Control and Circumspection in the Age of Blog

An interesting discussion on the wisdom of Rep. Baron Hill getting slightly testy on his no-record request at a meeting with constituents. Naturally, someone recorded his insistence, despite boos, of a “my meeting” stance.


Now, according to the hopeful Right, this will trigger the collapse of the Democratic Party (sans “ic,” of course). Too bad they don’t see the polls on Congress, eh?

In the discussion mentioned, various points were made or attempted on freedom of the press (Is everybody with cell phone audio/video now a journalist?), on who is the servant of whom, on basic courtesy, and whatnot. A few thoughts:

1. I didn’t see what might have gotten under Rep. Hill’s collar before the YouTube gotcha! but he had better options. If I were a Representative, I would encourage recording of my own images and words. Maybe I would have my staff do it professionally and offer to send the video file to any constituent in my district who sent an e-mail request. However, I would ask questioners their permission before recording them. I would also caution aspiring press that asking permission to record other people at the meeting would be a matter of courtesy I would expect of them as well. Speaking out at a public meeting in a corner of America is one thing. Making it a matter of international scrutiny is something else entirely.

2. Having pretty much given up mainstream tv after the election, I haven’t seen any of the reported bad behavior caught on camera from these meetings. But I’ve seen boorish behavior on the internet, so it doesn’t surprise me that shocking things like this happens in real life. Thanks to the anonymity factor on the net, I can’t believe it’s as bad as St Blog’s can get. And we can be pretty nasty, let me assure you.

3. Can we equate blog sites and comboxes with these “free” town hall meetings? In other words, given the stance that these meetings are “open,” that people are “free,” and that blogs are just another human gathering, if not another form of “journalism,” is all this kerfuffle about editing, blocking, banning, and previewing just hot air? Donald McClarey from American Catholic:

This wasn’t a private home Todd or a private meeting for invited guests only. This was a public meeting held by a Congressman and anyone, by definition, could attend. Video taping such a meeting is commonly done by members of Congress for campaign commercials to show how in touch they are with their constituents. Now members of the public are doing precisely the same thing and some of the members of Congress are foolish enough to say publicly that they think is terribly unfair. This is not about manners, but rather a testament to just how totally out of touch some members of Congress are.

I wondered about the wisdom of this statement, especially if applied to the blogosphere. Can we say something like this:

This wasn’t a private internet site or a private meeting for registered users only. This was a public blog hosted by a blogger and anyone, by definition, could read and publish comments. Commenting on such a blog is commonly done by all sorts of people to show how in touch they are with issues and with other internet commenters. Now some of the bloggers are foolish enough to say publicly that they think is terribly unfair. This is not about manners, but rather a testament to just how totally out of touch some bloggers are.

I’ll have to keep these thoughts in mind as I continue to enter lions’ dens in the blogosphere. Over the past ten years, I’ve been banned on five or six sites, for persisting in ways not unlike those who have gone to these political meetings. There is another blogger, whom I count as a good friend, who consistently edit my posts or deletes them if they get too off his echo track. Should I feel a bit left-out if some on the Right object to my arguments, but have no problem, in turn, with their philosophical sisters and brothers shouting down others in an equally public place?

For my readers, I certainly urge you to watch my words for inconsistencies and problems–and please call me on it when you see it. By no means should you believe everything I write, especially if your antennae are quivering. But I also advise watching the behavior of conservative sites, too, if you surf there. See if the same human thin skin doesn’t cover their temples of the Holy Spirit, too. See if the usual suspects aren’t just channeling Baron Hill with their own blog management.

4. Lastly, is the taping of meetings by “the press” overall a good development or not? In other words, once politicians know their semi-informal meeting could get plastered on YouTube and on the other party’s web site, will they be even more circumspect in what they say? Will the town hall meeting start looking like Sundya morning talk tv with puffball questions and lots of smiles and platitudes? Or have we had enough of politicians giving us honest answers and from the gut?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Control and Circumspection in the Age of Blog

  1. Lee says:

    I suspect I am the “friend” you referred to who edits or leaves out some of your comments.

    Violation of the echo track? No. Beating a dead horse, sometimes. I’ve done that to others.

    And I’m a sensitive plant (to steal a line from Wodehouse), and I tend to excise or leave out things that I feel get too personal or insulting, especially when typed by someone I consider a friend.

  2. Todd says:

    Lee, thanks for posting, for your explanation, and thanks for the vulnerability there. A good reminder for the more excitable elements of the blogosphere who believe error has no feelings.

  3. Tony says:

    You will have boors of all stripes at any public meeting. As someone who got involved in local politics and attended city council meetings for a few months I can understand how this sort of thing can work.

    We had one “gadfly” who would come to the public meeting every month to have his “five minutes on tape”. Anyone who knew him, knew he was an ignorant blowhard, so it didn’t reflect on the rest of the group.

    I believe it’s the same now with the public meetings, and if there’s an Obama rally, what’s to keep a right-winger from dressing up in an ACORN t-shirt and shouting “death to Republicans!!! Kill them all!!!”.

    It’s the same with commenters. I would never hold your commenters words against you or any other blog (except maybe the Daily KOS. ;))

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