Scandalmongers aren’t interested in the truth


Greg Bean

There was a lot of tension between the French and Italians at the recent European Union summit, and last week Italian Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi made a joke.

According to Reuters, Burlusconi strolled into the conference room, walked up to seated French President Jacques Chirac and put his hands on the Frenchman’s shoulders. Then, he looked at the journalists covering the summit and said, “There is no news, unless you journalists want us to declare war on France.”

Apparently, most of those present realized the Italian Prime Minister was trying to make a joke, although not a very good one, so they chuckled politely and got on with their business.

All I can say is that it’s a good thing Burlusconi didn’t make that joke in Manalapan. If he’d said it there, his political enemies would have taken umbrage on behalf of all Frenchmen, called him an ethnic bigot and demanded he resign.

For those of you unaware of the bad craziness going on in that Monmouth County community lately, here’s the thumbnail version:

At the March 8 meeting of the Township Committee, Republican Chair-man Stephen McEnery was attempting to bait Deputy Mayor Michelle Roth into confirming his hare-brained theory that she’s somehow anti-Italian. To her credit, Roth didn’t bite – but later in the meeting her husband, Larry Roth, addressed the committee in defense of his wife.

Speaking to Committeeman Anthony Gennaro, he asked, “Mr. Gennaro, how many years have you known Michelle Roth?”

“Many years,” Gennaro said.

“Does she hate Italians?” Roth asked.

“Not that I know of,” Gennaro said.

“Have you ever heard her make derogatory remarks about Italians?”

“No,” Gennaro said.

A few minutes later, speaking about a change of government petition going around town, Committeeman Joseph Locricchio said, “Mr. Roth, question … You’ve known about this petition for quite some time. You’ve never asked … I know you’ve never asked me. Why didn’t you …”

At which point, Larry Roth said with boneheaded sarcasm, “Because I hate Italians.”

“OK, whatever,” Locricchio said, and the conversation went on relatively politely from there.

I’ve listened to the tape of that meeting, and at the time no one said a single word about Roth’s comment. They realized he’d been making a smart-aleck remark, although not a very funny one (two weeks later Gennaro mysteriously decided he was offended after all, so offended he caved in and quit the Democratic party). And because the comment was a non-starter, it wasn’t reported in any local newspapers.

Which must have driven Michelle Roth’s political enemies absolutely crazy. Roth and Gennaro, both Democrats, had recently stomped two spectacularly unqualified Republicans in the general election. That meant there was a 3-2 Democratic majority on the committee with lots of important decisions to be made in the near future. The Republicans couldn’t beat Roth and Gennaro at the polls. Because most of her clients are from out of the area, they couldn’t threaten her business. But they still wanted blood.

So somebody slipped a tape of the March 8 meeting to radio station NJ 101.5 and on March 17, the linguini hit the fan. On that program the hosts, who call themselves the Jersey Guys and make general fools of themselves, said they were dumbfounded Larry Roth could have made such a bigoted comment. The sarcastic statement was red meat for the Jersey Guys and they made the most of it . Fair, unfair, it didn’t matter to them. It never does.

At one point in the program – in an effort to diffuse the explosive situation – Larry Roth even called in to apologize, but asked that they play the tape so listeners could at least hear the comment in context. The Jersey Guys refused, saying it was their show and they’d play the parts of the tape they wanted.

Now, however, the comment was in the public domain and in the weeks since, it’s become a hot topic on some local Internet message boards, where anonymous posters have had a field day smearing Michelle Roth. The knuckleheads on these sites are rabidly trashing her because she didn’t publicly condemn her husband for making anti-Italian statements. There-fore, according to their twisted reasoning, she must be anti-Italian herself. They’ve demanded her resignation and threatened that if they don’t get it, they’ll have a million Italians marching down Route 9 in protest. What hogwash.

The 10 or 12 regular posters on one of these sites – one of whom calls itself Da Truth Squad and tortures the language with the gusto of a psychopath pulling the wings off flies – hide behind their anonymous vitriol like dry gulchers who wait in hiding to shoot their victim in the back, like cockroaches who scurry off when someone turns on the lights.

What angers me most is that these despicable character assassins have managed to convince some otherwise reasonable people that this is an ethnic affront which must be redressed. If those reasonable people took the time to research the background of this controversy for themselves instead of taking the word of anonymous political propagandists, I believe they’d see this situation for what it is.

It is not an issue of anti-Italian bigotry. It’s not an issue of condoning, or failing to condemn that bigotry. At heart, it’s politics – New Jersey politics in is most disgusting form. It’s the kind of dirty personal politics that distracts our elected leaders from the business they were elected to conduct. It’s a blatant attempt to hijack our system of representative government by unhappy partisans who couldn’t win the election at the polls. It’s the cynical manipulation of good peoples’ pride in their ethnic heritage with an anonymous onslaught of half-truths, misrepresentations and outright lies.

Michelle Roth is under incredible pressure this week, but so far she says she’s hanging in and won’t resign. Good for her. Someone needs to stand up to these thugs (if they ever show their faces) and jam them back under the rock where they belong.

And that, dear readers, is Da Truth.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers.