It is the custom of Sing Along participants to sing outside whenever another group or event has reserved the public space in the rotunda. (The Sing Along does not apply for a permit for many reasons, but the Sing Along is not and never has been intended as an “occupation” of the Capitol. Singers congregate in the public area of the building and yield to all other permitted events.)
The Capitol Police recently resumed a crack down on the singers, claiming a restraining order issued against the state that found two sections of their permitting scheme unconstitutional requires them to arrest groups larger than 20 who congregate in the rotunda. (Don’t even try to make sense of this. It’s the Walker Administration, where truth is irrelevant.)
Today at about 11:45 a.m., I stopped in to the office of the Capitol Police to ask the person who handles the permits and schedules the requests if there was anything planned in the rotunda from noon to one. There was nothing listed on the agency’s online Capitol events calendar, but that calendar is not always up to date.
She told me there was a “singing event” scheduled for the first floor of the rotunda. I was a little surprised, but I knew that if, in fact, there was another group holding a last-minute, permitted event, it would be no big deal. The Solidarity Sing Along would just move outside. Still, it was unusual for a music event not to have been listed on the online calendar.
“May I ask who applied for the permit?” I said.
“NBC,” she and her assistant both answered, meaning the news department of the local NBC television network affiliate. Now THAT seemed weird.
I returned to the rotunda and shared what I’d learned. Others had also heard the same thing. Around that time the Capitol Police trotted out their new whiteboard and plopped it down in the center of the rotunda. It said there was a scheduled, permitted event. “PLEASE RESPECT THIS PERMITTED EVENT, VIOLATORS WILL BE SUBJECT TO ARREST.”
I assume the language on the board was not drafted by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
Some of us, including me, went outside to sing. Others stayed inside since there was no sign of “NBC 15” or their event, while one person called the TV station to find out what was going on. I also called the TV station from outside the Capitol. Each of us who called ended up speaking with the station’s news director, Russell Bruhn. Mr. Bruhn confirmed to me that the station last week applied for and received a permit for today, and that they had intended to hold the event to follow up on a story about how easy it is to get a permit, but had to cancel because they couldn’t round up enough employees due to “vacations.”
Mr. Bruhn, however, gave a different excuse to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"We had a permit filed for today and then we weren't able to make it because of breaking news so we canceled it," Bruhn said. "We were going to gather just to kind of show the process. That was it."Late morning OR just past noon? That’s kind of an important detail, Mr. Huhn, especially since your station has been covering this story for two and a half years and you must have known that not canceling your event in a timely manner would cause confusion and inject your station in the middle of the story.
The permit was canceled by late morning or just after noon, he said. Protesters, however, debated what to do with half the group deciding to go outside and sing while those remaining decided to stay put in the Capitol. By the end most of the group was back in the rotunda as scores of singers chanted, "We're still here!"
And why did you did you tell me you canceled because of staff vacations (which would have easily allowed you enough time to cancel the event before noon) and then tell the Journal Sentinel later that it was because of “breaking news”?
We’re almost done. A few more questions, Mr. Huhn.
You mentioned to me without my asking about it that you are aware that the actual process of obtaining a permit is irrelevant to the arguments being made by participants of the Sing Along concerning why they don’t obtain obtain one, so what was going to be the point of your never-completed story?
Why does your website have an AP story up about today’s events that originally made no mention of your station’s involvement – a story that claims the police plan to mail out citations to participants even though they made no arrests today? And why does that story still not even mention that your event was canceled?
More importantly, did your station, wittingly or otherwise, assist the police by setting up what some are calling the Solidarity-STING-Along?
UPDATE: Top headlines on NBC15.com at 6:51 P.m CDT:
Sharon Wand Sends Letter to Monroe Times Recanting Story
Madison Man Scammed Out of $1,000
Man Charged in Death of Hartford Woman
Green County Sheriff Retiring
Obama invites lawmakers to discuss NSA concerns
and...wait for it...
UPDATE: No arrests during Wed. Capitol sing along
That last one links to the AP story, which has been edited again and now mentions nothing about citations.
Version 4 of Channel 15's explanation:
We threw a party for ourselves but we had to decline the invitation. BWAHAHAHAHA!
Even though NBC 15 declined their own invitation, these guys held a press conference just before noon in the Capitol rotunda...(photo courtesy of Leslie Amsterdam)