard, who looked like he was all of 21 but definitely thought he was the man, went into crisis mode (someone told me her bodyguard is actually her little brother. Awesome). He went into wannabe secret service mode and whisked her out of the ballroom to a safe space. So much for standing up to the media, Liz.
I thought it was odd but didn’t think much else of it. Turns out it was about me! Apparently she was told I was some kind of liberal blogger who was going to try and mess with her. I have a good idea who told her but I am going to save that person the embarrassment and not list his name. For someone who preaches so much about standing up to the media, Liz sure ain’t one to practice what she preaches.
Some drama ensued and I was asked to go into the bar downstairs so Liz could come out of her safe space and finish earning that speaking fee. I found the whole thing quite funny because it could not have better highlighted the point I was trying to make. As I stated above, I was not going to write about this until my blogger buddy Suzanne Downing decided to do what she does best, make things up. The best part of what she wrote is when she referred to “the alleged U.S. downing of an Iranian passenger jet in 1988.” That about sums up how serious she should be taken.