For many years, an anonymous writer has published a blog called “I Heart SCV” in which said writer professes a love of the area. “When not in SCV, I go through SCV withdrawal,” the blogger writes in the introduction.
The Gazette recently found the blog when researching City Councilmember Bob Kellar’s recently resurfaced “proud racist” comments. In seeking to identify the blogger, I Heart SCV responded via email: “Who am I? I’m the person who writes the IHSCV recaps. Thanks for reading.”
The Gazette followed up: “But why the anonymity?”
Why indeed. According to College of the Canyons Political Science Professor Phil Gussin, we’re living in divisive times in which few people want to engage with the opposition and instead only want to read (and put out) information that either confirms what they already believe or intentionally divides.
“They’re agitators, for lack of a better word,” Gussin said of anonymous online outlets.
While there are perhaps an unusually large number of media outlets in the area with no anonymity – the Gazette, The Signal, KHTS, SCVTV, Canyon Country Magazine, Inside SCV Magazine and the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast – there also are several online outlets with no names attached.
Beside I Heart SCV, there’s the Santa Clarita Valley Advance Post Times whose latest post is an article on how the city council admitted it was wrong to call in the National Guard amid fears that looters and rioters were about to overrun the city, and that the five members apologized and “resigned in disgrace.”
The author, Emmanual Goldstein, is a pseudonym, referring to the state’s principal enemy in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” although it’s spelled “Emmanuel” in the book.
New to the anonymous ranks is the website and Twitter handle Poisonous Tree. Its mission statement is to “highlight businesses that support the racism in our town.” It has named several media outlets, including the Gazette, Signal and KHTS.
Gussin said that although he doesn’t follow any of these local sites, groups that try to divide often run anonymous sites.
“People on the left want to spread ideas of anarchy, and people on the right want to start a race war, create violence and exacerbate tensions,” he said. “I wouldn’t take anything at face value.”
In fact, many representatives of non-anonymous sites criticized those not putting their names to their writings. KHTS owner Carl Goldman’s site recently ran a story on Kellar that delved into his background and how some business leaders support him. It earned the ire of Poisonous Tree, which also took Gazette Publisher Doug Sutton to task over his “Doug’s Rant” columns.
“I’m against anyone going on anonymously,” Goldman said. He blamed left-leaning troublemakers “trying to shut down anyone who has different opinion. The mainstream media has the right to voice different opinions.”
In fact, Goldman said, he has personally been a victim of anonymous screeds. After he came down with COVID-19 while on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the White House invited him and seven others to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, head of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. Goldman also met President Donald Trump, saying he expected a few minutes with him but got about an hour and a half.
Goldman said he didn’t announce the invitation, but TV images caught him as he walked to the Eisenhower Building to meet Pence, and the social media reaction was quick.
Many of the 372 Facebook posts were of people insulting Trump and then each other, but some were positive, such as Gigi Grey-Bronstru’s: “Congratulations to the Goldman’s (sic) what an honor! They have endured more than most of us over the last few months.”
“So now I will know not to listen to KHTS,” James Olmstead posted.
Goldman is a Republican and attended Trump’s inauguration, but he said, “If (Barack) Obama and (Joe) Biden had invited us, we would have been just as happy to go.”
Anonymity in the media is nothing new. Famous poems such as “Beowulf,” books such as “One Thousand and One (Arabian) Nights,” were anonymous, as originally were Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” the Federalist Papers and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
Locally, there was a popular feature called “Tell it to The Signal,” in which residents could anonymously sound off about whatever they wanted to.
“That’s been going on for hundreds of years,” former Signal publisher Chuck Champion said, “It’s easier now to be able to do things online. Anyone can get a domain with a few bucks and a mailing list.”
But Goldman said it is as bad as it has ever been. It’s something Stephen Daniels, host of the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast thinks, too. In fact, he’s been warned that he might lose guests if he voices his political leanings too strongly.
“Everyone’s really afraid to show where they stand,” he said.
Gussin said people who read online articles usually fall into two groups: those who stubbornly hold their opinions and reject anything that could call those beliefs into question, and those who can be persuaded.
He questions anonymous people’s motivations. Why do they want to hide? What do they gain from being anonymous? Are they trying to mobilize their base, or are they trying to anger the opposition?
More importantly, he said, why do people want to pay attention to anonymous people?
Longtime resident Leon Worden, who runs SCVTV, doesn’t.
“I would say I don’t like it, but I don’t read it,” Worden said. “I hope it doesn’t have any traction because it doesn’t deserve any traction. If you’re going to have an opinion, you’ve got to put your name on it. (If you don’t), it’s chicken and wrong.”