Friday, April 14, 2006

A Detailed Case Study of Press Abuse

SUNDAY UPDATE: Wow. I was away from the computer Saturday. When I got home, I was very surprised to see all these visitors! Welcome to folks coming in from Little Green Footballs, Nashville Files, Volunteer Voters, Tennessee Representative Campfield's blog, Roger Abramson, Michael Silence, Mark Rose, Main Street Journal and many more. All have further links to even more comment and opinions.

You can read followups to this post here, here and now here. Please take a moment to go to the top of Half-Bakered and look at my other posts.

Why did I post this? Am I defending Bill Hobbs? Well, as I note below I consider Bill to be a friend of the online variety. We've never met, just exchanged posts, comments and emails. He was very helpful to me when I was just starting out and to a certain extent I've modelled this blog along the lines of his.

Bill certainly doesn't need me, or anyone else, defending him. I'm just calling into question the statements and motives of Mike Kopp and John Spragens, as you'll read below. They were acting in bad faith.

One point of clarification: my thanks to Brittney, in comments to this post, and A.C. for clearing up the origin of "B. Ho." I still disagree that it's inoffensively funny. I find it offensive because I live around people who use the word ho every day as an insult to men and women, inevitably paired with bitch. I hear it screamed as a curse and a belittlement, used as provocation and insult, all the time on the streets of my neighborhood. Maybe some middle class white folks think their ironic use makes it OK. It is not.

Lastly, just to show how hateful, insensitive and tone deaf some folks can be. On Easter weekend, some wag created this photoshopped image. Prepare yourself before you click. Hobbs' Christianity is, as anyone who has dealt with him knows (like the folks responsible), deeply felt and very central to him. That image just shows where some folks' priorities lie, and how genuine human compassion means less to some than scoring cool points with each other. Just pathetic.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy.

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Settle in, because this one goes on a while.

The story begins on April 5 when Mike Kopp put up on his blog this post: Jim Bryson, Jesus and a Mohammed cartoon. Remember that title, OK?

The post was actually about Bill Hobbs, a Nashville blogger and conservative Republican. Hobbs' blog was, until he suspended it earlier this year, a meeting place for Tennessee conservatives and Republicans and a great source of news from the political front. After suspending his blog, Hobbs took it upon himself to organise an unofficial group blog for Jim Bryson, the new default Republican candidate for Governor in 2006.

Hobbs has always believed (as I do) that Governor Phil Bredesen is quite defeatable this time. He, again like I, was worried that no one was stepping up on the Republican side to challenge him. So it seems quite natural that Hobbs would spearhead an effort for Bryson in the blogosphere.

Kopp writes a classic of misdirection, innuendo, false accusation by association, and deliberate misstatement:
It's not surprising that Hobbs would be tapped by Bryson to be his chief flackie in the blogsphere. The blog says it has no ties to the candidate, but those of us who have been around the barn a few times know better.
None of this is news by any stretch of the imagination. Except for an astounding discovery I made while peering through the Bryson blog portal.
When you visit the Bryson blog you will see where Hobbs is listed as founder and editor. There is also a listing of contributors to the blog and first on the list is B-Ho. If you click on B-Ho you will see a list of other Bill Hobbs sites and blogs.
Let's start from the top:

1. Kopp directly says that Bryson selected Hobbs to run the blog, even though he also says that's not true. But winkwink... you know. What's Kopp's proof? Nothing.

2. Notice the "astounding" linkage between Bryson, an unofficial blog, and another blog by a contributor. It's like blaming Harold Ford for something on one of the blogs on Forward With Ford's blogroll. Tenuous doesn't begin to describe the link.

3. "B. Ho" is a cutesy nickname given to Hobbs by some Nashville left/liberal/Democratic bloggers. I'm not sure where it originated, but you see it used regularly by Nashville is Talking's Brittney Gilbert, who wastes no opportunity to slam or attack Hobbs when she can. She quickly posted about the whole incident, with all the relevant links.

Why middle class white people think using a black gangster slang term fraught with misogynistic anti-feminist / anti-woman hate as a way of demeaning someone is funny, I don't understand. But you see these kinds of juvenile name-calling and labelling all the time from Democrats and leftists. (AmeriKKKA, BusHitler, Chimpy McBusHitler, Dumbya, etc.) Slogans are so much easier than real thought.

Anyway, Kopp discovers a link on Hobbs' site to a page with a crude stick figure drawing of a Mohammad figure holding a bomb with "Mohammed Blows" written underneath. The page was a forgotten effort to stand up with the Danish newspaper that became a focus of Islamic hate for publishing some cartoon images of Mohammad. In the comments under Kopp's post, Hobbs explains things.

Kopp then goes on to express faux Christian umbrage that lets him then shoot a political jab at Jim Bryson wondering if he "condones this kind of distasteful insensitivity to people of other faiths" and then goes on to threaten Hobbs' employment by dragging his employer into it. Typical low-ball political sleaze.

