Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Rep. Bob Etheridge's assault on student has plenty of precedent

By Alexandra Petri

“Who are you? Who are you?” Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) kept asking a college student who was attempting to pose a question to him on-camera. “Who are you? Who are you?” Continuing to repeat this, he bats away the camera and grabs at the student in a video that has just gone viral.

Now, he has made a public apology, but all this is old news. Members of Congress have been assaulting people for over a hundred years. Remember that time back in 1856 when Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina viciously caned Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the floor of the Senate, and people responded by sending him gold-headed canes? The Richmond Enquirer noted at the time that the attack was “good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequences,” and an effort to expel Brooks from Congress failed. So descriptions of the student journalist’s question as “lunatic, shameless, and childish” seem, by comparison, almost polite.

It’s not that I lack sympathy for Etheridge. When people approach me with portable video cameras demanding to know if I fully support the Obama agenda, I usually panic and begin to throw things, stopping only when I realize that they were talking to someone else. But, then again, I am not an elected official.

Having been a college student, I can vouch that we are annoying, and, sometimes, our journalistic techniques lack subtlety. But that is no excuse for batting away people’s cameras and grabbing them. One of the things you hand in at the door of Congress is your ability to assault reporters, make snide remarks about your opponent’s hair and store money in your freezer, no matter how crisp it keeps the bills.

If the incident in 1856 seems to offer a vaguely reassuring precedent -- at least this is not a new low -- keep in mind that shortly afterward, half the country seceded. I don’t know what supporters of Etheridge are mailing him -- the phrase “Who are you?” embossed on a golden plaque? -- but everyone should remember that last time, encouraging this sort of immature behavior didn’t turn out so well.

By Alexandra Petri  | June 14, 2010; 2:12 PM ET
Categories:  Petri  | Tags:  Alexandra Petri  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Shocking! Obama plays golf during BP oil spill!
Next: Rep. Bob Etheridge's Capitol offense

Comments

This is a clear cut case of assault. I wonder if the DC police will do the right thing and arrest this congressmen or will the congressmen claim congressional immunity. The interesting aspect of this case will show whether or not the laws apply to everyone or are there people in this country who are above the law. Personally, I believe as the behavior of our congressional elites shows time after time that congress believes that it is above the law. If you doubt my view on this matter, look how often congress exempts itself from the laws it requires the rest of us to follow. Simply put, this video provides us with food for thought.

Posted by: jeffreed | June 14, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Man that guy is spooky.
((((( WHOU'A YOU )))))
((((( WHOU'A YOU )))))
((((( WHOU'A YOU )))))
((((( WHOU'A YOU )))))

Morron is also "FREEMASON" and he thinks he can act like this to scare normal people who's lives he affects with his one word. He should really expect people stopping him on the street and asking questions. That is how people are and he should know that by now and be ready to get away from them in nice manner without any force. These two students are also dumb if they think they won't get anything if they ask questions at some wrong time.

Posted by: BOBSTERII | June 14, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I've shoved video cameras in plenty of politicians' faces,. but I've always identified myself as I did so, along with my affiliation or at least the name of the media outlet most likely to buy that material from me

I'm always very polite and humble when it's a one-on-one situation. (I save my shoving, pushing and drill sergeant voice for press scrums.)

And, strangely enough, I usually get answers, not arguments.

Posted by: roblimo | June 14, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Alexandra, I do not understand your point. Are you saying because Brooks got off with caning a senator, then Etheridge should get off as well?

Somehow I don't think the voters of NC will agree with you. Despite Democrat delusions to the contrary, Etheridge had no chance of being reelected this November anyway because he supported ObamaCare. But assaulting a student on the street is not going to help him with voters. Perhaps Etheridge was just in a bad mood because he had just received his latest poll numbers.

Look for more Democrats melting down in the weeks ahead as they slowly realize they are going to lose 160 seats in the House this Fall.

Posted by: RonInIrvine | June 14, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Alexandra, You have given the most idiotic response I can ever imagine. In 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr killed Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel. So does this justify political murder?

