Column: ‘tis the season for silly photo ops

09/11/2015 9:00 AM |

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During my first year as a general assignment reporter here at Times Review, I asked what an editor meant when she used the expression “silly season.”

Nearly a decade later, I recognize this was a, well, silly question.

I soon learned all about silly season, the time of year when elected officials and others seeking office pull silly stunts in an effort to attract votes. The full story in these few months each year is often hidden behind some other narrative the candidates want out there. It’s our job at the newspaper to do our best to sift through the theatrics and present a clear picture of what’s really at stake with each election. This often means skipping the “photo op” press releases and stump speech events we are invited to.

Sometimes, however, it’s not always clear which events are being staged simply for good press before an election until after a reporter has been dispatched to the scene of the crime.

Sometimes you play it right and sometimes you get it wrong. In the past two weeks, we’ve done a little of both.

When we assigned a reporter to a press conference on efforts to raise money to renovate the Riverhead Town Animal Shelter on Tuesday we certainly didn’t anticipate that Denise Lucas, a recent News-Review Person of the Year and the driving force behind fundraising efforts to build a new shelter in town was not invited to the event. An email announcing the press conference stated that “Supervisor Sean Walter, the entire Riverhead Town Board, leadership of North Fork Animal Welfare League and other invited guests” would be on hand.

When the two reporters covering the event arrived, they took photos of Mr. Walter, North Fork Animal Welfare League board president Dennis McDermott and executive director Gillian Wood Pultz and town council members Jodi Giglio and Jim Wooten, both of whom were, like Mr. Walter, running in primaries two days later.

After the photos were taken, the reporters in attendance were asked if they have any questions. (Um, yeah, what are we doing here?)

The event ended precisely 6 minutes and 49 seconds later.

Ms. Lucas was acknowledged in remarks by Ms. Wood Pultz — but not by any of the Republican  elected officials — and she was briefly mentioned in our article.

The press conference was ultimately to announce that NFAWL is kicking off a $1 million fundraising campaign to relocate the shelter. It’s a worthy endeavor independent of Ms. Lucas’ Riverhead Move the Animal Shelter efforts, though the two are not mutually exclusive. Promoting any fundraising involving the animal shelter without involving Ms. Lucas at this point is like retiring a recent Yankee’s number and not inviting Derek Jeter.

Of course, the campaign drive could have been announced in the press release without the photo op being scheduled at all, thereby avoiding this whole controversy, but then again it is silly season, the time when awkward, self-serving photos are most often taken.

This wasn’t the only strange photo of the past couple weeks. On Aug. 31, we were invited to a check presentation taking place a few hours later at Community Action Southold Town.

The announcement stated that “The Town of Southold put a ban on events from June 1st to October 1st. On July 12th, prior to the ban, the Mighty North Fork Triathlon took place, raising $10,000 for CAST … EventPower is presenting CAST with this check.”

As a general rule, we avoid check presentations, so we did not attend the event, but I later saw a photo showing the check being presented to CAST board president Denis Noncarrow by Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

Mr. Russell, of course, helped lead the effort to “put a ban on events from June 1st to October 1st,” a move that will force the popular annual triathlon to either be held at a different time of year or to not happen at all. It just doesn’t seem all that appropriate to me for Mr. Russell, who is seeking re-election in November, to present the check in that particular photo.

I noticed a lot of East End locals were celebrating Tumbleweed Tuesday — the day after Labor Day, when the summer visitors return home — on social media this week. I did not participate in this particular celebration.

I’ll host my party on a day I like to call Wise Wednesday, the morning after Election Day, when the silliness is finally over.

The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 631-354-8046.

(Photo Credit: flickr, Ryan Johnson)

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