Do the Hyatt’s computers lean left? Columnist thinks so

07/03/2014 3:30 PM |
Columnist James Varney believes intellectual diversity might not be welcome thing on Long Island's East End.

Columnist James Varney believes intellectual diversity might not be welcome thing on Long Island’s East End.

Does the Hyatt Place hotel in Riverhead have lefty-leaning computers in its lobby?

That’s what a columnist from New Orleans is claiming after he stayed there recently and found that the guest computers in the hotel’s lobby blocked websites he considered to be conservative leaning.

Yet the computers freely allowed more liberal leaning sites, he wrote.

But the hotel’s general manager says he was able to get on the same websites the columnist reported were blocked, and he thinks there may just have been some words within the sites on that particular day that triggered a content filter to block the entire sites.

James Varney, a columnist for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans and its website NOLA.com, said he was a guest at the Riverhead Hyatt recently when he was attending a wedding in the area.

On Tuesday, he wrote a column called “The Long Island Internet Blues,” in which he states, while describing the Hamptons:  ”You’re also not going to get full-blown Internet surfing there, at least if you’re a guest at the Hyatt Place hotel in Riverhead. The left-wing sites roll as smoothly as Pacific Ocean sets, but try to read anything on the other side and it’s reef breaks all day long.”

He said he when he tried to get on the Conservative-leaning Drudge Report from the Hyatt’s guest computers in the lobby, “The site loaded, and then a kind of warning box like you wish would pop up repeatedly on your children’s laptops filled the screen informing me it had been determined that site had some questionable content and viewing it was verboten.

“The screen would go blank, and a kind of Orwellian corporate page would swim up from ‘Uniguest.’ Then back to the opening menu.”

The same thing happened, he said, when he tried to get on Instapundit and PowerLine, which he described as conservative sites.

When he tried to get on Talking Points Memo and The Daily Kos, which he described as being more liberal sites, there was no such filter.

“In the big money enclaves of Long Island the concept of ‘diversity’ may be revered. Intellectual diversity, on the other hand, not so much,” Mr. Varney wrote.

But Steve Shauger, the hotel’s general manager, said he was able to get the Drudge Report, Instapundent and PowerLine on those same computers after he read Mr. Varney’s column Tuesday.

“I’m not really sure where this guy is coming from,” Mr. Shauger said.

He contacted Hyatt’s corporate headquarters and Uniquest, the company that makes the lobby computers, which do have a content filter.

“The content filters apply to any website,” Mr. Shauger said. “If there is explicit wording that may have been on one of the news articles on those sites, that may have triggered it.”

The three websites that Mr. Varney says were blocked all have numerous links to other sites on them, and it’s possible that something in those links triggered the filter, Mr. Shauger said.

The lobby computers will shut off if someone logged on doesn’t use them for five minutes, and the filters to protect against viruses as well, Mr. Shaugher said.

“We don’t want people going on inappropriate sites in our lobby,” he said. “But there’s no political agenda.”

Mr. Varney’s column also considers Riverhead to be part of a Democratic, or “blue,” hotspot.

“Riverhead sits right at the fork in eastern Long Island, which means it’s but a half-hour or less to the shores of the Great Peconic Bay to the north, or the famous Hamptons to the south,” he wrote.

“In other words, it doesn’t get much bluer. There may be a family or two left in the Hamptons that’s been rotten with money for so long it can get away with being Republican, but you can be sure they keep a low profile.”

In actuality, Riverhead Town still is a Republican Town, according to voter enrollment stats. As of April 2013, the town had 7,591 registered Republicans, 5,737 registered Democrats and 6,067 “blanks,” who aren’t registered with any party.

The town also has had an all-Republican Town Board since 2010.

Mr. Varney penned a followup column on Wednesday, writing that his first column got picked up by Instapundit, PowerLine and another Conservative site called RedState, and that he’s gotten emails from people all over the country describing similar experiences at other hotels around the country, not just Hyatt Place hotels.

He also got a response from Uniguest that was similar to the response the News-Review got from Mr. Shauger.

“In some instances, the filters rules have unintended consequences and block sites that common sense would deem safe,” Uniguest told Mr. Varney in response to his claims, according to the column.

As for Riverhead itself, Mr. Varney said in his column:

“The locals couldn’t be nicer.”

tgannon@timesreview.com