What if Sarah Palin had responded to a student that way? It's time you wake up and see your thinking for what it is. Shilling for the democratic party. You've even lost your ability to see reality. Sad.

Posted by: larsonjsl | June 14, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Roblimo, If you are telling the truth, you are probably a professional media person. Students asking questions may not have the experience to know what to do. All Bubba would have had to do is say, "sorry I can't talk now" and continue walking. If they would have impeded his progress, then they would have been the guilty part.

Posted by: larsonjsl | June 14, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

@larsonjsl:
Given that the video goes from the Senator walking to a full face frame of the Senator, I'd say it's pretty clear they 'impeded' his progress. Though, not anymore than many 'professional' journalists do to their subjects on the street every day.
.
The Senator's response was so far over the line as to question his mental stability. Even after they identified themselves as students he continued his over the top physical altercation with them. If he wanted to forgiveness he would have shown at that time the instructional nature of "If you are going to be journalists don't do it like this. Explain who you are and you'll be better received". Instead we have more of the 'you lie' type of insulting behavior coming from our dear congress critters.
.
And to be fair I don't even know this Senators political affiliation; its irrelevant to the behavior and the outcry against him.

Posted by: rpixley220 | June 14, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I think the end response of calling it immature behavior was for the hopefully former member of Congress. If this had been someone from the tea party or Sarah Palin the news service would have been all over it. ABC, NBC, CBS and others are noteworthy for their full support of the Demo party no matter what they do or have done and try to catch every word of the Republicans that they may blow them up. Look at how they trivialized the lies of the Clintons, both of them.

Posted by: pnnton | June 14, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri refers to three types of behavior members of Congress shouldn't do: "assault reporters, make snide remarks about your opponent’s hair and store money in your freezer." The middle reference is clearly to Carly Fiorina's on-mic comment about Barbara Boxer; the third to the bribe taken by Congressman William Jefferson.

There's an important distinction, however, Ms. Petri. Your first and third items are illegal. Your second item is, at worst, a little impolite. But thanks for trying to smear a Republican candidate in the course of a story about a Democratic representative. Your credentials as a journalist in good standing at the Washington Post are secure.

Posted by: Rob_ | June 14, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Dispicable - this clown is apologizing only because he got caught. He could have asked for the students identity without assaulting him. DC police absolutely should arrest him.

Posted by: TurdFergusonJeopardy | June 14, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me the students weren't rude. They only asked a question. Rep Etheridge could have kept walking with out commenting. He did not and his response to this student was completely out of line. It should not matter if the students identified who they were. Any one of us has every right to ask a politician who is walking down a public street, any question we want to ask in regards to his political views. He has every right to refuse to answer. He does NOT have the right to physically assault or restrain/detain someone because they asked a question. Had he grabbed my wrist like that, I would have pressed charges against Etheridge in an instant. You could tell he was squeezing the kids wrist(assault). Etheridge would not release his arm when asked numerous times to do so, (unlawful detention/ False imprisonment) and it appears to me that he took a phone or camera from the student... (theft of personal property).

ETHERIDGE SAYS: "I have and I will always work to promote a civil public discourse."

All I can say is..... LEAD BY EXAMPLE Rep. Etheridge. How can you promote civil discourse when you go into immediate bouncer mode when approached by some one in public with one little question.

Let me know how your next election goes kiddo! ;) I have a feeling the Republican Candidate will use this video to their advantage.

Posted by: Playswellwithothers | June 14, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

What’s most disturbing to me about this incident is Congressman Etheridge’s statement that he has a right to know who’s questioning him. What law gives him that right? The right of free speech is part of the Constitution that Congressman Etheridge has sworn to defend. Asking a Congressman about his political views is the essence of free speech. What part of the First Amendment is confusing to Congressman Etheridge?

To put this in perspective, imagine for a moment if the roles were reversed and a reported grabbed Congressman Etheridge and demanded to know his views on abortion. Then the reporter grabbed Congressman Etheridge by the neck. What would our reaction be if Congressman Etheridge then stabbed or shot his assailant? Would it have been justified?

