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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Turns out O’Brien can be petty, too

Speaker of the House William O’Brien has been called a bully. His leadership style has been described as dictatorial. During a House debate, a fellow legislator shouted a Nazi salute at him after being ordered to sit down.

And those bombs were being thrown at him by people in his own Republican Party.

If you had any question whether there was any truth to these labels, there was a little video floating around the Web on Friday that speaks volumes about how the speaker operates.

O’Brien hosted a press conference at 11 a.m. in his office on the third floor of the Statehouse to talk about possible welfare reforms that would prevent people on public assistance from using their benefits to buy cigarettes, alcohol or lottery tickets.

It’s been a hot topic lately, after Antrim convenience store clerk Jackie Whiton was fired from her job for refusing to allow a customer to use his Electronic Benefits Transfer card, or EBT card, to buy cigarettes.

When reporters from the Concord Monitor showed up to cover the story, they were stopped at the door and denied access. Reporter Annmarie Timmins recorded the exchange and posted the video on YouTube.com. A second video was recorded from inside the room and posted on the Concord Patch website.

“You know the issue,” said O’Brien spokeswoman Shannon Bettencourt, the wife of former House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt.

Timmins protested, saying she didn’t know the issue.

Bettencourt said the invitation for the press conference “wasn’t sent to your organization.” Meanwhile, Bettencourt greeted other reporters by name and invited them inside.

Bettencourt’s email announcing the press conference was sent from her legislative email address Thursday to “undisclosed recipients.” When the Monitor heard about the press conference, reporters went to cover the story, according to a report to readers from Monitor Editor Felice Belman.

What this is all about is O’Brien’s displeasure with an editorial cartoon the Monitor printed in May depicting him with an Adolf Hiltler-style mustache with the caption, “If the mustache fits.”

Later, O’Brien said through spokeswoman Bettencourt, “When the Concord Monitor proves they have chosen to become a responsible media outlet, we’ll be happy to invite them to future media events.”

Bettencourt’s email contained a copy of the Monitor editorial cartoon comparing O’Brien to Hitler, “an individual responsible for the murder of 6 million people – one example of irresponsible choices made by the Monitor.”

We thought O’Brien was smarter than this.

Couldn’t he see that kicking out reporters from one specific newspaper would distract from the message he said he really wanted to talk about – people being allowed to use money from public assistance to buy tobacco and alcohol?

Didn’t he realize the readers of one of the state’s largest newspapers would be the only ones dealt a disservice by his stunt?

Well, he made the news of the day alright, but it was as much about him acting like schoolyard ninny and playing a childish game of keep away than it was about welfare reform.

If the speaker doesn’t like this editorial, will the readers of The Telegraph and his hometown of Mont Vernon be made to suffer next?

Perhaps he also will deem your hometown newspaper unworthy of reporting on his words and attempt to deprive you of the news coverage you pay for.

We wonder.

Maybe he’s not as smart and calculating as we thought.