Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Hobbs Affair Wrap-Up

The business of the Kopp / Spragens ambush-mugging of Bill Hobbs (follow-ups here, here and here) seems to have played out now. Bill posted the following (in comments, scroll down):
I think we should all just let it go and move on. I'm going to be fine. I already had plenty of consulting work, and more is coming in. This incident hasn't hurt me.

Belmont was a great place to work, I did some amazing work there that will make the resume look great, and the university was gracious at the end.

The bottom line is I stupidly put an offensive cartoon online and left it there where Kopp found it, and then he - not me - shared it with the world on behalf of the happy Muslim kids in his neighborhood, and then his ally at the Scene did the story and the rest is history.

If I had been a PR advisor telling Belmont what to do in this situation, rather than the employee involved, I would have told them to part ways with the employee.

I also would have told them that doing so would likely spark severe blowback in the blogosphere.
So there you go.

But I disagree in that I don't think Kopp or Spragens should be let off the hook yet. Especially Spragens, who has yet to say a peep about this.

The blogosphere being what it is, of course someone was going to start looking into Spragen's past. Dan Riehl provides a rather exhaustive overview of what the Web had to offer about Spragens.

And it's not reassuring. He's been an activist for left-leaning causes since high school. He's also sympathetic to third parties. (Which isn't a bad thing, mind you; says the registered Libertarian!) Riehl's post does a lot to giving you insight into Spragen's mind.

Next, you should take a look at Jay's wrap-up at Blogging for Bryant. Jay points out something new to me, which is that Mike Kopp also has a relationship with Jim Cooper, who will soon become Spragens' employer. (Unless another media kerfuffle derails his plans....)

That brings up a question I've wondered about but haven't seen explicitly asked: What was the connection between Kopp's post and Spragen's article? Most seem to assume it was simply one of Spragen seeing the Kopp piece and then going off on his own. That may in fact be what happened.

But in light of the Cooper connection it should be asked of Kopp and Spragens. Did one contact the other? Do they know each other socially or occupationally, and did some discussion take place? The answer is likely no, but if the answer is a surprising yes, then it casts the Hobbs affair in a very different light.

I think it's a fair avenue to explore.

I haven't yet sat down, as I've wanted to, to compare the Kopp and Spragens pieces side by side but they do track rather closely. I don't know if this is just down to laziness on Spragen's part but it, too, deserves a look. After all, that's what we bloggers do.

And lastly comes this summarising piece from A.C. Kleinheider. Kleinheider wants to know who is to blame for plunging the knife into Hobbs' back.
The proverbial red hot poker was plunged into a man's backside and many seek an answer to the question of whose name is on the handle. Is it Mike Kopp, the Democratic partisan who unearthed the months old cartoon setting off this unsavory chain of events? Is it John Spragens and/or the Nashville Scene who published the article that led to the Hobbs resignation? Belmont University? Bill Hobbs himself? Who is to blame?
But there are problems with his otherwise probing piece.

First starters he equates Hobbs and Kopp as "players" on the Tennessee political scene. That's just absurd. Kopp has made money with his politics and applied his talents to the Democratic political machine many times as a living. Hobbs has not. Politics for Kopp is a vocation; for Hobbs, an avocation.

Kleinheider also says:
What did Kopp do that was so wrong?

He saw something interesting on the internet. He posted about it. He provided commentary. He drew conclusions, asked questions, and started a discussion. Pretty much the definition of a blog post. It's something posters do everyday....

Partisan hit job? Please. If you removed posts like Kopp's from the blogosphere, there would be no blogosphere. At least no political one. Kopp did nothing wrong. His hands are clean.
Only to say, late in his post:
I chuckled because this whole fiasco is being universalized, painted in such broad stokes, when in reality, it is a very specific case.

The case of Bill Hobbs is abberation, a fluke. There is no great lesson, he is no great martyr, there was no great conspiracy.
Which is it?

I think the crucial difference that Kleinheider either truly doesn't see, or is doing contortions to avoid is simple: Kopp's piece was not a plain laying out of facts. There was an agenda involved with an intent Kopp did not disclose.

Partisanship on the web is common, rife if you prefer. Nothing wrong with that. In fact it is the blogosphere's great advantage over the legacy print media. We lay out our prejudices and agendas right out. The print and news media pretend they don't have any and works hard to make you believe it.

Reread Kopp's original post. He deliberately draws connections between disparate blogs by distorting their relationships. When told the facts of the non-existant relationships, he continues to repeat the false allegations. He is not interested in truth, but in FUD -- fear, uncertainty and doubt. He's trying to impress on readers a false impression by repeating The Big Lie over and over.

When he talks about the page with the Mohammad cartoon, he uses lurid and descriptive terms. His stance is the old stump routine "We're all reasonable people here, but this... THIS... goes beyond the pale, as I'm sure you'll all agree. You do agree, don't you?"

When Kopp brings Hobbs' employer into it, it was purely to goad, to get a reaction. He, and Spragens later in what seems blatant imitation, "rhetorically" asks what Belmont thinks. But he never ever seems to demonstrate any real interest in what that might be. He only wants to see the reaction, not understand it.

These kinds of posts can be tricky things. I once caught a Christian Brothers University professor apparently plagiarising a story from the Internet. (More here.) He did it in the Shelby County Democrat, the Shelby County Democratic Party's official paper in his official capacity as editor.

In that case, I contacted the professor and tried to get his side of things before I posted. It seemed the fair thing to do before I sprang this, to give him a chance to explain or admit a mistake.

Kopp had no interest in that approach. He wanted to be sure the offending image was waved around and the appropriate parties were put on the spot.

Just the other day, I posted on a local political candidate whose story about a theft had a lot of unanswered questions in it. In that case, I didn't contact the politician because my problem is with the reporter and the newspaper that reported it. They don't seem to have made reasonable effort to answer the obvious questions arising from the situation they found.

That was my problem with the Spragen's piece. He, too, wondered mightily about Belmont's reaction. And, as a writer for the Nashville Scene he had the resources and clout to make the calls and ask the questions. It wouldn't have been a case of springing a surprise because the story was already out there. It would have gone a long way to building Spragen's credibility as a columnist in that it would have avoided the taint of partisan attack that followed.

And so I'll drop this matter, unless some new wrinkle appears. Kopp and Spragens have a lot to answer for. They don't appear to be doing that any time soon, unless someone with some clout will confront them. Kopp is hiding behind his blog; Spragens behind his editor. Hobbs has already done his answering to pretty much everyone's satisfaction.

Only the die-hard, at-all-costs partisans remain. As they always do.

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