Friday, February 03, 2006

Cindy Sheehan and the Self-Correcting Blogosphere

I have to say, I agree with Elayne Riggs that attending the State of the Union Address in a t-shirt is "tacky and inappropriate at best, not to mention asking for trouble." My empathy for Cindy Sheehan's grief is immeasurable and she has every right to publicly and vocally oppose the Iraq war (I certainly do) in every possible venue. And her clothing choice did not violate any law.

It did unnecessarily offend many people, though, given the historic and ceremonial nature of the occasion. If she had not worn a t-shirt saying, "2,245 dead in Iraq; how many more?" her antiwar message would still have come across through her presence alone. Everyone knows who Cindy Sheehan is. Everyone knows what she believes and stands for. She could have had equal impact on the invited guests and on those watching the SOTU if she had sat in the gallery, dressed formally -- without the unwelcome negative press.

Having said all this, it's also undeniably true that right-wing bloggers jumped on Sheehan without having the facts, condemned her for violating the law when she did no such thing, and -- most important -- largely failed to post corrections after the Capitol Police apologized for arresting her and dropped the charges.

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post about this.

Before the Capitol Police acknowledged yesterday that there was no legal basis for removing, let alone arresting, Cindy Sheehan -- to the contrary, they admitted that they "screwed up" because "Sheehan didn't violate any rules or laws" -- numerous Bush followers in the blogosphere were celebrating Sheehan's detention on the ground that she broke the law. Many of them were calling for all sorts of punishments to be imposed on Rep. Lynn Woolsey, who invited Sheehan to the speech and therefore aided and abetted her "illegal" behavior.

As we now know (and as should have been at least instinctively apparent to anyone with an understanding of America's most basic political values), Sheehan broke no laws or rules of any kind. Thus, all of those bloggers who were so frantically running around accusing her of law-breaking and violating the rules, and therefore defending her removal and arrest, were simply wrong.

We hear so much -- especially from those types -- about how the blogosphere is so superior to the "MSM" because the blogosphere humbly self-corrects its own errors while the MSM stonewalls and digs in. While some parts of the blogosphere certainly "self-correct," other parts clearly do not.

Glenn then quotes from over half a dozen right-wing bloggers: With a couple of exceptions, none of them took responsibility for the lies they had printed about Sheehan, corrected what they had written earlier, or apologized for jumping the gun. Some actually insisted on reasserting what had unequivocally been proved false. Cindy Sheehan wrote about her experience on Buzzflash and Daily Kos, and it's clear that just about every detail of the incident, as initially reported, was false.

Sheehan did not try to unfurl a banner: She didn't have a banner. She was not arrested before even getting to her seat; she was shown to her seat by the same officer who moments later arrested her; and he did that after she started to take off her jacket because she was feeling uncomfortably warm after climbing several flights of stairs. She did not refuse to cover the t-shirt when the arresting officer asked her to; she was never asked to do so. These factual errors in and of themselves are not so alarming; it's understandable that there are conflicting, or inaccurate, initial reports of a fast-moving occurrence like this one. But once Sheehan herself corrected the mistaken information, and after the police themselves apologized, dropped the charges, and admitted Sheehan had not violated the law against demonstrating inside the Capitol, the dogs of war on the right should have posted that updated information.

They did not (for the most part), and so failed what Glenn calls "the true measure of reliability, character and credibility [,which is] not whether one makes mistakes, but how one responds once the mistakes are pointed out."


Elayne said...

THANK you, Kathy! I was beginning to feel quite alone in the lefty blogosphere. :) I agree with everyone that the cops had no right to haul her off, but my point is that I just don't like to see lefty bloggers played. It's not like the right wing doesn't play "us" (Democrats and supporters) all the time anyway, without us having to play into their hands. Sheehan's appearance could have meant so much more, and gotten so much more camera time, had she just shown up in the type of frock she used to wear when Camp Casey began. It reminds me a bit of how mainstream news programs always focus in on the loony fringe whenever they deign to cover a demonstration - how does that help our cause?

Kathy said...

You're quite welcome, Elayne, but I have to thank you, too -- because it was reading your post that emboldened me to write as I did. Before that, I felt like maybe *I* was the only one who felt Cindy Sheehan had made a mistake in judgment (although not calling for arrest, of course) that gave the right a chance to jump all over her for the t-shirt and ignore the larger message.

I read your post and I thought, "Wow, I'm not the only one. Maybe I *should* write about this."

It's hard to be openly critical of your own, when there are sharks all around, but it's important to be able to see our own mistakes when we make them. The right certainly isn't able to do that very well.

Idealist Savant said...

Thank you, Kathy! My friend Jacqui and I have been villified for expressing the same views. I don't question Cindy's right to wear whatever she damn well pleases -- I just think she made a collossal error in judgment by allowing herself to get villified this way. The death of Coretta Scott King, and all the gushing memorials, only serves to remind me of the opportunity that Cindy Sheehan missed to bring others over to her point of view.