No (SLO) County for Old Men

T. Keith Gurnee (left) and Daniel Blackburn (right)

Aaron Ochs is the author of “Defamers: How Fake News Terrorized a Community & Those Who Dared to Fight It,” a nonfiction uncovering the defamatory, deceptive and criminal practices of online tabloid CalCoastNews. Click here to subscribe to his Patreon, check out exclusive news features and more.

Daniel Blackburn was once angry I called him “senile.”

It was 2016. Blackburn penned a bizarre, self-victimizing editorial that touched on the conspiracy theory that District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill and his “toadies” were on a vicious campaign to smear CalCoastNews. Piggybacking on his colleague Karen Velie’s false claim that I was paid by the supervisor, Blackburn dragged me into his screed, referring to me as a “toadie” that may or may not have responded to some anonymous Craigslist ad seeking a blogger to “change public opinion” in SLO County. Blackburn put my face up there in the article, with allegations that CalCoastNews reporters have “had their phone numbers and addresses posted online; homes vandalized; a family dog poisoned; [and] mutilated cats left on porches” right underneath it. To have my likeness associated with this activity was, quite frankly, insane.

I found it ironic Blackburn commented on my mental state by him “confirming [my] lack of acuity.”

While it’s a laughing matter now, it wasn’t then as I was hit with harassing messages and death threats over an editorial that was largely speculative and unbecoming of someone who prided himself on penning investigative stories. I remember thinking to myself at the time, “Something is really wrong with this guy,” so I countered his editorial with one of my own and called him senile. I didn’t hold back.

This stoked Blackburn’s ire. Shortly after I responded, he appeared on radio show host Dave Congalton’s show and went on an extended rant about me, speculating on my posting habits and my mental state. Being provocative as always, Congalton piled on and said, “Of course [Aaron] is paid by Hill.” And that was Congalton’s justification for attacking a private citizen for nearly an hour.

I’m seeing the same hyperventilating escape from reality with T. Keith Gurnee, someone who actually threatened me based in part on CalCoastNews’ conspiratorial assessment of me. Don’t know him personally. Never met him, but he seemed to know a lot about me, at one point falsely claiming I was one of the “self-appointed,” “liberal flamethrow[ing]” leaders of the SLO County Progressives. Only months after penning an editorial calling for the “impending demise” of the Progressives — an organization he routinely claims would bring about apocalyptic chaos with their policies — he would change his party affiliation and seek their endorsement for his ill-fated 2018 mayoral bid in San Luis Obispo. And he managed to pull off this wackiness while constantly baiting and exchanging salvos with Supervisor Hill.

It’s election season, and like clockwork, Gurnee appeared to scream bloody murder about Hill. This time, it’s about the vulgar emails sent from the modem belonging to his then-wife to Congalton. Gurnee regularly likes to point out that he was also a “victim” of Hill. In 2017, from his county email address, the supervisor referred to Gurnee as a “little minx” who was gay for Hill. In a recent column, Gurnee claimed without the evidence The Tribune routinely covered for Hill’s behavior (they haven’t). He also claimed Hill’s challenger Stacy Korsgaden “courageously disclosed a series of female student complaints about Adam Hill’s performance as a Cal Poly Professor that revealed their discomfort with Hill’s constant airing of his sexual obsessions and his ‘sexual harassment and sexual coercion’ of some of his students.” All those “complaints” were anonymous from a website that allows anyone to rate a Cal Poly professor. And according to Cal Poly’s Office of Equal Opportunity, no Title IX complaints have been filed against Hill. These are things Gurnee could easily check for himself, but doesn’t. He also repeatedly misspelled Congalton’s name, but that’s just the cherry on top.

Gurnee has every right to express his opinion and feel outraged over Hill’s behavior, which is a legitimate concern that Hill himself can attest to as a byproduct of his own mental health struggles. No one is saying that it isn’t, but the outrage seen here is being exhibited by people with clear issues of their own.

One day, I’ll grow old. My hair will turn grey. At least by then, I’ll hope to have the wisdom to recognize that my bearings may not as plentiful as they once were. But people like Blackburn — and now Gurnee — are embarrassing themselves by not having the wherewithal to discern between angry, speculative postulations and empirical evidence, and not being able to acknowledge their own lack of acuity. They sorely lack the introspection to recognize how their perpetual confusion adds to the chaos in public discourse.

What we should have is a conversation that brings in more diversity in demographics and opinions. The people who are shouting the loudest over our local elections are people who lazily rest their laurels on their experiences from a bygone era, only speak to their aging audience of half-baked conspiracy theorists, and lack the comprehension to recognize that they’re not entitled to their own facts.

They may call me “boy blogger” for calling them out on their bullshit and throw around their disdain for the youthful progressives, but we are an active, working generation that must now shoulder the burden of cleaning up their messes. Not only do we need to set course correction on personally and economically cumbersome policies, we’re also left to sort through the misinformation and disinformation we’re bombarded with on a daily basis by people who should know better but don’t.

In other words, “OK, boomer.”

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