Kathleen Kane didn’t take questions during a press conference yesterday in Philadelphia. That didn’t stop reporters from asking them.
In the middle of the embattled attorney general’s eight-minute speech at a press conference Tuesday at the National Constitution Center, The (Allentown) Morning Call‘s Steve Esack called out questions, and while Kane briefly paused as she read from her script, she completely ignored the veteran reporter.
“It’s my job to ask questions,” Esack said today. “I’m not there to be her audience.”
There was a live stream of Kane’s press conference when she announced the naming of a team to continue to investigate the pornographic and hateful emails passed around by judges, prosecutors and attorneys — the same emails her office uncovered and released in a piecemeal fashion over the last several months.
But if all you know about the strange, scripted, stilted affair was what you read in articles, saw on social media or watched on that live stream, you missed plenty.
1. The great interruption
This isn’t the first time Kathleen Kane called a press conference that, well, wasn’t. (Typically, at a “press conference,” the press … asks questions, and gets them answered.) In KaneLand, though, a “press conference” consists of Kane reading a statement directly into a camera lens and then walking off. Here’s how it went down yesterday in the middle of her statement:
Kane, looking out to the crowd: The discovery [of the emails] gives us, the people, a unique opportunity to see the problem, hidden away for many years, address the problem and progress as a unified commonwealth.
Steve Esack, who was sitting in the front row: Are you going to release more emails that the state Supreme Court…
Kane: But progress means change! These are people that are resisting change because it means to them a loss of power or perceived superiority.
Esack: Why not just release…
Kane: They can no longer bully their way to the top, take care of their allies while knocking down people who aren’t like them.
Esack said he was attempting to ask Kane about a recent court ruling that stated she was free to release emails to the public under the state Right to Know law. He wanted to know why her office is electing to spend $2 million on an investigation when she could, theoretically, just release the emails herself.
He never got his answer, but the question — unacknowledged by Kane, but clearly audible in the room — was appreciated.
“Thank God Steve… was there to try to interrupt her and make her answer questions. She, of course, ignored him and gave the same tired speech,” a reporter in attendance said of the gathering. “‘They’re all bad guys and I’m the good guy.’ It’s a giant, frustrating waste of time.”
2. Kane left without taking questions
This is the third time Kathleen Kane has held a press conference and not taken any questions. In 2013 in her second month in office, veteran reporters were stunned when the newly-elected public official called in the media to announce she was rejecting Gov. Tom Corbett’s lottery privatization contract. Instead, her spokesperson said she would only field questions via email.
It happened again in August not long after she was criminally charged for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information to The Daily News in order to embarrass a political enemy.
“It is really unusual for a really prominent public official to refuse to take any questions,” another reporter in attendance said. “Obviously she has a lot of issues going on. But it’s still not a typical thing to do.”
3. The house was stocked with Kane supporters
Again, press conferences are, typically, a chance for members of the media (acting as a proxy for you, the public) to ask questions of officials. At this level (as opposed to in Washington, D.C.) the “press” tends to be nonpartisan, independent representatives of daily, weekly or specialty newspapers, magazines, commercial TV stations, public broadcasters and news start-ups (HOLLA!). But many rows during yesterday’s “press conference” came stocked with Kane supporters who didn’t appear to work for a publisher of any stripe. And they were primed to express opinions.
They applauded her when she entered and when she left the stage. A few were muttering as reporters peppered Kane with questions. One man yelled out that she’s “a hero” for hiring a special prosecutor to investigate the racist and misogynistic emails.
Another raised his hand and said to special prosecutor Douglas Gansler (who did take questions): “Obviously we have a problem with the media in this state. There were emails released that they were getting spoon-fed by the judges. Are you going to look at those aspects or any media that could be in the tank here?”
Gansler awkwardly chuckled and responded “I’m not going on a witch hunt for the media.”
“But you won’t rule it out?” the man asked.
“The facts will go where the facts go.”
4. The Inexplicable NOW
After displaying a rotating slideshow that consisted of several minutes’ worth of porny, tasteless emails (more on that later), the first person to stand at the dais was Krishna Rami, of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women. She stood on stage and chided District Attorney Seth Williams for continuing to employ three men caught up in the Porngate storm.
When she was wrapping up, Esack said to her: “Does NOW have a comment about Kathleen Kane’s chief of staff who has been accused of fondling female coworkers?”
Clearly flustered, Rami said if anyone had questions, they should refer them to NOW via email. Fox 29 investigative reporter Jeff Cole chimed in: “Ma’am, are you suggesting that Williams knew about these emails before he hired these guys?”
She was shuffled off-stage by Kane’s press secretary Chuck Ardo. “Why no questions?” Cole asked. “Chuck, why no questions?”
Ardo responded: “She said you can submit questions.” Cole pressed on: “Aw, come on. It’s a press conference. Come on Chuck. It’s a press conference.” Another reporter then asked if the attorney general was planning on answering questions.
Then, she appeared on stage. And didn’t.
5. There was sexism on a big screen
Nothing like starting off your Tuesday morning with racist and misogynistic emails projected onto a massive screen in the National Constitution Center’s F.M. Kirby Auditorium. If you couldn’t tell from the photos, the screen is movie-size — some 25 feet tall.
The first few photos showed commentary that officials were apparently making about black teenage girls at prom. Then, on two separate occasions, actual pornographic material was shown on screen. One depicted a child touching the breasts of a woman laying down. Others literally praised alcohol alongside a picture of a passed out woman.
Here’s what the prom photos were like:
6. Doug Gansler is a man
After newly-appointed special prosecutor Gansler left the stage (to his credit, he answered questions!) a lot of things remained unexplained. Namely, what he would even be looking for. So Ardo came out onto the stage and took a few questions.
A reporter asked Ardo why Kane is just now announcing a special prosecutor to look further into the emails when they were discovered in the course of the Moulton Report — which was finished in June 2014, 18 months ago.
“Previous investigations so far were conducted by men,” Ardo said, “and she feels she has a different perspective than the others.”
Karen Langley from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pointed out: “But Gansler is a man…”
Ardo explained it away by saying that Gansler is now working under the Attorney General. So it’s different (?). Another reporter noted Gansler, though, is supposed to be independent of Kane and she can’t practice law anyway.
7. Hottest post-event take
Goes to the Philadelphia Daily News, which started its editorial with something reporters in the room might endorse:
“WITH ANY LUCK, we may never hear from Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Porngate ever again.”