At last Thursday’s inaugural festivities, the press was eager to showcase the country’s raw political divide. Those dreaded red v. blue tensions, which were muffled by voting booths back in November, promised to spill onto the streets of Washington. Which outlet would catch the best heckling moment?
The Washington Post vied for that distinction in its special inaugural edition last Friday. Post photographer Toni L. Sandys got a sweet shot of some apparently genuine class conflict in action. The photo depicted a dowdy, middle-aged white man in a tuxedo shouting down a less formally dressed anti-Bush protester.
Here’s what the photo caption said: “Outside the Freedom Ball at Union Station, Rich R. Danu of Detroit waves his wallet at protester Antonia Clark of New York, left, telling her, ‘I’d like to thank George Bush for his tax cuts.’”
Awesome stuff—and ample payoff for the Post’s flooding the inaugural zone with about 80 reporters and photographers. How often do you catch big-time Bushies flaunting their wealth in front of the rabble? Don’t those people usually make their entrances and exits through VIP doors?
Perhaps Post editors should have asked themselves those questions Thursday night, because the clash at Union Station was more political theater than Divided America. Rich R. Danu, as it turns out, was partying in D.C. with a group of people whose “names” include Ivana Moore-Enmoore, Robin Eublind, and Fillmore Barrels.
They’re the Billionaires for Bush, a bunch of lefty satirists who parade around in jewels and rich-person outfits pushing their “agenda.” Having crafted themselves appropriate noms d’argent, they do essentially what Danu was doing at Union Station—namely, thanking Bush for his generosity to the ultra-rich. Sometimes the group’s act is so convincing that others see them as, well, actual billionaires out to shame the less fortunate. “It happens all the time,” says Alex Zautra, an Arizona State University psychology professor and Billionaire. “Police get spoofed all the time, and so do Democrats.”
Add the Post to that list. In real life, Rich R. Danu is Norman Clark of Wyandotte, Mich. Far from his political-agenda identity, the 48-year-old Clark is an unemployed former liquor consultant. He volunteered for the Kerry campaign and hooked up with the Billionaires after the Bush victory. “I needed somewhere to go,” he says.
As Clark explains it, the scene in the Post unfolded after some anti-Bush protesters fooled by his get-up “started in on me.” “So I thought it was best to go along with it,” he recalls. “I told them that George Bush is making my wallet grow. It makes the Republicans look bad, which is what we wanted anyway.”
Says Clark, “I thought it made for good press...It wasn’t a planned hoax, but it just worked out that way.”
The Post has dealt with name games before. “Oh shit, I hate it when that happens,” said Joe Elbert, assistant managing editor for photography, when informed of Danu’s workaday identify. “When you work in Washington, D.C., the whole world’s coming in here trying to manipulate the media.”
Says Sandys: “You think you can catch fake names, but maybe I’m not as astute as I think I am.”—Erik Wemple