On Wednesday, I was standing next to the Capitol grounds in Richmond watching brightly decorated cars and pickups drive on 9th Street, their horns blaring.
I was attending the drive by protest rally on assignment for Style Weekly and happened to speak to Jason Roberge, a Spotsylvania County resident who is one of several Republicans hoping to oust U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former covert CIA officer who represents the 7th Congressional district.
Roberge was there to protest what he says is Gov. Ralph Northam’s “terrible job” in temporarily shutting down businesses to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus. The rally was part of a series of protests across the country that are being set up on cue from right-wing activists.
Roberge told me: ”I hear he’s (Northam’s) down on North Carolina beach while this is going on.” As he spoke the House of Delegates was holding a special session under an outdoor tent nearby while the Senate presided at the Science Museum of Virginia.
Northam at the beach? It turns out that the conservative echo chamber has been peddling a story, firmly denied by Northam’s office, that he was at his house in Manteo, N.C. not far from the beaches at Nags Head during the special General Assembly session.
This is a curious case of rumors and lies spread on social media with Donald Trump being the absolute master of the twitter smear.
I checked around and found the story on a site called “Big League Politics.” Then I read the conservative-leaving blog “The Bull Elephant.” It was running a story titled “Northam Goes on Vacation While You Stay Home.” Author S. Chris Ander started off the piece stating, “You can’t make this up” and launched into a recitation of the unconfirmed rumors about Northam, who allegedly flew in a private plane to an oceanfront airport to chill out despite restrictions on access to the Outer Banks.
Even state Sen. Amanda Chase, a conservative and former Republican who wants to be governor in 2021, said she checked into the rumors and found them baseless.
Apparently, Northam does co-own a vacation spot in Manteo with a fellow graduate from the Virginia Military Institute.
Ok. So what? Is it wrong for a Virginia politician to own out of state property or go on vacation?
For perspective, consider the case of former Rep. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. In 2014, he and his wife were convicted of accepting bribes from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a self-styled maker and marketer of diet supplements who wanted state help to promote his products.
It turns out Williams owned two houses at Smith Mountain Lake, a picturesque vacation spot near Roanoke. The McDonnell family spent an expenses-paid vacation there, according to the McDonnell’s 2014 federal trial which I covered for Bloomberg News.
That’s not all. Former Republican Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, now a high-ranking Trump Administration official, spent a Thanksgiving there according to trial testimony.
The McDonnells’ case was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, but tawdry, six-week-long trial gave the Commonwealth of Virginia a big black eye globally. It was a hot story. My Bloomberg editors remarked how much readers around the world, especially in places like Hong Kong, were riveted by the scandal.
For the record, the McDonnells owned vacation property in Sandbridge, a beachfront community in Virginia Beach. At the time, no one seemed to complain about it.
Yet, the very fact that Northam has a vacation homes brings him scorn and rumors that are not true. Sadly, this is what social media has brought us.