Mary Esch, a more than decent reporter from Associated Press (AP) did an infuriating thing earlier this week, treating Vera Scroggins, a foul-mouthed zealot and xenophobe with zero credibility as if she was some endearing grandmother figure speaking truth to power in a quixotic quest to halt fracking. Esch knows better, or should.
AP just ran a story by Mary Esch that portrays Vera Scroggins in what can only be described as flattering tones. This happens very regularly, unfortunately, as one supposed journalist after another falls for Vera’s play acting and gives credence to an individual who has none. A few minutes research on Bing or Google would have told Ms. Esch this in unmistakable terms, but she didn’t bother checking or she just didn’t care, neither of which reflects well on the quality of reporting on the subject of natural gas development and fracking.
Jim Willis, of Marcellus Drilling News, provided some great insight on this journalism fail:
Attempting to make heroes out of rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth anti-drillers from MDN’s neck of the woods (the Southern Tier of NY and Susquehanna County, PA), an AP article appearing on the USA Today website (and in numerous newspapers) begins this way:
Big energy companies have been trying for five years to tap the riches of the Marcellus Shale in southern New York, promising thousands of new jobs, economic salvation for a depressed region, and a cheap, abundant, clean-burning source of fuel close to power-hungry cities. But for all its political clout and financial prowess, the industry hasn’t been able to get its foot in the door.
One reason: Folks like Sue Rapp and Vera Scroggins are standing in the way.
Rapp, a family counselor in the Broome County town of Vestal, in the prime shale gas region near the Pennsylvania border, is intense and unrelenting in pressing her petitions. Scroggins — a retiree and grandmother who lives across the border in hilly northwestern Pennsylvania, where intensive gas development has been going on for five years — is gleefully confrontational. She happily posts videos of her skirmishes.
The anti-fracking movement has inspired a legion of people like Rapp and Scroggins— idiosyncratic true believers, many of them middle-aged women, who have made it the central mission of their lives to stop gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus region that underlies southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
This is a teachable moment. AP presents Vera Scroggins as a grandmotherly-type who is “gleefully confrontational.” Sounds kind of like your own straight-talking grandmother. Maybe even like Estelle Getty’s character Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls. Just a straight-talking, harmless, little old lady.
Here is the reality: Vera Scroggins is foul-mouthed and ill-tempered, as evidenced in this video she made “gleefully confronting” Phelim McAleer, creator of the excellent documentary FrackNation, as Phelim tried to ask questions of the clueless Yoko Ono and Susan Sarandon when they toured the Dimock, PA area to view “fracking devastation” first-hand:
This is the face of the anti-drilling movement. Unreasonable and extreme.
This is also why mainstream media is dying–they refuse to present the truth.
I could not agree more with Jim Willis. Here are the videos of Vera Scroggins in action:
Worse, these are just the most obvious examples of who this individual really is. She’s not just some “idiosyncratic true believer” but a long-time radical looking for any opportunity to espouse any cause whatsoever and get the kind of publicity Mary Esch just gave her. Vera Scroggins is one of those folks from the 1960’s who refused to grow up. She’s revels in being a perpetual teenager, as these messages (No.’s 952 and 953) regarding her involvement in the naturist movement demonstrate.
She also goes by the name of Vera Duerga and, occasionally, her birth name of Vera Otasevic. She once owned land in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, but subsequently sold it to a group calling itself the Shanti Temple, although Vera herself is a proud atheist. She lived, at last report, in Brackney, Pa. with her daughter. She spends enormous time on the internet engaging in discussions that are nothing less than revolting and hardly fit the template of the endearing Golden Girl portrait Mary Esch painted for everyone on the AP wire.
None of these would have any relevance, of course, if Esch weren’t selling an image of some cute, eccentric and harmless old lady who is part of the local community and just standing up to big oil. The truth is this; Vera’s only standing to get attention and the thrill of sticking her thumb in her neighbors’ eyes. Her most recent episode, where she blocked a fire exit in a movie theater where FrackNation was being shown and engaged in battle with the local fire police, is a perfect illustration.
She also loves the sleight of hand. Who can forget her little video of Craig Sautner telling the EPA to drink his water? Vera used a very short out-of-context clip to make it appear Sautner was simply challenging EPA representatives when, in fact, he was learning from EPA the only thing that made his water unsafe was his probably malfunctioning sewage system, a fact that turned him into a raging bull and caused the EPA to walk out. Fortunately, for all of us, Lisa Barr released a video showing the entire episode. It’s all chronicled here.
Then, there was the time she tried blaming an algae bloom on natural gas drilling and apparently told a New York State Senator that was the case long after learning the opposite, but he inadvertently set the record straight, which caused her to lecture him.
And, of course, there’s this:
There is more, much more, but anyone checking the links provided in this post will have no difficulty in sorting out who Vera Scroggins is. She’s anything but the woman Mary Esch made her out to be and that’s the point. Why is AP presenting such a distorted and ultimately sympathetic picture of an individual who has no credibility and engages in the worst sort of tactics to draw attention to herself? Why is Mary Esch enabling Vera Scroggins?
One hopes Jim’s desire to turn this into a teachable moment is realizable, but that requires some honest listening by the intended student. Mary Esch is a very capable reporter and a real journalist, but this was far from her finest hour. Indeed, it was one of her worst. The folks in Dimock are trying to tell her something. One wonder if she can hear them now.