Published Monday, November 9, 2009, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
Who's a 'rotten apple'?
Rail official explains remark some took as an insult
By David DeBolt
Daily Post Staff Writer
Perhaps it was a misunderstanding.
But opponents of high-speed rail on the Peninsula are hopping mad over comments mad by one rail official, who they say called them "rotten apples."
That official, Rod Diridon, however, told the Post yesterday he was't talking about people, but rather the lies that have spread about the massive $80 billion project.
"What I referred to was that one piece of misinformation will be repeated and repeated and therefore cause a lot of confusion," said Diridon, a former Santa Clara County Supervisor who now sits on the rail authority's board of directors.
One rail critic, Martin Engel of Menlo park, said he considered Diridon's words a personal attack.
"There's no doubt about it, we are the rotten apples," said Engel.
Engel follows the project -- and its key players -- closely. He sends reports to residents via e-mail frequently, sometimes two or three times a day.
At a rail authority board meeting in Sacramento on Thursday, that magnifying glass seemed to burn Diridon's skin.
Diridon made the crack about rotten apples while he was in the process of telling the authority's new ad agency, Ogilvy Worldwide, what problems it wanted to solve.
Here's what he said verbatim:
"Misinformation is causing serious media relations problems in the mid-Peninsula -- Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto area especially. That misinformation coming sometimes from inadvertently our own staff. But then again, it's being presented by opponents, blatantly providing false information to the media and then having no correction. No information being provided that would counter that misinformation and I think you related to that earlier.
"So would you relate to those two examples, not those two specific cases but those examples as kind of in-the-weeds detail that you really need to be on immediately, so that it doesn't, the kind of thing are like a sore that festers, or the rotten apple in the barrel, if you would like to use another example. And you got to get that apple out of the barrel immediately and please figure out a way and let us know at some time in the future and call us individually or give us a report on how you would be creating kind of flying squads of emergency response to nip those problems in the bud.
"You want to avoid them if you can but if you can't avoid them you need to have a way of countering them immediately so that, misinformation isn't allowed to float around, it's corrected. So please consider that as early tasks."
When Diridon told an Ogilvy representative "you got to get the apple out of the barrel immediately," Engel interpreted that as an assignment for Ogilvy to silence high-speed rail dissidents.
Engel said, "Here is Diridon basically saying, 'Take car of these people. Their information needs to be corrected with our information. We need to shut them up because they are a pain.'"
Yesterday, Diridon said he was only encouraging the PR firm to make sure incorrect information was corrected.
Diridon asked the media relations team to bring back a report to show how they would create an emergency response system to "nip those problems in the bud."
Engel said, "Everything they put out is misinformation. That is what's so ironic about this."