Rep. Jesse White Apologizes For Making Online Anti-drilling Comments Under False Names

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

State Rep. Jesse White, the Cecil Democrat who has tangled with Marcellus Shale drillers, found himself in hot water again Thursday after a series of online posts.

In a television report Wednesday, Mr. White refused to address the online posts, and in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday, he denied that the comments were his. But several hours later, he released a statement through the House Democratic caucus in which he acknowledged making the posts and apologized to two people.

The issue came to light when KDKA-TV aired a report linking Mr. White to an online post in the name of a constituent and suggesting he had posted comments calling her an “industry troll” and “an embarrassment to her community.”

In a morning interview Thursday, he denied making the online posts.

“I have not engaged in the sorts of things I have been accused of,” he said. “Calling people all these names and things of that nature, that’s just not — if I’m going to say something, I’m going to say it in my own name.

“The comments I’ve been accused of in the story, I deny.”

Asked if he could say he had never posted anonymous or pseudonymous comments criticizing a constituent, he said: “That would be accurate. I comment under my own name.”

But hours later, he issued the statement acknowledging he made the posts.

In the statement, he apologized to two people who had been mentioned in the television report and said the posts came in response to attacks on his character.

Mr. White said his willingness to question the safety of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania has attracted the notice of industry groups that have sought to discredit him.

“These attacks have included anonymous or fictitious posts on various websites,” he said in the statement. “On occasion, I have exercised my First Amendment rights and responded in kind, which was an error in judgment that I regret.”

Mr. White said he had used no government resources in his postings, and Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democrats, said staff members had confirmed that he hadn’t used caucus equipment.

The House Democratic leader, Frank Dermody, said in a phone interview that Mr. White’s conduct was unacceptable.

“We all care passionately about issues — he does about this issue — but there’s a way to go about this, and this is the wrong way to do it,” said Mr. Dermody, D-Oakmont. “If that’s how you feel, you’ve got to be prepared to stand up and say that and acknowledge that and engage in fair play when you do that.

“Jesse made a mistake and acknowledged that.”

Mr. White’s statement said he apologized to the two constituents “for any action I’ve taken that may have been offensive or hurtful.”

“I will be extending a private invitation to meet with them to discuss our viewpoints face-to-face in an effort to find common ground and foster a more professional and respectful level of communication,” he said.

Mr. White said he supports natural gas drilling, but he has had visible tangles with the industry. In November, the drilling company Range Resources released a series of emails in which the legislator raised concerns about fundraisers that Range hosted for Mr. White or said it would attend.

One email appeared to show Mr. White asking Range to fly him to the 2011 Super Bowl, in which the Steelers played the Green Bay Packers. Mr. White later said the message was a joke.

In the interview, Mr. White suggested the appearance of the KDKA story could be linked to a request he made for communications between the state Department of Environmental Protection and Energy In Depth, an industry-funded group whose website was the location of some of the comments.

“There’s a pattern here,” Mr. White said. “Every time I’m able to come close to finding out some information, I am immediately subjected to these kind of hit jobs to try to distract me.”