In Rachel Barnhart’s autobiography, released in 2016, Broad, Casted: Gender, Media, Politics, and Taking on the Establishment, she paints herself as a hero of independent mind: While employed as a television reporter, despite lifelong identification as a democrat, Barnhart notoriously tossed impolite questions to such New York royalty as Andrew Cuomo -- Good for her -- and after working as a reporter for 17 years, she left to compete in primaries against much better-financed adversaries: assemblyman Harry Bronson, and, taking place after the publication of her book, Rochester’s own Mayor Lovely Warren.
Also in Barnhart’s autobiography, however, are character traits of Barnhart’s on display, which in certain circumstances make for a hero, but in other cases could easily make for a misguided tailspin of a crusade: Barnhart is tenacious, sees the world through the prism of identity politics, and early on understood the power of social media and made herself a powerhouse there.
Barnhart, a current proponent of identity politics, interestingly, was the victim of identity politics in her primary challenge against assembly member Harry Bronson and she spoke out against them via a quotation included in her autobiography. Various friends and acquaintances are quoted throughout Barnhart’s autobiography to support her own recollections and one acquaintance offered the reason voters didn’t choose Barnhart in her race against Bronson:
“The real problem in progressive Rochester is identity politics. They don’t actually care about real issues. They’re just identity politics voters.”
Many voters felt Barnhart was wrong-headed in her primary challenge to Bronson and possibly even antagonistic to homosexual concerns for choosing to primary Bronson, who is homosexual. Barnhart was, and I assume still is, a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community, but she had an uphill battle convincing Bronson loyalists of that, all because of her sexual orientation. Additionally, identity politics also worked against Barnhart because she was a traditional lipstick and heels type woman. Sexist attacks were made on her by mysterious persons sympathetic to, or perhaps aligned with, the Bronson campaign; Barnhart was targeted as a “prom queen” on a parody website, a site which also solicited disparaging salacious anecdotes about her.
Barnhart, while burned in the Bronson race by identity politics in ways anyone might understand and sympathize with, Barnhart could also take undue offense to a perceived slight, and this is where she might be dangerous to herself and others. She took great exception, for instance, to a description of herself in a mailer sent out by a union supporting Bronson. The line in the mailer was, “Harry Bronson knows that public service isn’t about being a flashy TV personality,” and Barnhart took particular, extreme offense to the description “flashy TV personality.” In her autobiography, upon seeing the mailer for the first time, she is knocked for a loop and summed up her feelings with, “The trivialization of my career was now in official campaign literature.”
Pages later in the autobiography, during a debate with Bronson, the debate moderator questioned Bronson about the use of the phrase “flashy TV personality”. Bronson underplayed the issue in his response when he said, “Not every criticism is necessarily sexism,” and in Barnhart’s response that followed, she tried for a mic-drop moment and said of Bronson, “He clearly did not disavow the mailer that called me a ‘flashy TV personality’.”
I’m not sure calling someone a “flashy TV personality” is worth “disavowing,” and I’m reasonably sure most people in the audience that night had been called much worse things in their lives than “flashy.”
While Bronson may have played dirty politics and the phrase “flashy TV personality” was likely intended as a dig; the term itself doesn’t seem serious enough to make for a hill you’d want to die on or to define as a clear example of sexism. Couldn’t you also call a male news anchor running for office “a flashy TV personality”? Additionally, Barnhart’s inability to blow off the minor slight did injustice to more worrisome instances of abuse by the Bronson campaign or elements working in its service, such as the parody website, which solicited unsavory anecdotes, possibly of a sexual nature, about Barnhart. Barnhart, however, could not be moved off the seriousness in her mind of the phrase “flashy TV personality,” and of course eventually thought to include chapters about it in her autobiography.
Barnhart’s position that Jeremy Kappell is unquestionably racist for his choice of language or for a verbal flub that some thought sounded like a conscious choice of language, her position on Kappell’s language might have similarities to her fixation on Bronson campaign language, and if so that should worry Kappell very much. Barnhart does not move off fixations easily, or at all.
By her own account, what made Barnhart a stellar reporter was her willingness to pit herself against the system. Her fighter’s instinct in the context of reporter vs. politician fashions the reporter as someone heroic; the reporter, of course, swinging upward in that situation. But in the context of a politician, as Barnhart is currently battling a private citizen, her fighter’s instinct, in that case, is in service of the tormentor.