Or imagine if someone grabbed a police officer by the neck. What would we consider to be a reasonable response?

Posted by: EarlyBird1 | June 14, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Why did you take my last post down? Ethridge is a drunken bum. Look at his glazed over drunken eyes...Listend to his slurred and repetitive speach. Classic agressive alcoholic behavior. Follow this clown for a little while and you will find out a lot about his life. This guy got boozed up at the fundraiser and was ready for a brawl. This guy is in need of AA; not a US Congressional seat. Take him down. Ohhhh his poor wife and kids.....they have to live with this animal.

Posted by: ncohane | June 14, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

I find it disturbing that your only reaction to this is a reference to some obscure incident in 1856 and your dismissive, light hearted recounting of Etheridge batting at the camera. The Congressman ASSAULTED the boy! He grabbed his arm, held him, wouldn't let go, grabbed him around his neck, pulled him close...he man-handled the kid! Didn't you see that?!

While peace loving Americans who attend Tea Parties are labeled as violent insurrectionists by the left, a Democrat Congressman is brutalizing a young boy in the streets of DC. Don't you see a problem with this picture, Alexandra?

And then you have the nerve to blame the kid? Annoying college students who lack subtlety somehow deserve this? Besides, when have journalists ever been subtle, no matter what their age? Oh yeah, Helen Thomas was real subtle when she told the Jews to go home to Poland and Germany!

If this had been a Republican instead, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would be convening hearings as we speak to investigate the Congressman's outrageous, nay, criminal behavior.

Assault is assault is assault, no matter who the perpetrator is!

Shame on you, Alexandra!

Posted by: opusxxvii | June 14, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

"Members of Congress have been assaulting people for over a hundred years."

Wow. A congressman physically assaults a student -- what appears to be an arrestable offense -- and the Post's reaction is, "Congressmen have been hitting kids for decades!"

That ain't right. This guy's a violent criminal -- and he's overseeing the composition of laws that will affect all of our lives. I guess the Obama era's "gangster government" plot thickens...

Posted by: bstanman83 | June 14, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Assault, plain and simple. And for the writer to use the excuse that college students are annoying doesn't seem to apply in this case. These kids appear to be the most polite and well dressed college students that any member of Congress is likely to encounter.

Posted by: montezumasrevenge | June 14, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

I don't care if a congressman does this every week, it is still assault. These kids were polite. All Etheridge had to do was politely say he was on his way to whatever and didn't have time to talk now. Instead he assaults them. Arrest and jail the congressman. He should not be a member of OUR congress.

This crap the media puts out about someone else doing it (so it is okay, especially if it is a Democrat) is getting so old. Obama bribes a couple of people and it is okay too. Business as usual. Assault? Not a problem. This is a terrible news article.

Posted by: MadJayhawk | June 14, 2010 11:33 PM | Report abuse

ALEXANDRA, how can you publicly be an enabler of this BOORISH, ARROGANT, RUDE, ABUSIVE CONGRESSMAN, WHO BY THE WAY HAPPENS TO BE A DEMOCRAT?

You making this comparison of this ASSAULT to something that happened over a hundred years ago, just goes to show how BIASED YOU REPORTERS IN THE PRESS ARE!

IT'S PEOPLE LIKE YOURSELF WHO ENABLE THE ARROGANCE OF PEOPLE LIKE NANCY PELOSI, HARRY REID, AND THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, BARAK HUSSEIN OBAMA.

Posted by: barrysal | June 15, 2010 2:46 AM | Report abuse

The guy committed assault! No matter how the fast the Democrats try to tapdance out of this, no matter how they try to paint it, no matter WHO the victim was, Etheridge attacked a guy who asked a question. A polite question even.

Is the Congressmen operating under the delusion that he doesn't answer to the public?

Does his violent reaction pass as normal Congressional behavior now? Is it normal HUMAN behavior? NO....the guy should be arrested for assault. We would arrested if we did that. Etheridge is finished in politics, because that video will be used by his political opponents for the November elections. Bu-bye Etheridge, we hardly knew ye.

