I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

When does the "self-correcting" blogosphere start to self-correct?

(updated below - twice - and then once again)

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.

Let's review some of the commentary of certain bloggers yesterday regarding Cindy Sheehan's illegal and rule-violating behavior, shall we? Then we can see how "self-correcting" and laden with integrity the blogosphere is:

The Moderate Conservative

Democrats have been complaining about a "culture of corruption" in Congress and promising the American people that if elected, they would run Congress in a highly ethical manner.

Last night Rep. Lynn Woolsey(D) helped Cindy Sheehan, a left wing fanatic, violate the law.


She was reminded about the rules for proper conduct but delibertatly chose to break the law and is now being charged with Unlawful Conduct, a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to a one-year in prison.

Sister Toldjah

About Cindy's arrest and the law she broke

The hype over this bogus ‘controversy’ is only heightened when you have MSM sites like MSNBC posting the following poll question:

Do you agree with the decision by Capitol Police to remove activist Cindy Sheehan from the gallery at the president’s State of the Union speech because she was wearing a T-shirt with an antiwar slogan?

Shouldn’t that have been more like "do you agree with the law that bans demonstrating in the Capitol building?" I guess it was just too much to ask for MSNBC to do a little research on the issue before posting their poll question. Contact MSNBC if you want to express your thoughts on that poll.

Jeff Goldstein

In fact, as a lawmaker herself, for her to say, "I didn’t know in America you could be arrested for wearing a T-shirt with a slogan on it" speaks more to her ignorance of her own job than it does to fascism.

Michelle Malkin

Woolsey should be ashamed of sponsoring Sheehan's attempt to turn a historic, ceremonial event in American history into a cheap moonbat spectacle. . . .

If there are House rules governing such ticket privileges for members of Congress, they ought to be enforced and Rep. Woolsey's privileges should be revoked.

Lefties are screaming Gestapo state, Sister Toldjah reports in a big round-up; she points to a commenter at Patterico's who cites the relevant law governing conduct at the Capitol:

Annie Mayhem (complaining that the "MSM" coverage was, of course, biased because it did not report the "fact"that Sheehan broke the law):

FACT: The liberal MSM reports from the broadcast networks as well as liberal cable networks left out the relevant law governing conduct at the Capitol.

Jack Patriot (who, despite naming himself "Jack Patriot" and putting an American flag at the top of his blog, is tired of having to hear about 'blah blah First Amendment blah blah"):

Her reaction to the incident was something like 'blah blah First Amendment blah blah". Michelle Malkin notes (via Patterico's) that Sheehan actually broke the law.

If there are House rules governing such ticket privileges for members of Congress, they ought to be enforced and Rep. Woolsey's privileges should be revoked.

My Pet Jawa:

Lynn Woolsey ought to be impeached and removed from the House of Representatives for her part in facilitating an unlawful act. At the very least, she should be immediately censured by that body.

Oblogatory Anecdotes [comparing Mrs. Young's conduct (complaining bitterly about being asked to leave and calling the Police Officers "idiots") to Sheehan's conduct (leaving when asked)]:

[Young] was not arrested however because she did not make a fuss like Cindy Sheehan did.

A Blog for All

There are specific rules of conduct that are enforced to maintain decorum and due dignity in the Gallery. The failure to adhere to those rules can mean ejection from the Gallery.

Cindy didn't care about the rules since this is all about her. She tried to take off a sweater to reveal some kind of political statement. When security tried to tell her to cease and desist, she refused, and she was escorted from the Chamber.

GOP and College (more complaints about the awful MSM bias for failing to state as fact the fiction that Sheehan broke the law):

The CNN article says nothing about it being prohibited to protest inside the gallery.

And Jeff Goldstein again, even after the Capitol Police admitted what was unambiguously clear -- namely, that t-shirts are expressly not a violation of the law or the Capitol Rules:

Both violated the rules. Whether or not the Capitol police were overzealous in their enforcement is another question entirely.

And here's one (unintentionally but extremely) amusing post on this incident, from You Talk About. This post condemns the "bad taste and complete lack of decorum demonstrated by the Democrats" and sermonizes that "intellectual differences are debated with respect and reason." Next to his post is an advertisement for Jonah Goldberg's upcoming book entitled "Liberal Fascism" with a smiley face wearing a Hitler moustache.

