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.
For five years and counting, CalCoastNews repeatedly and falsely accused me of being a “paid shill” for District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill. They did this to discredit my skepticism and criticism of their obsessed “reporting” on him all the while conveniently forgetting that I’ve also been critical of him. Despite their various ethical and accuracy lapses, CalCoastNews has shined a light on the supervisor’s behavior — and inadvertently their own — in a revealing way.
On February 2, the website revealed a series of vulgar emails from 2016 reportedly sent from the supervisor’s home to radio show host Dave Congalton. The emails were sent from an anonymous Gmail account named “Sal Krill.” CalCoastNews alleges Congalton reached out to the District Attorney’s office and handed them his computer. Over the course of four years, the DA’s office investigated the emails and determined they came from his home. The presumption here is that Hill was the perpetrator.
When I read those emails, I could hear Hill’s voice in them. I don’t think reiterating what was written or alleged in those emails would lend more emphasis to that point.
My immediate reaction to reading them was: Really?
Personally, there isn’t much point to being the moral arbiter in this particular conversation and sentence one side to eternal damnation. For starters, Congalton isn’t the perfect victim. He’s personally baited the supervisor for years on his show. He went after his then-wife, mused about her sex life, mocked her personal appearance, and accused her of stealing from homeless people. That was before Congalton spread unsubstantiated conspiracy theories that Hill orchestrated the drunk driving arrest of CalCoastNews’ Karen Velie; that he orchestrated the “kidnapping” of Velie’s grandchildren. This personal grudge by Congalton went on for years on end.
The exasperation is real. I certainly shared that exasperation. Heck, I’ve sent Congalton a few mocking emails under my real name. Nothing that vulgar, but certainly made those emails memorable enough for him to publicly threaten to release them. I can’t speak to Hill’s personal motivations, but I can speak to mine. Here was someone who was left unmoderated and unchecked for decades, spewing toxic commentary about people on his show without recourse. He arguably had a large bully pulpit as a radio show host on a popular local station. I didn’t. There was no point-counterpoint. When he made allegations about me and didn’t correct himself, Congalton gave his listeners the impression that he was unchallenged. I resented that and responded in a way that he knew I was unhappy. That didn’t matter, though. That just made the mutual resentment for each other grow.
But I wasn’t an elected official. Hill is.
When you run for public office, that takes courage. You get elected to serve your constituency. To remain committed to public service takes courage. And when people attack you not only politically but personally and frequently, it takes courage to rise above it. The best leaders are ones who resist the temptation to sling mud. And if they feel compelled to respond, they do so with a semblance of gravitas and don’t reciprocate the hostility with their own. Yet time and time again, Supervisor Hill falls into the same predicament.
And every time Hill lashes out at somebody, two camps form. One camp vigorously calls for his resignation and stirs up moral outrage while conveniently ignoring their role in provoking the bear. The other camp shakes their heads and offer tepid condemnation in private, but tout Hill’s record and experience on the board when outrage resurfaces. But both camps have something in common: they fail to critically assess themselves and have an honest conversation about their own civility issues.
In 2016, around the time Hill reportedly sent these vulgar emails to Congalton, an anonymously run Facebook page called “Fire Adam Hill 2016” was created. Using fake names, these anonymous users published allegations about Hill that were exclusively reported by CalCoastNews. They bragged about spending “thousands” on sponsored posts linking to CalCoastNews articles, despite never filing as an independent expenditure committee with the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Using the San Luis Obispo Police Department badge, they even published wanted posters, calling for physical violence and the arrest of Hill’s “trolls,” including his wife, his friends and supporters. They even went after me and my family. And when Hill’s wife at the time mistakenly claimed I worked for CalCoastNews, they responded, “[He] never worked for us.”
CalCoastNews uses false identities regularly. In fact, Velie herself commented under her own article about Hill’s alleged emails under the names “JordanJ” and “Cindy.” Since 2014, Velie harassed me using fake accounts on reddit and Facebook. I knew she was behind these accounts because the wild and uncorroborated allegations she made about me are exclusively from her imagination to my employer. To ensure this activity stopped, I reported her to law enforcement.
All this outrage over Supervisor Adam Hill’s alleged emails doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Everything and everyone involved cancels each other out. Get over it.