Congressman Bob Etheridge Was He Wrong?

Yes he was….but so were the students participating in a “project”.

By now you have probably seen this video that’s gone viral:

It’s on many of our local news outlets, including the BEST local paper this side of the Mississippi River (ok, that might be stretching it), the Garner Citizen.  I’ve seen Tweets about it, Facebook posts, etc.  and many of them are taking shots at Etheridge.  But, what about the students involved?  Don’t they get any backlash?  They should!

I am NOT saying that Congressman Etheridge is innocent.  As believeable (or unbelieveable) as it is, even he admits he was in the wrong.  However, in my very humble opinion, it’s not just Etheridge that was in the wrong here.  Those students were too (as far as we know anyway).

Here’s the thing about video – you never know the whole story.

Here’s the way I saw it.

There were two (or more?) students on an assignment (they did say they were “here for a project”).  They whipped out their flip camera, began recording, and then automatically assumed whomever (Congressman or not) they were going to videotape would just automatically agree to the recording without even identifying who they were.

Now, I could be wrong here but unless a person is wearing a media badge of some sort, that person cannot expect to get cooperation for “a project”…OR maybe, just maybe that was their project – to find out how many people they can get to go on camera without identifying themselves first?

See my point?

I get that the students were participating in a “project” but I’m sorry, that’s just not the way to go about getting the cooperation needed to complete an assignment.  And if I were their teacher, I’d so be deducting points for unprofessional-like conduct.  I’d like to believe that the teacher provided a rubric beforehand that indicated that professionalism (on their part) counted…but perhaps I’m wrong their too?

And heck – we don’t even know if they are actually students with a project.  Perhaps they are just two college kids doing their own experiment.  Umm…unless the experiment was as I indicated earlier above, I would have to say – experiment failed.

A blanket “Who are you?” isn’t going to get you anywhere.

As for Mr. Etheridge, he most definitely should have been professional about his role in this as well.   A blanket “Who are you?” isn’t going to get you anywhere.  Try – “I’d be happy to answer your question if you will kindly tell me who you are and what this is for?” Then, even if they were lying, he still could have formulated a well-thought out (i.e. politically correct) answer.  Had they not satisfied his inquiry with an appropriate answer, he should have then said, “I’m sorry I am not willing to participate. I bid you good day,” turned around, and walked away to go on about his business.  THAT would have been the professional thing to do.

Both parties are in the wrong here.  This is not a political issue for me.  It’s an ethical one.  I bet those kids would’ve gotten a completely different answer (or at least a much more professional one) had they just identified themselves from the get-go.

For all the bashing to be one-sided against Etheridge and his actions is just wrong.  They deserve equal ridicule.  I don’t care who Bob Etheridge is.  BOTH parties deserve their comeuppance.  Bottom line.

UPDATE: Raleigh’s News and Observer posted the two unedited versions of the video with different angles here: 6/14/2010 @ 3:58pm)

17 Responses to “Congressman Bob Etheridge Was He Wrong?”
  1. MRH says:

    Lisa, regarding my response on your facebok page:

    I didn’t mean to imply that you advocated it. Sorry if you thought that.

    The two sides are clear:

    One side is that of two conservative citizens hoping to catch a Democratic Congressperson in some “gotcha'” journalism.

    The other is of a Congressperson who bit the hook set for him to the Nth power. He also happens to represent me in Congress.

    The students got what they wanted. They were not looking for a balanced interview with him. They wanted to piss him off and get great a reaction. They succeeded.

    I am sure the RNC has already tried to locate the guys, purchase rights for the video and use it against him, and other Democrats, seeking reelection this year.

    At the very least, if criminal charges are not brought against him, I bet political opponents will encourage the one assaulted to file a civil suit against him, forcing Etheridge to spend time and monetary resources on that.

    Another issues is that had the person with the camera been a petite woman, or even an African-American male, and a white, male Congressman grabbed him or her by the throat, this story would be top story on every media outlet, and that 2:30 press conference would have been one of the person announcing their resignation, not apologizing.

