The Bert Ellis Feeding Frenzy


by James A. Bacon

Virginia has now entered the feeding frenzy stage of the assault on Bert Ellis’ character. Abandoning all journalistic standards of impartiality and fair play, mainstream media outlets compete with one another to publish anything they can find to compromise Ellis, a member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin and narrowly confirmed by the General Assembly.

Following a Washington Post piece yesterday that highlighted such transgressions as referring in private correspondence to a UVa employee as a “numnut,” Virginia Public Media has joined the fray. Among the new affrights uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act is the scoop that Ellis also referred to UVa administrators as “schmucks”!

It is laughable that anyone would deem such language used in personal communications to be worth publishing — as if no one else in public service speaks this way in private. Ironically, the only thing remarkable about Ellis’ use of language is how restrained it is. It is less vitriolic, for example, than the language used by Jeff Thomas, the leftist author who filed the FOIA request and peddled his findings to the media. VPM reporter Ben Paviour quotes Thomas as accusing “these people” of “lashing out with these venomous personal attacks at innocent people.”

Venomous? Really? Ellis didn’t “lash out” or “attack” anyone — these were private communications. The victims never knew about them…until Thomas uncovered them and persuaded Paviour to publicize them!

Such are the New Rules of woke journalism.

But there’s more. Paviour included one exchange in his piece that had no business appearing in any article. The fact that he chose to include it exposes the shoddiness of his journalism. Here is what he wrote:

In one previously unreported exchange, several members of TJC appear to discuss an idea of recording a phone call with someone identified as “Gard,” — a reference to Richard Gard, the editor of UVA’s alumni magazine.

A July 1, 2022, text from a redacted phone number to several members of TJC, including James Bacon, Ann McLean, Walter Smith and Tom Neale, suggests Ellis record a phone call with Gard, which is legal under state law, and potentially release the recording to the media. The messages make it clear the person is upset at Gard, but it’s not clear from the messages what sparked their frustration.

“Every word Burt says should be spoken with the knowledge that he is preparing a record to persuade liberals and others who don’t like us but realize we are totally right on the merits,” the unidentified person wrote. “And if Burt loses his temper, raises his voice, or does anything unpleasant they might use this as an excuse to blame it on Bert, we could lose the war.”

The unidentified number says McLean should talk to the press because “She is great with the media, she is not an old white male, and she has a UVA PhD.”

“Agree with this,” McLean said in response. “I will do whatever TJC would like me to do.”

In an email, Bacon said the suggestion came from someone outside TJC.

“I can say categorically that the suggestion made by a third party to record Richard Gard’s phone call was never entertained by The Jefferson Council, that Bert Ellis never made such a call, and no such recording was ever made,” Bacon said.

Gard declined to comment.

Apparently, I was copied on that text message, although I have no recollection of it. Like many people, I am deluged with communications and don’t have time to read everything. What I can say with certainty is that the idea was floated — by whom, I cannot say because the identity was redacted — and it promptly died. We gave it no consideration.

Paviour dutifully tacked on my response to the exchange. But there was one thing he omitted: “There is no story here.”

Here’s the background. The Jefferson Council had submitted an advertisement  defending the reputation of Thomas Jefferson in regards to slavery and the Sally Hemings controversy for publication in Virginia, the University of Virginia Alumni Association publication. Gard rejected it on grounds that Jefferson Council members found specious but are too tangential to bother recounting here. We appealed the decision to Lily West, president of the alumni association, and she sided with Gard. We then appealed to members of the alumni association’s managing board but were likewise spurned. I assume that the exchange took place during that controversy.

Ellis was copied on a text thread. It bears noting that anyone can copy anyone else on a text thread. That doesn’t mean Ellis asked to be copied, and it doesn’t even mean that he read the text message. A redacted individual whose identity we do not know but are certain was not a governing member of the Council floated the idea of having Ellis secretly record Richard Gard’s phone call and “politely ask who made the decision while taping the call. Is there a change we can make that would make [the ad] acceptable?”

The idea was dead on arrival. No one pursued it. No call was ever made. When Ann McLean said she would “do whatever TJC (the Jefferson Council) would like me to do,” she was clearly referring to speaking to the press — not surreptitiously recording anyone’s phone call.

Bottom line: Ellis was copied on a text message in which someone made a suggestion upon which neither Ellis nor anyone else on the Jefferson Council leadership team followed up or even remembers.

Paviour was told this. He had no business introducing this meaningless text message into the public domain. Not only was this a private communication, it didn’t even come from Ellis! Yet by publishing it, even with my denial, Paviour created a suspicion that Ellis countenances deception and dirty tricks.

That itself is a dirty trick.

There are likely more dirty tricks to come. I can only hope that by setting the record straight I can shame Virginia journalists into acting responsibly.