Rove met with jeers at U of Iowa [with video]

James Heggen and Rashah Mcchesney

IOWA CITY – Of an audience of 1,200 people, 41 gave Karl Rove a standing ovation, about 30 walked out in protest and one woman tried to arrest him.

Before his appearance at the University of Iowa on Sunday, protesters shouted chants calling Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President George W. Bush – a “war criminal” – among other things.

At the entrance to the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union, where Rove spoke, two campus police officers searched spectators’ jackets, bags and pockets before letting them in. Signs on the doors and windows warned that audience members could not bring in cameras or other video or audio recording devices.

All of the media outlets present were allowed to record and photograph the presentation during the first five minutes, after which they were asked to leave all of their equipment in one corner of the room. UI-TV was allowed to record the entire event to be broadcast at a later date.

In a previous interview, Sharon Benzoni, student and co-chairwoman of the U of I lecture committee, said Rove, who was paid $40,000 for his appearance, initially did not want to allow media personnel to attend at all.

After an introduction by a member of the lecture committee was met with a mix of loud derision and standing ovations, Rove walked onstage and a number of groups exploded into action.

Members of about 30 groups stood and turned their backs to the stage before walking out of the room.

David Goodner, of the University of Iowa Antiwar Committee, said he stood and left in protest because of Rove’s “direct and intimate involvement with misleading [the] country into a war with Iraq.”

While the protesters filed out of the room, Kirk Brown and Mona Shaw, both of Des Moines, made their way to the front of the room. Shaw read loudly from a piece of paper her intent to place Rove under citizen’s arrest.

After university officials spoke briefly with Shaw and Brown, they were escorted from the room.

Frank Durham, associate professor of journalism and communication at the University of Iowa, tried to interview Rove but had a difficult time since the audience was loud and Rove often talked over him.

Durham then moderated a question-and-answer session that took up the bulk of the duration of Rove’s appearance. During the session, several more students took the opportunity to heckle Rove.

Rove took most of the jeers in stride. After one member of the audience called out for the $40,000 used to pay Rove to be refunded, Rove succinctly replied, “Can’t have it.”

After another member yelled that Rove had “blood on his hands,” Rove showed the palms of his hands – which had no blood on them in any literal sense – to the audience.

However, one comment left Rove unsettled. An audience member asked a question about gay marriage. He mentioned Rove’s deceased father, who the audience member said was gay. Rove sharply responded, “Have you met my father?”

Sharon Benzoni, student chairwoman of the lectures committee said that, though the first minutes were “rowdy,” the crowd seemed to calm down enough to allow the presentation to proceed.

“Once they had the chance to get out their angry comments, a really interesting dialogue developed between Rove and the audience,” Benzoni said. “It was more antagonistic than I expected; I guess I should have expected it.

“I’m just really glad that when it got to the question-and-answer, the audience was really respectful of both the question and the answers.”

Pat Miller, director of the lectures program at Iowa State, said that, despite some controversial speakers, Iowa State hasn’t had the kind of audience reaction seen at Iowa on Sunday. When Christopher Hitchens gave a lecture titled “How Religion Poisons Everything” in fall 2007, Hitchens was surprised at the lack of animosity.

“It’s like Christopher Hitchens said: ‘You’re all entirely too nice,'” Miller said.