Tuesday, April 18, 2006

This whole thing "blows"...

I've been contemplating the Bill Hobbs story/situation (and here's John Spragens piece in the Scene that started this whole mess) for the better part of the morning for the following reasons:

1. I've known Bill Hobbs off and on (mostly off) for the better part of 20 years. We were briefly at ACU at the same time, and we've worked with/for each other on a few occasions in the '90s, he for me on some CitySearch profiles, me for he on a couple of magazine stories.

2. I consider Bill a friend, even though we clearly have differing political standpoints.

3. I'm employed (on an adjunct instructor basis) by Belmont University.

My personal bottom line is this: I'm saddened for Bill because I truly believe, deep down, he's a good guy. And from conversations I've had with others truly in the know, he was not fired, nor was he pressured to do so.

But in his role as an identified media/public relations operative for the university, he represented Belmont at all times. At ALL times. Especially in the "blogosphere" (a term I really hate), where he had become a public figure.

Many times, working journalists are asked by their employers not to take public roles with organizations, primarily as a way to avoid potential conflicts of interest for both the journalist and the organization. It's tough to bring the hammer down on, say, a charitable outfit accused of misappropriating funds when your star columnist sits on the board.

While this scenario doesn't *exactly* apply to Bill's situation, a variation on it does. Bill has made a name for himself as a proponent of blogging, and in that expertise had carved out a place for himself professionally working for Belmont, within the confines of billhobbs.com and increasingly within the workings of an active political campaign.

Thereby the conflict of interest.

I'm a writer. I've carved out my (albeit small) professional space in the publications and companies I work for (including Belmont Univeristy) via my writing. If I was found to be writing treatments for, say, hardcore snuff films, especially while on company time, chances are I'd be let go.

Please note that I'm not equating "hastily scribbled stick figure cartoon" with "treatment for hardcore snuff film." I'm equating "published item that could cause current employer public image damage, especially in light of current cultural situations" with same.

Where I'm really saddened in this situation is the now-commonplace radical division (ie. the finger-pointing and name-calling) this has enflamed. Especially in people who want to be engaged in public discourse. It doesn't surprise me, it just makes me sad.

Where I disagree with your assessment, Darren, is your point number four. In our current political/media/moral/business/ethical climate, you needn't put either the words "left" or "right" in your statement.

Both sides are equally fanatical in their hatred of the other side, oftentimes for the same reasons, and it's that zeal and that desire to outshout the other that marginalizes the conversation, fractures our collective spirit, leaves the underrepresented masses in the middle out of the discussion and allows the extreme fringes on both ends of the spectrum to control the debate.

But here's what I predict will happen: This will run hot for a few more days (if not hours), and it will die down as all of these kinds of "First Amendment martyrdom" situations do, most likely in time for the intense, world-changing discussion of who's baby will arrive first, TomKat's or BrAngelina's?

We're easily distracted that way, much like I've been easily distracted by this ultimately "non-story". And isn't *that* the real cause for sadness?

1 comment:

Darren Duvall said...

I updated my post to correct my point #4, Lucas. I do agree with you on that issue, the coarsening of the national debate along those lines is not conducive to progress along any line. I don't know if it's the dumbing-down of discourse, or that demonization simply fits better into the modern American attention-span and is therefore the only way to advance a given positon. Part of the problem may be that the complexity of some issues is simply beyond the competency of many people to grasp, so they'd rather accept politics-as-bloodsport than discuss things they don't know much about. A good example is the tanking of the Senate compromise on immigration, come to find out there were a lot of little poision pills hidden in the submitted bill that would create de-facto amnesty while denying that such was part of the plan. Given that the average Joe can't begin to define the boundaries of the immigration issue much less the ramifications, the more common options are either emotional extremes or apathy, and it's hard for me to decide which is worse.

The complexity of the Federal Code is such that we have to in essence elect a priestly caste to interpret it for us, while most of us are literate in the English language we're no better than peasant serfs confronted by an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages when it comes to divining the meaning of US Code written by lawyers and for lawyers. Our "choice" of "priests" in this regard is often much like that of the indigenous people of the New World in the age of the Conquistadors -- we may be able to choose between Franciscans and Jesuits, but regardless they're all from a different group than us, and often don't share our daily concerns. This is probably one of the reasons why the candidate that wins the "share a beer with" poll has an immediate leg up in a campaign -- the closer to a perceived "regular guy" someone is, the less they are identified with the wonks who grind out more, often unwelcome, Federal Code.