Posted by: fubaglady | June 15, 2010 3:03 AM | Report abuse

When Congressman Attack!!!

Watch the unethical MSM cover this up, again!!!

What worries me more than these radical extremist politicians, are the people who elect them, you and me.

Posted by: hunter340 | June 15, 2010 3:19 AM | Report abuse

The video was severely edited. In this age of virtual reality, people must learn to be more skeptical about what they see on the internet.

Posted by: lensch | June 15, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

This is assault and the Congressman only wishes it wasn't caught on tape. He's now at the mercy of pop culture and if the spotlight gets any brighter, he should retire/resign. And why is it that you lockstep Democrats and Republicans come out with your predictable comments, defending or persecuting him? Judge the transgression, not the political party. If you apply double-standards it makes me think you have no standards. Just act like you don't know what party he belongs to and try using your brain.

And to Ms. Petri -- going back to the 1850s to find precedence for this sort of thing is futile. We were also once subject to warlords and tribal governments and we were also once Neandrathals, but we're supposed to have a more civilized country in 2010.

Posted by: ryanmimo | June 15, 2010 7:50 AM | Report abuse

This is assault and the Congressman only wishes it wasn't caught on tape. He's now at the mercy of pop culture and if the spotlight gets any brighter, he should retire/resign. And why is it that you lockstep Democrats and Republicans come out with your predictable comments, defending or persecuting him? Judge the transgression, not the political party. If you apply double-standards it makes me think you have no standards. Just act like you don't know what party he belongs to and try using your brain.

And to Ms. Petri -- going back to the 1850s to find precedence for this sort of thing is futile. We were also once subject to warlords and tribal governments and we were also once Neandrathals, but we're supposed to have a more civilized country in 2010.

Posted by: ryanmimo | June 15, 2010 7:50 AM | Report abuse

This is assault and the Congressman only wishes it wasn't caught on tape. He's now at the mercy of pop culture and if the spotlight gets any brighter, he should retire/resign. And why is it that you lockstep Democrats and Republicans come out with your predictable comments, defending or persecuting him? Judge the transgression, not the political party. If you apply double-standards it makes me think you have no standards. Just act like you don't know what party he belongs to and try using your brain.

Posted by: ryanmimo | June 15, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

This is assault and the Congressman only wishes it wasn't caught on tape. He's now at the mercy of pop culture and if the spotlight gets any brighter, he should retire/resign. And why is it that you lockstep Democrats and Republicans come out with your predictable comments, defending or persecuting him? Judge the transgression, not the political party. If you apply double-standards it makes me think you have no standards. Just act like you don't know what party he belongs to and try using your brain.

Ms. Petri - referring to an event from the 1850s as "precedent" is futile. We also used to live under warlord rule and we also used to be Neandrathals but we've tried to improve upon that and live in a more civil country.

Posted by: ryanmimo | June 15, 2010 7:53 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure when the news broke the Dem's were praying "Oh please let it be a Republican". If it were, the MSM would be demanding he resign!

Posted by: elcigaro1 | June 15, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

PHYSICAL ASSAULT JUSTIFIES THE CONGRESSMAN’S SELF-DEFENSE:

I vote “Not Guilty” for the Congressman, no matter how much the video may have been edited to look bad.

Where did we ever get the idea in this country, that the essential “Freedom of the Press” means that anybody, journalist or otherwise, is entitled to responses just because they are curious? And who has the right to thrust cameras or microphones into anybody’s face?

Watching the video, I asked myself how I would have handled the situation if I had been the Congressman. When every action and every word is monitored and broadcast, one has no opportunity to reflect on an acceptable course of action.

The Congressman had no way out. Each and every one of our elected officials is merely one unfortunate word or slight misdeed away from evisceration in the miscellaneous media, the online videos, the relentless opinion-based journalists.

Every person has a right to self-defense against assault. Watching the microphone thrust forward, one witnesses the assault. Kudos to the Congressman for defending himself.

