Not Even Birthday Parties are Safe

CalCoastNews toadie A.J. McLaughlin

On my way to a birthday party, I turned on the radio and listened to a blistering, rambling tirade about me.

It was April 8. CalCoastNews co-founder Dan Blackburn called into 920 KVEC’s “Hometown Radio” with Dave Congalton as the guest, accusing me of promulgating a rumor that his colleague Karen Velie was being investigated for the murder of her daughter Autumn, who I learned passed away two weeks ago from a seizure in a bathtub. Given I never made the allegation to begin with, this was news to me.

After being pegged for accusing a grieving mother of murdering her child, I was accused by Congalton of being paid by District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill. “Of course he is getting paid [by Hill]!” exclaimed Congalton. Of course he didn’t have any evidence, and the accusation was refuted before when Velie claimed on his show — way back on March 22, 2013 — that I was “hired” by Hill to discredit CalCoastNews. Now Velie is banned from KVEC because of her incessant lying. Go figure.

Blackburn was perplexed. He couldn’t understand why, oh why would I criticize CalCoastNews unless I was somehow compensated for the work. After all, Blackburn said Velie was “without any hesitation, one of the best reporters I’ve ever met,” and every “hit piece” they did on Supervisor Hill was “responsibly produced.” Wonderful. He couldn’t comprehend why this 30-something “kid blogger” (me) was “hunched in front of his computer,” twisting their words in a “personal way” to make Velie sound “evil.”

Two years ago, Blackburn called my father in a panic after I wrote a profile of Velie. He couldn’t read my article, he said, so he had his wife read it to him. In years past, I reached out to him with criticism because I found several inaccuracies in their work. He never specifically responded to my critique except for one-line insults. It was a shame since my criticism was originally levied to help them improve their reporting. When I first heard of CalCoastNews I thought, “Finally! An alternative news outlet that does independent investigative reporting.” Wishful thinking.

In his April 7 editorial, he referred to my work as “garbage” and “slimy” — nothing detailing what made my work trashy or gooey. He acknowledged my 2,000-word response to his editorial on the show, but didn’t address any points I made. But why, Mr. Ochs? Why?

If someone told me Dan Blackburn is illiterate, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s one thing to not dignify my criticism with a response, and pretend it’s beneath him to engage. It’s another to repeatedly ask, “Why does he not like us?” and not read the answer in four years worth of work — and I most certainly won’t give him any hints now.

My favorite, laughably false allegation by Blackburn was that I criticized Velie and criticized her exclusively because she’s a woman. Because she is a woman, he claimed, I thought that she wouldn’t strike back. I suppose he forgot about the number of defamatory articles she wrote about me (he claimed she only wrote one), the hysterical calls to my past employer which I regrettably overheard, and the time she sent her private investigator over to my parents’ home to harass them and hand-deliver a legally ridiculous, threatening letter.

After listening to two hysterical, irrational men portraying me as an unrelenting, mysterious cyber-harasser of a female “reporter,” I arrived at the party.

It was 5:45 pm. I arrived at the home of Gary Grossman. You know, the person I was accused of having a gay relationship with back in January. The party hosted by Grossman, but it was for Supervisor Hill. I wanted to meet the people that CalCoastNews defamed, and get to know them better in a more casual setting.

Shortly after checking in, I was approached by a partygoer who asked if I listened to Congalton’s show that evening. “Yep.” Haters gonna hate, so forget them and enjoy the party, I thought.

Then I saw A.J. McLaughlin, a CalCoastNews contributor and known hater of Supervisor Hill. I contemplated approaching her and politely asking, “Weren’t you the person who lied at a board meeting that Supervisor Hill was attending a candidate’s forum?”

She saw me, and I saw her as she ducked and weaved through the crowd. Who invited her? I noticed she looked at her phone occasionally and quickly looked up, presumably to identify some of the partygoers. She acted like a secret agent by tailing the supervisor from a distance, and trying to sneak up on him when he least suspected it. At some point, I didn’t know if she was pretending to be a secret agent or a socially awkward vampire. I was beginning to wonder if Netflix had Fatal Attraction available for streaming.

She may not like the supervisor, but she seemed to enjoy the food and wine.

When the party began to wind down, McLaughlin raced home to write a report about what she saw.

“Somebody had a birthday party tonight,” wrote McLaughlin on CalCoastNews.

No shit, Wolf Blitzer.

McLaughin revealed who attended the birthday party, which was really a “here take a campaign contribution envelope and a sign for your yard” party. I think people were there for the coconut cream cake, which I thought was delicious — and I’m not even a coconut person!

McLaughlin claimed the supervisor was avoiding her. I couldn’t imagine why.

“All the same old shoulders, rubbing up against each other,” wrote McLaughlin. “I cannot wait until he is gone. GONE. GONE!”

But the food was great, right?

Not even birthday parties are safe from the devoutly disturbed. They consume our conversations and our wine, infiltrating our minds like carnivorous, cancerous parasites that thrive on self-victimization and amateur activism. They lack a sense of irony and self-awareness while parading in self-pitying, attention-seeking martyrdom.

In politics, the party’s never over.

TOAST Magazine Publisher, columnist and consultant from Morro Bay, California.