And the virtually always fact-free John of Powerline claimed that "Sheehan was hauled out of the chamber when she tried to unfurl a banner." That is just false, not that you would know it -- still -- if you only read Powerline.

Now, in fairness, a couple of these posters slapped up "updates" quoting an article indicating that the charges against Sheehan would be dropped. But few, if any of them, stated that they were wrong and that Sheehan violated no law or rule and therefore should never have been removed, let alone arrested. Many of them never noted the dropping of the charges at all, and the few who did note this did so without apology and without retraction or any kind.

But they were clearly wrong -- factually wrong -- in accusing Sheehan of breaking the law or "the rules." As the Capitol Police admit, the law and the rules clearly did not prohibit the wearing of expressive t-shirts inside the Capitol. It is just factually wrong to say that she broke the law or broke the rules, and yet so many of them said just that, emphatically.

Shouldn't they do what they constantly and shrilly demand the "MSM" do whenever the "MSM" makes a mistake -- that is, issue a clear retraction, apologize, maybe even discipline and fire some people? After all, I'm sure they would not want to be demanding that the MSM comply with standards of candor and ethics which they themselves are unwilling to comply with.

It's great that the blogosphere is "self-correcting" and much more responsive than the MSM to demands that they retract errors. I can't wait to see that superiority in action here. How long do we have to wait?

UPDATE: When it was first posted last night, the AP article quoted above, on MSNBC, contained the quotes from the Capitol Police indicating that they "screwed up" and that "Sheehan didn't violate any rules or laws." At some point between last night and this morning, those sentences were deleted from the AP article.

Numerous other people last night quoted the same words from the same article, including here, here, and here. And, in any event, the Capitol Police are quoted saying essentially the same thing in other articles, such as this one from CNN:

On Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said neither woman should have been removed from the chamber. "We made a mistake," he told CNN.

He said an apology was made to Bill and Beverly Young, and the congressman has been told that Capitol officers will receive better training. He said they are operating under outdated guidance on House rules regarding demonstrations.

"Just wearing a T-shirt is not unlawful," Gainer said. Wearing a T-shirt and engaging in actions meant to draw attention to the shirt is against the law, he said, but neither woman was doing so.

Nonetheless, I'm making a note of the discrepancy created in the AP article because I'm part of the self-correcting blogosphere.

UPDATE II: One of the bloggers whom this post referenced, Lawhawk, posted a very straightforward and commendably honest acknowledgment of his error:

The Capitol Police screwed up when they arrested Cindy Sheehan for wearing a t-shirt at the State of the Union Address and for ushering Beverly Young out of the Gallery. And I screwed up in my rush to judgment - the laws weren't as clear as I led my readers to believe. Heck, the folks that were supposed to know the law and rules inside and out, the Capitol Police, admitted that they didn't know them and shouldn't have acted against Sheehan or Rep. Bill Young's wife, Beverly.

I have nothing but good things to say about this. We are all prone to error and every blogger who is posting on a regular basis is going to make factual mistakes, mistakes in judgment, etc. The true measurement of one's reliability, character and credibility is not whether one makes mistakes, but how one responds once the mistakes are pointed out.

Lawhawk provides an excellent demonstration of how a responsible and credible person responds when their error is brought to their attention. It makes for a rather stark and revealing contrast with those who continue to remain silent, or worse, now that they know how mistaken they were.

UPDATE III: Dr. Rusty Shackleford of My Pet Jawa steps up to the plate with a reluctant and not overwhelmingly gracious, though still commendably clear and honest acknowledgment of error:

Okay, it's not illegal...

...but it should be. Cindy Sheehan receives apology from Capital Police. When do we get an apology from Lynn Woolsey for bringing a tin-foil wearing Zionist conspiracy America-hater to Congress? A woman who just a week before was kissing a modern Peronist fascist?

Sadly, though, it looks like Jeff Goldstein -- like Sister Toldjah before him -- won't be joining the honor roll, for reasons that he explains here. In case you have trouble understanding the full meaning of his explanation, The Heretik has provided some helpful translation.

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