Posted by: GozoEconomics | June 15, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Whether Etheridge assaulted this man is a question for the courts to decide if the young man in question presses charges. I doubt he will because he would have to identify himself and his ties to Republican party politics will become known. Better to stay in the shadows as a "student" than be revealed as a Republican plant, like the ones who disrupted town hall meetings during the healthcare debate and the ones posting the comments above, bristling with mock outrage. The Republican party has nothing to offer the nation and is attempting to survive by pulling dirty tricks to score cheap political points.

Posted by: dnahatch1 | June 15, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

It's outlandish to compare this "attack" on a snotty, perhaps-journalism student by Etheridge to the Brooks-Sumner caning. Brooks was a young, healthy hothead who nearly beat to death Sumner, a very old, infirm man who was seated when attacked. Sumner was unable to return to the Senate for several years.

Posted by: dorambrown | June 15, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

The Congressman should have broken the camera.

Then he should have caned the little snot.

It was just a Republican jerk wanting a response. If Karl Rove had been stopped earlier this country would be better off. But, he got off scot free for his pranks in the Nixon White House, then really screwed the country under Bush. And he still gets away with it.

Remember, the Bible says don't spare the rod against the child.

Posted by: dhssresearcher | June 15, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Regarding whether or not the Congressman is or is not above the law I submit this anecdote from the past administration. The Senate majority leader entered a posh DC restaurant smoking a fine cigar. When the hostess informed the Senator that government regulations forbid smoking in public restaurants the Senator was overheard to say.."Honey, don't you worry, I am the government". Clearly there are those elected officials who feel entitled to a different status than the public at large.

Posted by: lbertaux | June 15, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Wow- this kid totally scored! He got a much better reaction than I'm sure he ever hoped for. As for assault- yeah, it was pretty intimidating, but nothing worse than any shoving match between younger and older brothers- well worth the price!

To bad the kid's probably some kind of conservative Limbaugh Youth trooper, scoring points for the Reich-wing; but still gotta admit it was the "Play of the Day"

Posted by: interactidiomas | June 15, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

After viewing the viedo and hearing his words, I'll bet he is a wife beater and child abuser!!
What has happened to The WAshington Post?! No longer the days of Bernstein and Woodward now that the JackA$$ has a D after his name! Shame on all of YOU!

Posted by: ttfn2001 | June 15, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

After viewing the viedo and hearing his words, I'll bet he is a wife beater and child abuser!!
What has happened to The WAshington Post?! No longer the days of Bernstein and Woodward now that the JackA$$ has a D after his name! Shame on all of YOU!

Posted by: ttfn2001 | June 15, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

There was no excuse and the Democratic party talking point memo posted on the Ben Smith Politico site show just why people are turning against the Democratic party.

The Democratic party is going to lose if it continues their solid track record of blame everyone and take no responsibility.

The question was not partisan, simply asking "Do you support President Obama's agenda?"

A responsible Congressperson would have taken the opportunity to explain his position on the issues rather then attacking the individual that asked the question.

I should think Congress people would be used to people asking them questions.

Posted by: win1 | June 15, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

He also pepper sprayed thew kid too !!!!

Posted by: yourmomscalling | June 17, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Wow. I'm glad he got filmed. This is disgraceful. Though I bet he's really thankful that Joe Barton picked this week to be an even bigger a$$.

Posted by: peacock907 | June 18, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

@peacock907 -- nice try, won't fly.

Etheridge is obviously a self-important power-crazed scumbag without a shred of self-control -- in other words, a typical Democrat.

How you equate that to Barton speaking his mind -- it was not a baseless comment Barton made, either; some of the formerly Obama-fawning British media are now literally wringing their hands and overtly decrying what they expressly perceive as a "shakedown" of BP -- how you equate Etheridge's absolutely beyond-the-pale foul behavior to Barton making an arguably valid comment relating to the inept self-important politicking reckless Obama administration, evokes the topsy-turvy out-of-whack hypocritical mentality of the pathological liberal.

Or maybe I am wrong: maybe you didn't vote for "hopey changey." You never know.

Posted by: finsher771 | June 18, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company