Back to Manassas Park

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

The Manassas Journal Messenger published a three-part story on the Rack ‘n’ Roll affair. The series started on Thursday and concluded Saturday. See part one here. Part two, here. And part three, here.

Greg L. at BVBL is doing a great job dissecting it.

I found the series generally disappointing. There isn’t much in the way of actual investigative reporting. Instead, it seems to follow a bland formula of printing David Ruttenberg’s accusations, then printing the reaction from town officials. Over and over, that’s the extent of the reporting — accusation, counter. Accusation, counter. Reporter Alexander Grenados does little to try to independently verify whether or not Ruttenberg actually has a case against the town. Ruttenberg has a mountain of videotape, affidavits, witnesses, and paperwork to support his accusations. Grenados reports on very little of this supporting evidence.

This of course doesn’t make Ruttenberg look very good. The end result is a series of articles in which an aggrieved man is levying serious charges against a bunch of people who have the authority and pretenses of public office. Grenados prints an accusation from Ruttenberg, then the response from town officials who, speaking from a position of power, simply answer that he’s “deluded.”

Where’s the context? Here are a few questions Grenados might have asked:

  • Why was a 50-member (at least) SWAT-police team used to raid a private business for a regulatory alcohol inspection?
  • There was no criminal search warrant for the raid. So why was David Ruttenberg’s private, on-premises office searched — a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment?
  • What does it mean that the only charges stemming from this very expensive, very invasive, militaristic raid were two very minor violations of state alcohol regulations?
  • What to make of the dozens of Rack ‘n’ Roll customers reporting systematic harassment at the hands of Manassas Park police officers upon leaving the club?
  • What to make of the dozen or so witnesses who say that the police have been spreading rumors that Ruttenberg’s a drug dealer? A child molester? That his business is an “open air drug market?”

    That’s really only scratching the surface. Here’s hoping the FBI investigation digs quite a bit deeper.

    My hunch (and it’s only a hunch) is that Grenados’ original series was quite a bit more biting, but was toned down by his editors. That hunch is supported by BVBL sources who seemed to indicate this series was set to run more than a month ago. For some reason, it was held up. I should probably note here that I haven’t talked to Grenados or anyone at the Journal Messenger, and that I’m certain they wouldn’t tell me about the internal editing process if I asked.

    It’s great that the local paper decided to cover this story, and that it gave it so much space. But the end result is disappointing. And not necessarily because it doesn’t support my contention that there’s some serious corruption afoot in Manassas Park (a contention I think is well-supported by the reporting done here and at BVBL).

    The he said/he said nature of the article at least gets the case out there for public consumption. And that the paper even ran the series suggests that Grenados and his editors at least think there’s some legitimacy to Ruttenberg’s allegations. And as someone who’s spent hours wading through Ruttenerg’s extensive documentation of abuse, I understand that it can be overwhelming, and that it would be extremely difficult for a newspaper to devote the space necessary to laying all of it out.

    But there’s far more to Ruttenberg’s case than mere allegations. There are witnesses, sworn affidavits, videotapes, audio recordings, and court documents. Maybe the city has answers for all of that. I’d like to see the mayor explain why he appeared out of nowhere early one morning as Ruttenberg was talking to a television reporter. I’d like the police chief to be shown the video of the guys doing cocaine in Ruttenberg’s bar, then explain why, when Ruttenberg called the cops, the cops took the two men outside, and let them go. Why were Ruttenberg’s permits revoked over a few minor alcohol violations and alleged drug activity (much of it perpetrated by the police) when other bars nearby have committed far more serious infractions, and were allowed to continue operating?

    It would have been nice to have seen the city officials actually confronted with Ruttenberg’s evidence, and asked to explain it away. Maybe there are perfectly viable explanations for all of it. I doubt it. But if there are, I’d like to hear them.

    Point is, I don’t think a casual reader of the series comes away with the understanding that Ruttenberg’s case is much, much more than just an aggrieved business owner concocting wild conspiracy theories.

    More to come.

    SLIGHTLY RELATED NOTE: I should add here, that as someone that’s generally skeptical of government and of the competence of people in government, I usually shy away from conspiracy theories. Not that I don’t think there are people in power who have the will to attempt them. It’s more that I don’t think government is capable of pulling them off. I generally abide by the axiom “Never attribute to conspiracy what can be attributed to incompetence.”

    However. In addition to Ruttenberg’s extensive documentation (and that everything he has told me has thus far checked out), I tend to buy the conspiracy and corruption in Manassas Park because of the sheer inept and bumbling way it was carried out. No question, they’ve damaged Ruttenberg. But they’ve also made some critical errors, and at times displayed downright comical ineptitude (here’s one example — I’ll have another later).

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