One of the features/bugs of Gov. Phil Scott’s twice-weekly Covid-19 briefings is that a lot of reporters beyond The Usual Suspects get to participate. Sometimes this is a good thing; scribes from Vermont’s many local weeklies often ask solid questions.
And then there’s Steve Merrill aka “Steve from the Kingdom” and Guy Page, two hard-core right-wingers known for asking irrelevant questions that go nowhere.
Well, today they outdid themselves. Page brought a QAnon-inspired question to the party, and Merrill tried to provoke an argument with Scott. (Page and Merrill appeared back-to-back near the end of the briefing; Page begins around the 1 hour, 46 minute mark of the video, viewable at the above link.)
For those unfamiliar with the weedier patches of the Vermont media ecosystem, Page is a longtime fixture around the Statehouse and a genuinely nice guy. He used to lobby for nuclear power; now he’s kind of a one-man band of right-wing partisan journalism. He operates a couple of websites and, during legislative sessions, he produces an occasional newsletter.
Merrill is the volunteer host of a little-known and seldom-viewed talk show on NEK-TV, the Kingdom’s community access service. Which is enough to get them on the briefing list.
What follows is their “contribution” to today’s briefing.
“There’s a lot of social media buzz that QAnon predicts President Trump will declare martial law,” Page said. “If he does, will you cooperate?”
Scott chuckled. “I don’t believe that President Trump will be declaring martial law,” he said.
“Let’s say he does,” Page responded.
“I don’t want to play that game, Guy,” Scott said, “because I don’t believe it’s going to happen.”
“Okay, thank you,” Page said.
Glad we got that cleared up.
Next, Merrill strode up from the on-deck circle and let loose with a soliloquy.
Under the title, “there’s a few in every crowd,” in the fall of ’73 I went to a Grateful Dead show in Boston, and a bunch of people with tickets trashed the music hall, and the rest of us came out after a great concert and wound up being clubbed by police on horseback like baby seals. I watched that whole rally that they held, and the President had specifically asked for a peaceful and patriotic protest. So how can you blame someone — I mean, could you blame the Grateful Dead for putting on a concert? I mean, he didn’t specifically ask for violence.
Let’s pause for a moment and point out that if Merrill had really been clubbed like a baby seal, we wouldn ‘t have to put up with his bullshit. Anyway, let’s continue with the governor.
Yeah, he did. As far as I’m concerned he did. I mean, just take some of the comments he made, and Giuliani made, and Don, Jr. had made pre-rally. Um, I would say it was more than a rally, when they break down the barriers to the Capitol, break into the Capitol, break windows and overwhelm the Capitol Police, killing one officer in particular —
Merrill interrupts. “Oh, I saw it, I saw it.”
Scott: “So I’m not sure that’s a peaceful rally, and I don’t think those statements that [Trump] made were made until afterwards. Before, I didn’t hear that out of his mouth.”
Not the clearest of statements, but Scott is referring to Trump’s post-riot video asking his rioters to go home, reiterating his grievances with the election outcome, and concluding “We love you. You’re very special.”
Merrill: “I beg to disagree, but –“
Scott: “Why don’t you send me that clip where he did that before — “
Merrill tried to break in, but Scott finished his sentence: “before the rally.”
“If he has asked for violence, wouldn’t that be, like on, those clips be on teh news every night?” queried Merrill.
Scott had had just about enough. “I would advocate, Steve, watch the impeachment trial and some of those clips might come out.”
“Well, good for you,” said Merrill. “Uh, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”
“We will,” said Scott.
Now, I’ve been known to question the governor pretty aggressively, following up repeatedly if I think he’s obfuscating. But I don’t get sarcastic about it, and I don’t condescend.
For his part, the governor handled all this with his usual good cheer. But his face often revealed his exasperation with these batshit queries.
Some have asked why Page and Merrill are even allowed in the briefings, since they are not at all what we think of as credentialed media. Thing is, there’s really no such thing as “credentialed media,” and the lines have gotten much blurrier in recent years. If the governor’s press office wrote rules that excluded Page and Merrill, they’d probably exclude me as well.
So I think we’ll just have to tolerate them wasting a few minutes of the governor’s time on the regular. Treat it like you treat the presence of Emily Peyton or Cris Ericson at a debate.