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TV reporter tees off: Gay activist leaves Reagan inscription that prompts confrontation with reporter


Washington Blade - June 25, 2004

What began as an assignment to cover a memorial ceremony for Ronald Reagan at the Illinois Capitol turned personal when a television reporter disagreed with sentiments expressed by a gay activist and confronted him.

Media reports that followed the June 11 encounter between the reporter and activist described a screaming match laden with insults, but Julie Staley, the WICS-TV reporter, claims she approached Rick Garcia, political director for gay advocacy group Equality Illinois, in a "matter-of-fact" manner.

"It was much more benign than the way it was presented," Staley said in an interview this week. "There was no yelling. There was no screaming." But Garcia remembers the tiff differently.

"Halfway across the rotunda, she screeched," Garcia said. "She said, 'You are classless. You are tasteless. How could you do this? Buddy, you are a loser.'" Garcia entered the Capitol rotunda shortly after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ceremoniously signed a memorial book that will eventually be donated to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

"I see the huge display of Ronald Reagan," Garcia said. "There was a cameraman filming a man and his two kids who were writing things, and I thought 'Oh, I have a memory.'" Garcia proceeded to the memorial book and wrote his recollection of the former president as a man who did nothing to stop thousands of people from dying of AIDS.

"My memory of President Ronald Reagan: Thousands of American men, women and children were dying from HIV and AIDS during his administration. The president did nothing. The president said nothing. Not until the very end of his second term was he even able to utter the word 'AIDS.' Reagan's silence and his administration's policies contributed to the suffering and dying of thousands of men, women and children," Garcia wrote in the book.

Garcia said that he quietly walked away after writing his inscription.

Staley stood next in line with her camera operator so she could leave her own message in the memory book.

She doesn't recall exactly what she wrote, only that it was two or three sentences, "pretty generic," and told the deceased former president that she loved him, she said.

But after reading the inscription left by Garcia, she confronted him.

"We were obviously reacting negatively to it," Staley said. "But we were matter-of-fact about it, like 'Why did you do this?'" Staley said that the camera was not taping and she was on her lunch break when she signed the book and confronted Garcia.

Garcia said Staley's camera operator and a security officer insulted him verbally. He called WICS-TV to lodge a complaint against Staley, but the station stood by its reporter in an interview with the Chicago Reader.

"Why does [Garcia] consider it all right for him to express his opinion but not her?" Susan Finzen, WICS news director, told the Chicago newspaper.

The station has not returned Garcia's phone calls and did not respond to interview requests from the Blade.

Garcia contends that Staley should remain neutral, an argument that has merit, according to Al Tompkins, a media expert at the Poynter Institute, a school for working journalists in Florida.

Reporters should not allow their personal biases to be publicly identifiable, and in Staley's case, she could have recognized Garcia's memory as newsworthy instead of taking a personal stand, Tompkins said.

"It might have been reportable that it was not all one big love fest, but that protesters, who protested Reagan in life, still came to this place to protest him in death, too," Tompkins said.


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Information in this article was accurate in June 25, 2004. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.