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
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
Garcia said that he quietly walked away after writing his
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
"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
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,
"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.