    I also find it even more ironic that Etheridge has co-sponsored anti-bullying bills, and yet when faced with someone he could physically manhandle, he opted to bully him rather than move along. I almost expected him to tell the kid to hand over his lunch money. 🙂

    • lasullivan says:

      Hmmm…very intersting MH (and I do accept your apology. We’re still “friends”. 🙂 ).

      So you saw it as “gotcha” journalism, huh? See – I was really wondering if that’s what it was. There’s still that part of me that would like to believe that they were on a real legit journalism assignment (not “gotcha” journalism as you put it) but that’s exactly why I suggested otherwise, which in my book, is kinda sad. That’s the part of journalism that turns me off. That “gotcha” crap has got to go but then again, that’s my opinion.

      You bring up a very good point about the gender/race cards too, not because of the use of it but rather the outcome. I think you are dead on there as well…and I also find THAT sad (not the “that you are dead on” part).

      And OUCH! I had forgotten that Etheridge co-sponsored that anti-bullying bill. WOW, what an oxymoron there, huh?

      Etheridge has got himself into quite a pickle, hasn’t he? I’d still like to see a balanced report from a balanced journalist (is there one?) though. Here’s to hoping!

      Thanks for reading and for your comments…ALL of them! 🙂

  2. Mike says:

    Ohhhhh, looks like our congressman’s gotta hold of some moonshine. And he’s a mean drunk!

  3. Ellen Lynch says:

    I have to agree with Nathania, the students were not doing anything wrong. They should have probably introduced themselves to Etheridge by saying something like, “Hi I’m Joe Smith, a journalism student at Random University. Can I ask you a few questions for a project?” However, failure to do that shouldn’t have led to that type of reaction from Etheridge.

    Etheridge not only grabbed the kid’s arm, but he grabbed his neck! The student kept asking him to release his arm, but Etheridge wouldn’t. If Etheridge didn’t want to answer the question, all he had to do was say “No comment” and keep walking.

    • lasullivan says:

      Never said I disagreed with that, Ellen. Without question, Etheridge was in the wrong. No doubt about it.

      And I definitely agree, that a simple “no comment” and a turn of the feet to keep walking ahead would’ve also sufficed. Absolutely.

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I appreciate your insight as well. 🙂

  4. Teri Saylor says:

    Yes, the kids should have identified themselves in a more professional way – but who knows…maybe they were trying to irritate Etheridge in hopes of getting him riled up. That in itself could very well have been their project. And he fell for it! I maintain he should have known better than to behave that way, especially when he could clearly see there was a camera and microphone in his face. I won’t say that I have never made a gaffe in front of a live microphone, but I”m the amateur. Politicians are supposed to be professional and I will never cease to be amazed at some of the situations they get themselves into simply because their egos get in the way or they fail to think the situation through. As a voter who voted for Etheridge, I would like to hold him to a higher standard. I spent many years working through the newspaper industry to protect the public’s right to question and investigate public officials without fear of harm or retaliation. But I do agree that if you legitimately want information, it does grease the skids a little bit to ask for it in a professional way.

    • lasullivan says:

      Thank you, Teri. It’s nice to hear from a journalist that professionalism (from both parties) is the better way to go.

      It never ceases to amaze me either. Politicians, celebrities, athletes, are in such high-profile roles that taking a moment, a single moment, to think before acting can be the difference between right and wrong. Clearly, Mr. Etheridge didn’t think before he acted. Sad. Very sad.

      I hope some reporter out there gets the WHOLE story. Find out if there was an actual assignment, what the rubric was to the assignment, talk to the teacher who assigned them, talk to the kids to see if they learned anything, etc. I don’t wish to discourage them if they were in fact journalism students (or if they were poli-sci majors even). There should be no line drawn when it comes to professionalism and ethics. I hope that part of the story is covered too.

  5. Nathania Johnson says:

    It looks like all the kids did was heckle. All Etheridge had to do was keep walking. That kind of stuff happens in DC – ALL. THE. TIME. You just get used to it and keep walking.

    If somebody grabbed my hand like that, I wouldn’t tell them who I am either.

    Also, just curious if this was someone from another political party if there would still be a defense of Etheridge? I’m honestly not aware of your political affiliation, just wondering.

    • lasullivan says:

      Nathania…thank you for both of your comments!