It's worth noting that I searched his site for references to "Jesus," "Christian" and "faith" to see what he's said about it before. Nothing on "Jesus" and "Christian" and a possible link on faith

So, who is this Mike Kopp? He's a partner at MMA Creative. (He admits this; I'm not digging up something.) He's also, as Hobbs himself noted in another post on his site, before the shutdown, "... I know Kopp. A former staffer for Al Gore Jr., when Gore was in the Senate, Kopp went on to a very successful career as a political operative and then as a member of the influential Ingram Group, a Nashville government relations firm. At MMA Creative, he's done work for several Democratic clients, including building the Tennessee Democratic Party's website. Kopp's a smart guy. If I was a Democrat seeking office, he'd be the first person I'd call."

You can read this interview with Kopp about his experiences with Al Gore. I really took note of this passage:
Well, I was working at a small, rural daily newspaper which happened to be the largest newspaper in his congressional district, the old Fourth District. And I would work weekends. And typical Al Gore fashion-- it's actually something he continued to do after he went onto the Senate, when his schedule would allow it. He would just show up, oftentimes by himself, show up in the newsroom. And he had a newspaperman's instinct for timing, because he would show up about the time he knew I was frustrated and looking for something to put in the paper the next day. And he would show up with the story. He'd have something that I could use. So, we met. He did that over a period of about six months, and we struck up a friendship. He would come in on Saturdays. After awhile I was sort of like Pavlov's dog, that's where I got conditioned to it. And I needed him. When he didn't show I'd call him to see where he was. And he knew, in a sense he was building a relationship with a reporter, which was important. At the same time he knew how to use the media to get across his point of view on a particular issue. And he knew because of the timing that I would inevitably use it.
If you want to judge his post through his own words about his practices as a journalist, feel free.

You might also note that Kopp is now working for Governor Bredesen's re-election campaign:
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen's re-election campaign has tapped MMA Creative to help with strategy and collateral development in support of a statewide business leader outreach initiative.
And Kopp is apparently a "staff writer" for the Cumberland Business Journal and writes fluff like this puff piece about Harold Ford Jr.

Whew! So, a blogger caught another blogger in a "gotcha" by digging up an obscure, forgotten and unnoticed page. He then smeared by association a political candidate with no substantive links to the blogger and feigned outrage. It's a typical post from the less-upright part of the blogosphere The story seems to have spread some in the blogosphere, but not really gone anywhere.

But that's not all! Get comforable because the story gets wilder.

About a week later, the Nashville Scene's new Political Notes reporter, John Spragens, picked up the story wholesale from Kopp and really played up the lurid aspects:
But by deliberately desecrating Islam’s central figure—“the ‘Prophet Mohammed’ ” as Hobbs sneered, using quote marks for sardonic emphasis—he attacked an entire religion, not a group of fanatics who pervert the religion’s teachings. Then he drew him as a bearded stick figure holding a bomb and said he “blows.” It seems bearded Muslim terrorists are the new big-nosed, money-grubbing Jews. The more things change….

Here’s the best analogy five minutes of thought will yield: a stick figure rendering of Jesus sipping lemonade on the front porch while whipping an anguished bunch of black servants. “Jesus Slays,” the caption would read.

Would that be funny? Nope. Does it conflate a perversion of Christianity’s teachings—you know, the reading that licensed colonialism and slavery—with the man who taught them? Yep. But that’s Hobbs’ sophomoric, misguided brand of political humor. It’s better suited for the Duke lacrosse team than the modern Republican Party.
Spragens made sure to reproduce the now-deleted image.

He also made sure to take up Kopp's cudgel of linking Hobb's employer and Jim Bryson, and to wield the "Jesus wouldn't like that" faith-sword.

Spragens also wrote this howler:
... Hobbs defended himself a little too vociferously. One might say nervously. Oh, and he deleted the cartoon.
I guaran - damned - tee you, had Hobbs left the image up, that sentence would have read "... and he defiantly left the cartoon up." Spragens was determined to make a point, so damn him if he does, damn him if he doesn't. Brittney did the same thing.

Look at all the adjectives and descriptions used for Hobbs: shrill but reputable, apologetic, vociferous, nervous, sneer, sophomoric, misguided. Kopp, on the other hand is "... a longtime Democratic politico ... claiming the faithful high ground ... rhetorically challeng[ing] ..." straw men of Kopp's concoction. Hobbs words are always noted as "he says" or "claims," typical journo-tactics intended to set off the comments and introduce an element of disbelief or denigration to them, to set them aside or away from "us." Kopp, on the other hand, gets no such treatment or analysis.

[Digression: Jesus never condemned slavery. He never condemned the Roman Empire nor tyranny; in fact, he explicitly approved it by saying "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Jesus never condemned the subordinate role of women in his society. Jesus never said that government of any kind should take care of the unfortunate. He commanded his followers, as individuals, to do it.

And Jesus explicitly denied all other religions by saying that the only way to God was through him! Seems a pretty harsh, judgmental and "un-Christian" way of looking at other "faith traditions." But I doubt Spragens even considered all that for a moment before he invoked the "J" and "C" words. End digression.]

And then the party started.

