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Bob Etheridge: The morning after

Yesterday morning, there was a desperate search underway for the identity of the two young men in this video -- the men who were manhandled after asking a question of Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.). Republicans in North Carolina wanted to find out who the men were, in order to demand that Etheridge give them an apology. Etheridge's staff was on the hunt to find them in the hopes that he could call them up and apologize before an afternoon press conference. Big Government, which got the video anonymously from the young men, wanted to find them and advance the story. Everyone came up empty-handed.

It was in that context that I first wrote about the story. Big Government had broken it. I dug out the original, two-part video that the site had edited, quickly summed up what happened in them while embedding the first of the videos, then started trying to find out who had interrogated him. What sort of project were they working on? Did they have more videos of congressmen acting badly? Were they going to accuse Etheridge of a crime and press charges? That was where the story was going -- that's how I decided to spend my time. So I summed up the violence in the video like this:

"Who are you?" asked Etheridge, grabbing one of the cameras and pointing it down -- a move more typically seen from Hollywood bodyguards than congressmen. The second camera rolled as Etheridge, irritated, held the wrist of the first cameraman, then pulled the student to his side and grabbed him in a hug.

I've never seen such a hateful and, frankly, ignorant response to anything I've written. I was accused of "minimizing" the incident, of defending Etheridge, and of working off of Democratic talking points. (My post went live at 10:33 a.m., and Ben Smith obtained those talking points three hours later.) The Drudge Report gave this headline to my post: "WASH POST: NOT AN ASSAULT, A 'HUG.' "

If Matt Drudge ever issued corrections, I'd ask him for one. But neither he nor many of his readers seem as interested in facts or context as interested in scoring points against a newspaper. It was clear from many of the e-mails that the Drudge readers fired off without even reading my post -- some accused me of not mentioning Etheridge's partisan affiliation (I referred to him as a D-N.C.), and many accused me of "editing" the video because I used the original tapes instead of the Big Government version that edited both together. Many, many e-mailers declared that Etheridge had committed assault -- something I was trying to suss out legally by finding out whether the young men were going to make a case out of this. And many used the least convincing argument on the planet, suggesting that I would have covered the story differently if a Republican had been the focus -- as if three days ago I weren't calling out ThinkProgress for a "dishonest and unfair hit" on a Cato Institute scholar.

A sample of the e-mail:

The video you have is nothing compared to the other one. WOW, just a hug. Your nuts. If I did what he did to you, I dont think you would think HUG.

*

What you call a "hug" is actually a battery under most state law, and Etheridge's actions are generally considered assault (the apprehension of an unwanted touching) and battery (the actual touching part) under most states' tort law. Don't be a tool all your life. This member needs to get a backbone and be prepared to explain his positions on Obama's agenda. It may be quaint for someone as elite as yourself, but we call them "representatives" for a reason.

*

If anyone ever wants to know why your paper and your industry are going down the tubes, they need look no further than you blog regarding Etheridge. You made your article about the two students, not about the outrageous behavior of a sitting Congressman. When you say the they riled him up, that is completely misleading. They asked him one simple question and he went totally overboard and assaulted one of the young men. I wonder how this article would read if a Republican member did this to Michael Moore. Pathetic.

That's a sample of the 256 e-mails I got about this, from people who decided that the proper outlet for their anger at a congressman who roughed up an a kid asking a question he didn't like was to attack a media outlet that used too soft a verb in describing the incident. They -- and, sadly, some once-influential bloggers -- insisted that a good journalist would have taken the video at face value and fired off a bunch of invective about the congressman. Well, I never defended what Etheridge did. And I'm never going to post a video at face value without asking whether it came from. People like these e-mailers will continue to whine, sneer, and hurl insults; I'll continue to be a journalist.

By David Weigel  |  June 15, 2010; 9:06 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Election  
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