Long before the recent exchange of words and charges on Twitter between Barnhart and Kappell, Kappell’s wife attempted to end the escalating Twitter attacks from Barnhart and her followers with an open letter to Barnhart. In one section of the letter, typical of the letter’s earnest tone, Lisa Kappell wrote,
“We were devastated when we found out about the mistake. We are sorry for anyone that was offended. Jeremy made an unfortunate misspeak, and we have suffered more than our share already. That’s why I’m speaking out now. Enough is enough already.”
The lengthy (for social media) two-page letter was posted in hope that it might stem a tide, but instead only seemed to have been another grenade thrown over the trench as online followers of both the Kappells and Barnhart weighed in on the letter’s merits. The situation at that point was at best a draw for Barnhart, and, considering her political ambition, it couldn’t have thrilled her that Jeremy Kappell’s profile had been elevated as much as her own, possibly setting up him for an eventual run at politics.
A new front in the war between Barnhart and the Kappells was recently opened with the Kappell family’s decision to attend Donald Trump’s rally in D.C., which was successfully spun by the mainstream press as being primarily an attack on the Capitol Building. The mainstream take on the event differs significantly, however, from Jeremy Kappell’s experience of it as he recalled to me:
“There was a well-advertised rally that occurred. That was the main event. Somewhere around one million people showed up to listen to Donald Trump and other speakers. They lined up between the White House and the Washington Monument, and they were there for hours on the sixth. They started showing up at five or six o'clock in the morning. I witnessed something that I thought was beautiful and patriotic. We took so many pictures, and video, between the Washington Monument and the White House, of so many patriots standing peacefully, demonstrating, and they were demonstrating against the obvious: against lack of transparency in our government, against lack of integrity with our election process. They were standing up for our first amendment rights, they were standing up for the Constitution, all these things that should be shared values. And they were there for the right reasons.”
Kappell also made plain that he was not part of the protests at the Capitol Building:
“Not everybody there marched down to the Capitol. In fact, if you were like me, I had my wife and my daughter. They were at the hotel. I didn't want to bring them into the crowd, and plus, I needed a way to get in and out so I could post pictures and video. So, after Trump gave his speech; my wife picked my son and me up. It was just south of the Lincoln Memorial, a predetermined spot. I said, ‘Look, be here. I'm not going to be able to talk to you probably, so be here a little after one o'clock,” and she picked us up, and we did not go anywhere but back to the hotel room which was in Arlington, Virginia, so while the Capitol breach occurred, I was posting actively from the hotel room in Arlington, Virginia.”
I asked Kappell if he had any idea who would have turned him in to the FBI for his participation in the D.C. rally, and he answered, “If you want to put a finger on it, I would say it was because of people like Rachel Barnhart that I was contacted by the FBI”, and then he got into the particulars:
“I will say that it was Barnhart, and it was a number of whistleblowers on Twitter that saw a picture of me and my son, and videos of me and my son, in front of the Washington Monument, and they took those pictures, and they took videos, and they formed a false narrative around them, and they all started tagging the FBI. And I started counting because I figured, ‘Ah, this is nothing. The FBI gets tips all the time. This is nothing, ridiculous, absurd,’ but it started getting tweeted, and re-tweeted, and re-tweeted, and the FBI called when it got hit five hundred times with my name on them, and there's not an ounce of truth to it other than the fact that I was in Washington, D.C. on the sixth. In fact, one guy -- and I've kept all this, and my attorneys are going through it – one guy went so far as to, he went onto my Facebook page -- where I made it very obvious where I was, and I made it very clear that I did not condone the violence that was occurring at the Capitol because once it started to occur and I caught wind of the news we did a live video -- and this guy took about a ten-second clip from that 35-minute live video from our hotel room and he took just ten seconds of my wife saying how proud she was of her boys and that she and my daughter dropped us off and we went in, and then they took that, and they said, ‘Well, there's your proof that he went in the Capitol,’ and these are the types of mental leaps that we've seen in the past. It's not unlike what occurred on January sixth, 2019, when I stumbled over my words. We know the narratives that were formed after that.”