To step out of chronological order here -- to take up a point that deals directly with Spragens -- his predecessor at the Political Notes column, Roger Abramson, was distinctly disapproving of Spragen's column, his intent and his handling of the whole thing:
I have other issues with the piece. I don't, for instance, see what the point was in describing Jim Bryson as a "faith-based institution," nor did I understand what Spragens meant when he said that the idea that "the media shouldn't be intimidated into self-censorship by angry mobs of Muslims is fairly non-controversial." "Non-controversial"? Really? That's strange, because I kind of thought that whole concept is what all of this fuss has been about over the past few months. I also have a problem with the fact that--as I understand it--Spragens called Hobbs exactly once and quite late in the game, such that Hobbs did not get a chance to say his piece. I don't think that's fair, given that Hobbs was the one in the crosshairs.

But, really, my major beef is that Spragens--and, I guess, by extension, the Scene used the tremendous resources at their disposal to fire a bazooka at a housefly, and may have caused undue anguish to a regular Joe, his family and their loved ones in their wake. I love the Scene, I love the people at the Scene and--as I have said in the past and will continue to say--they have always been very good to me, even when they didn't have to be.
Abramson also notes that the way the piece was worded was entirely intending to bring Hobbs' employer into the mess, very likely resulting in Hobbs losing his job and possibly destroying his career. Even Abramson -- a colleague of Spragens as I noted before -- is baffled by Spragens' seeming indifference to this fallout.

I don't doubt for a moment that Spragens knew what he was doing all along and was quite happy to do it. And I offer as evidence, this bit of information: Spragens is leaving the Scene to go to work for US Representative Jim Cooper. Democrat.

Moving on!

Brittney picked the "story" up at Nashville is Talking, complete with silly "B. Hos." It's no secret to regular readers that she loathes Hobbs and all she thinks he stands for. In linking the story from the Scene she made sure to include the cartoon image, so that it is spread and further reproduced.

Her colleague, A. C. Kleinheider at Volunteer Voters also ran with it. (More here especially in comments.)

You can read some sympathetic posts about this, and more discussion in comments at the Nashville Files blog. Try here. As one commenter succinctly and perfectly put it: It was once called McCarthyism .....

The micro-furor finally resulted in Hobbs resigning his day job.

And so Mike Kopp must be very, very happy right now. He just added a head to his belt. So did Spragens. And hey, the blood will wash right out.

Did Hobbs make a bad mistake putting that image up? Possibly. He said it was "stupid" repeatedly, apologised and took it down to end the offense, although his enemies then made sure to put it back up to keep the offense going.

But what Kopp and Spragens did was definitely despicable. They set out through deliberate distortion and emphasis on the lurid to destroy Hobbs. And they succeeded, for now.

Kopp and Spragens have nothing to fear. They are protected by their employers, who share their political sentiments. They have the armor of the Democratic Party to protect them. Hobbs is an ordinary, if politically motivated, citizen who was targetted by forces much larger, much less human, than him.

I have a lot of affection for Bill. My success today was made possible by him. Back when this blog was new and unknown, he linked to me, offered me support and advice, and quoted my posts on an occasional basis. He's hard-hitting and relentless and precise, but he's a decent man.

I have a feeling Mike Kopp will come to regret having done this to Hobbs. Most folks who try this tactic usually do. Someone will turn this back on him and where, in all the stories I've linked so far, he's simply been taken as "some guy with a blog and some political experience" hopefully he will be skewered and grilled until he's quite done. I have no doubt his closet has more skeletons than Memorial Gardens.

INSTANT UPDATES: Brittney rounds up some post-resignation reactions. Some thoughts from Say Uncle. And Roger Abramson waxes eloquent in defense of Bill.

A WEAK-AS-TEA DEFENSE BY THE CULPRITS: The editor of the Nashville Scene responds:
The Nashville Post and Channel 2 have both reported that local blogger Bill Hobbs has resigned from his position at Belmont University following a Scene column this week that reported about an inflammatory anti-Muslim cartoon Hobbs drew and posted on the Internet. Former Scene contributor Roger Abramson's thoughtful take on the situation, which I happen to respectfully disagree with, is here.

I would say first -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- that we didn't set out to hurt Hobbs professionally, and second, he is not just a regular Joe. He has spent the last few years relentlessly working to create a name for himself with blog-based commentary and reporting, arguing that citizen journalism is a serious medium. He's succeeded. So suddenly, when he's called on the carpet, he's a regular Joe? I don't buy it. But I also don't think the guy should have been fired or forced to resign.

Belmont's action here -- assuming this was a forced resignation, and I think everyone believes it is -- is cowardly. I mean, Hobbs' political views haven't been a secret. Why is the school suddenly putting stock in what we have to say about one action by one individual?
Why? Because you forced the issue. The only reason his employer came into it is because her writer put it out there! They linked them. And she OK'd that.

For a rebuttal, read Roger's post just above.
The school shouldn't sacrifice him just because we happen to think that something he did was pretty tacky. That's my peace.
She'll call that last word a typo, but I'm thinking it's really what she meant. I have no doubt she'll sleep easy tonight.

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