California's Miss Oregon: What the web reveals
Did Rachel L. Berry of Burbank, California move to Oregon by October 21, 2011, so that she was eligible to compete in the Miss Oregon 2012 pageant? The evidence from the internet clearly indicates that Berry, who won the Oregon competition, did not move to Oregon by then, and that she was therefore not eligible to enter the contest.
Berry has refused to talk about this with a reporter, and she has declined our repeated suggestions to discuss the matter with the public through other means. And so internet research is all the public has to go on. In this case, that will likely be good enough for many people to draw a conclusion.
Here is the timeline of the relevant period: mid-October of last year through this week.
October 15, 2011: Rachel Berry, 23, a graduate of Chapman University, is living in Burbank with her younger sister, Adrienne, who is an aspiring professional dancer and, like her sister, a pageant contestant. The elder Berry works sporadically as a reporter for the City of Hawthorne, California television station, whose programming is seen on cable and on the internet; she also works long hours at a nearby outlet of Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant chain. There are several Cheesecake Factories within driving distance of the Berrys' home, including locations in Sherman Oaks, Woodland Hills, and Brentwood. Berry is the reigning Miss Orange County 2011, and she was previously Miss City of Orange 2010. She has competed in about a half dozen pageants, including at least one in her home state of Indiana.
October 20, 2011: Berry posts on Facebook about a photo shoot "on the Disney lot," presumably in southern California:
Screenshot supplied by a reader.
October 21, 2011: This date is six months before the Miss Three Rivers pageant is held in Oregon City. This is the deadline to be a legal resident of Oregon in order to be eligible to compete in the 2012 Miss Oregon pageant. (Actually, one could read the rules to say that the deadline was earlier than this -- six months before Berry actually entered Miss Three Rivers -- but under any reasonable reading of the rules, this is the latest possible date for the residency requirement to apply.)
October 23, 2011: Adrienne Tweets that she has been out for a walk with Berry:
October 27, 2011: Adrienne Tweets that Berry is just now getting home from work:
October 28, 2011: Berry Tweets that she has just accompanied her sister to an audition:
October 28, 2011: Berry Tweets that she just attended the Radiant Women's Conference:
The conference was held in Van Nuys, California, near Burbank.
November 20, 2011: Berry posts to Facebook a photo of herself with a member of a veterans' post in Hawthorne, at which she shot a TV news segment about the post's Thanksgiving dinner, held that day:
Screenshot supplied by a reader.
Berry is seen on camera in the resulting video (starting at 12:03):
The segment airs on November 30.
November 27, 2011: Adrienne Tweets about leftovers that Berry is bringing home from Cheesecake Factory:
December 9, 2011: Berry posts on Facebook about a celebrity sighting on an L.A.-area freeway:
Screenshot supplied by a reader.
December 12, 2011: Adrienne Tweets that Berry is taking her phone:
December 19, 2011: Berry uploads to YouTube her farewell video as Miss Orange County 2011:
January 4, 2012: Berry and Adrienne attend a church service presided over by "Pastor Mel," whom Berry regards as "my pastor":
There is a Pastor Mel who presides at the In His Presence Church, in Woodland Hills, near Burbank.
January 7, 2012: Adrienne complains about Berry's musical tastes:
January 29, 2012: The two sisters are still hanging out together, on the older sister's 24th birthday:
February 27, 2012: The first sign of separation:
April 21, 2012: The Miss Three Rivers pageant is held in Oregon City. Berry is named Miss Willamette Valley, one of three "misses" crowned that night.
June 30, 2012: Berry wins the Miss Oregon pageant.
July 1, 2012: This blog points out that she was a very recent transplant from California and quotes the residency requirement.
July 2, 2012: Berry appears on the KATU-TV program AM Northwest and tells the hosts there that she has lived in Oregon for "about a year." Later that day, Berry uploads a promotional video for Baker City, with her as Miss Oregon and spokesperson.
If there were just one or two of these moments, there might be an explanation. One might think that maybe Berry moved to Oregon in October and was just going back to California to visit her sister. But when you add all of the posts up, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that she didn't move to Oregon until after the deadline. Was she commuting from Oregon to the San Fernando Valley to work at Cheesecake Factory in November? It strains credulity. The feverish internet scrubbing of the past week, by women who previously craved public attention, is an additional, damning piece of evidence.
So now what? Neither Berry nor the Miss Oregon pageant organization in Seaside has shown any indication of admitting her ineligibility, or even acknowledging that there is an issue. Given that Berry's pageant mentor, Connie Benson, is a familiar face on the Seaside pageant scene (although she's now a southern California lawyer, she's back and forth to Seaside quite a bit), it seems unlikely that the local organization is going to take Berry's crown away against her will. The national Miss America organization is notorious for not investigating in cases such as these.
Will the media hound Berry into stepping down? Only one mainstream media outlet -- KATU-TV -- has shown any interest in the story. And the investigative reporter who did the work there, Anna Canzano, has been off duty this week. That station has run only one segment, and no other editor in the state has thought it worth their time (although a station in Eugene apparently ran the KATU clip).
Probably the only way any official change is going to be made is if the runner-up, Nichole Mead of Newport, or other contestants lawyer up and see where they can get with the case in a courtroom. Who knows if they'd do that? It seems like a lot of expense and hassle, and maybe they'll be turned off enough to let the whole thing go.
But there is money involved. Berry took a $10,000 "scholarship" prize; Mead won $3,500; third through fifth places won $2,500, $2,000, and $1,500, respectively. If Berry shouldn't have been allowed to compete, Mead was deprived of an amount of "scholarship" money that the average person would probably say is substantial. And some unknown young woman in sixth place got nothing when she should have gotten $1,500.
One thing is certain: Based on what we've seen so far, we don't think Berry is a real Oregonian, and she doesn't represent us. And we wonder about some of what goes on at the Miss Oregon pageant. As a nonprofit organization, that group is under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general's office; perhaps someone from that office ought to ask a few questions.
UPDATE, 10:49 a.m.: Berry has resigned.