      Political affiliation – I have none. I actually despise the whole political process and really try to avoid the topic, if I can. This one just got to me because of the fact they were students and it was unethical on both parties.

      I have already stated a few times that what Etheridge did was very very wrong – manhandling is a no-no! However, I want to address your thoughts about journalism & that “this stuff happens all the time”.

      While I have never been a reporter, I did work for a local news station in the Community department where every once in a while I provided my own video content on community-related topics; nothing like what you see on the news but video nonetheless. If there was one thing I learned from that experience, you get better results when you identify yourself and when you are nice about it.

      Many of my friends are journalists and I’ve seen them in action. As far as I can tell, they do their jobs with the utmost professionalism & when it comes to MOS pieces (Man On the Street), the folks I know do a good job with it. And I’m not saying they were always perfect either. I’d be kidding myself if that were the case. I just know that they try their darnedst to get the story as politely as they possibly can. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast in that medium; not that that’s an excuse either, just the facts.

      Regardless of whether this stuff happens all the time, the boys should have been as polite as the Congressman should have been.

      Thanks again for your comments!

  6. Jason Pedley says:

    A good take on the situation. And while I’ll concede that both parties are in the wrong, I’m still of the opinion that only one party committed what appears to be a violation of law.

    With that being said, it looks like this kid failed an assignment AND got man-handled by an old man all in the span of about a minute. That…takes skill.

    • lasullivan says:

      Jason…leave it to you to find the humor in what is undoubtedly a not so humorous situation. 🙂

      As I told a friend on Facebook a minute ago, man…if I were the teacher of those kids, I would so be deducting points from their rubric for this assignment. Not to mention, if someone stopped me on the street and just started recording, I’d be like “unless you tell me who you are and what this is all for, I’m sorry but I’m not interested in answering.”

      I definitely wouldn’t have man-handled them though. Yeah, THAT was a no-no to the highest degree!

  7. daveconrey says:

    Whether they were students or papparazzi, what the Congressman did was flat out assault. You can’t grab people like that, especially as a public figure.

  8. Lisa,

    Wow, where do I start? Ok, so let’s say all your assumptions are correct. These “students” are there just to cause trouble. All I saw in the video was they asked one question and then Etheridge grabbed the kid. I never saw the kid make any aggressive moves towards him ever and even asked him several times to let go. I don’t care who these kids were and what they were up to. This is an elected official from NC on video manhandling someone else.

    You can disagree, debate, even yell, but you lose any argument in my book once you lay hands on someone else. Appreciate your thoughts!

    • lasullivan says:

      Thanks, Cord!

      Let me make it very clear – without question, Bob Etheridge IS in the wrong here. I absolutely 100% agree that he never should have laid a hand on that kid. Never!

      My thing is I got tired of hearing all about Etheridge and what he did. I have yet to see a viable news source talk about how wrong the kids were. And as a former teacher, in my humble opinion, they WERE wrong. They should get ridiculed too…or at least learn a very valuable lesson from this. Hopefully they did.

      Maybe this is also coming from my own increasing cynicism when it comes to balanced news. It isn’t. And that’s a whole other subject. 🙂

      Anyway, thank you for taking the time to comment.

      • Nathania Johnson says:

        Actually, as a former journalism student it looks like the students were in the right. It looks like they were on a public sidewalk. So everything was legit. In fact, most journalists are not that polite. These students were well within the bounds of the law.

      • Ashley Sue says:

        Etheridge was definitely, clearly, unexplicably in the wrong. And while the students were within completely legit realm of public property and recording, they were also very clearly looking to create a “gotcha” moment, as MRH said. When you are asked several times who you are and you realize “We’re just here for a project” isn’t sufficing as an answer, you quickly and clearly state “I am John Doe and this is John Smith from University of Needing a Political Project”. Not answering with who they actually are, but instead some vague answer about what they’re doing, is an obvious attempt to avoid the question and continue a heckle. Unfortunately, Etheridge assaulted the lad instead of having the upperhand and letting them fall on their faces and waste their own time. Instead, they’ll make more of a name for themselves than they actually deserve, and he’s tarnished his own.

        All sad. Sad that politicians are so short-fused and assault like this. Sad that journalism students do crap like this. :/ Oh well.

        BTW, great post, Lisa.

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