Hating the Ideology, Not the Methodology
As Radley Balko noted this morning, Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC, and the Sean Penn of Congress) was asked by a self-identified student (the Ron Galella of citizen journalists) if he subscribes to the "Obama agenda." Sure, the question is overly broad and it's not entirely clear what is meant by "the Obama agenda"—Afghanistan? Bailouts? Health care?—but Etheridge, determined to drive Congress's historically low approval rating down to zero, responded by physically assaulting the meddling, camera-wielding kids. Video here, for those who haven't seen it.
The Atlantic rounds up the reactions here, and notes this "skeptical" tweet from my pal and former colleague Dave Weigel: "He's a student! He's working on a project! He has no name! Nothing shady there." Sarcasm acknowledged, but what is "shady" about asking Etheridge a simple, if vague, question? First, the Congressman asks "Who are you?" while knocking the camera out of the kid's hand and, demonstrating that he possesses a limited familiarity with American law, declaring that he has "a right to know who you are." On a public street, you have the right to walk away, Bob, but members of Congress have no special rights to demand names and affiliations of those asking questions. Should these kids have been more specific? I would have been, though as demonstrated in the video they were attacked before they were allowed a chance to respond.
The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz tweets that the video looks "like James O'Keefe 2.0," a reference to the conservative activist who produced the infamous ACORN "pimp" videos. If this is meant as criticism—and I suspect it is—it is meaningless. Does anyone doubt that Fernholz would blog with indignation, until his fingers were raw, if the member of Congress doing the shoving and wrist-grabbing was, say, Michele Bachmann?
Also noted by The Atlantic is a post from blogger Doug Mataconis who declares that "sticking a camera in somebody's face and demanding they answer a question is hardly a form of reasonable political debate, and perhaps not the best way for a constituent to interact with his or her Congressman." Sticking a camera in someone's face? Demanding? This is nonsense on stilts, as the video clearly demonstrates. And if Mataconis, the moral arbiter of what constitutes "reasonable debate" (this wasn't a debate but a flimsy journalistic question; I suspect he means reasonable inquiry), thinks that tracking down a member of Congress on the streets of Capitol Hill is unreasonable, or constitutes some form of harassment, does he hold the major networks and Hollywood studios—think 60 Minutes or Michael Moore—to the same standard?
The only thing new about the "student's" journalistic methodology is that it bypasses the usual media channels and is distributed via YouTube and Breitbart. And we all presume, though don't know for sure, that the kids were right-wingers. So just be honest, my liberal comrades, and admit that you hate the questions, not the method.