Stand by your words

Robert Marshall got himself into hot water earlier in the
week for stating that disabled children were a form of divine retribution
against women who had undergone abortions. Initially, he stood by these
comments. Then, he kind of blamed himself a bit. However, when none of that
seemed to be working, he took vestige in the time-honored tradition most pols
avail themselves of: He blamed the media.Specifically, in this case, he blamed
student media.

Marshall isn’t the first one to pull the “I didn’t really say
everything I said” defense out of his hat. When I advised a student paper a few
years back, we had a president who not only said she didn’t make specific
comments to a reporter, but issued a university-wide press release essentially
saying, “Kids are kind of dumb and while they try really hard, they just don’t
understand ‘big people’ speak.” Unfortunately for her, we had recorded the
phone call. She eventually just shut up about it.

For me, the big issue isn’t that people are picking on the
kids or the media again. That’s something that could be said every minute of
every day. The bigger issue for me is this: at a certain point, people need to
be willing to stand behind their words, own their actions and deal with the
consequences.

When I was a reporter, I remember going to a meeting at a
local church once in which the church was doing something that was controversial
(the action escapes my memory). One woman spoke out passionately, including
telling the priest, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block!” When I
approached her to get her name so I could quote her, she blanched.

“You can’t put my name in the paper,” she exclaimed. “I
don’t want you to quote me!”

She was willing to condemn a priest in public, scream up a
holy storm and vociferously voice an unpopular opinion, but only if she didn’t
have to own up to those comments.

A few years later, I had a student who railed angrily on her
Web site about a conservative student on campus. The vitriol was something to
behold. When the conservative kid found out about this, she linked to it,
posted it on a number of conservative blogs and suddenly my student was the
target instead of the hunter.

“She can’t do that,” the kid wailed. “That was PRIVATE!”

“Uh, you put it on the WORLD WIDE Web,” I explained. “Which
part of ‘world wide’ don’t you get?”

Apparently, most of it, as she continued to complain to
anyone who would listen.

People fail to understand the First Amendment and its
tenets. The concept of free speech is that no government agency can use prior
restraint to prevent you from expressing yourself simply because it might
disapprove of the content. It does not mean there are not ramifications for
your expression.

For example, the state of Wisconsin can’t stop me from
writing something particularly anti-government on this site. Or something
racist. Or something sexist. Or something just plain stupid. However, as the
owner of the site, Athenae could stop me. Or she could let it go and allow the
posters to castigate me. Or someone could post my stuff to a site along with my
email address and phone number, thus leading to some grammatically incorrect
calls and emails telling me to do something with my head and my ass that defies
the laws of physics.

My point is that people need to stand behind what they say
and be willing to accept the consequences for what happens. A number of years
ago when I was a TA, I was in the middle of a dispute with several other TAs with whom I
did not see eye-to-eye. The leader of this group was trying to get me to side
with her and I kept politely declining, despite her ever-increasing shrill.
Finally, she left and I turned to my office mate and let loose with a stream of
obscenities regarding this woman who was driving me up a wall.

He politely waited until I was done and then told me, “You
realize that’s my fiancée you’re talking about.”

At that point, I was screwed and I knew it. I didn’t try to
back off of my comments or make something up.

I simply said, “Ah… shit.”

He never really forgave me, which hurt me a bit because I
liked him, but I understood. I said something, there was a consequence and I
dealt with it.

I’ve said many things I’ve not been proud of and have often
not covered myself in glory.

However, accepting that backlash is not only possible but
probable, I’ve learned it’s always best to make sure you’ve engaged your brain
before putting your mouth into gear.

Someone might be listening.

5 thoughts on “Stand by your words

  1. Interrobang says:

    The bastard got caught on tape! For him to be blaming this on the media somehow is not just “not taking responsibility,” it’s completely chickenshit and halfway to the Chewbacca Defense.
    The bigger problem here is that right-wingers just don’t seem toget that in the age of YouTube, ubiquitous camera phones, eternal videotape archives, andfucking archive.org, their normal Big Lie technique where they look you straight in the eye and say earnestly “I never said that; you must be remembering wrong” has essentiallystopped working. But since they can’t do anythingbut lie chronically, every time they get busted on this one (which seems to happen almost every day now), they cast around frantically looking for some sort of Magical Get Out of Hot Water Free By Lying Your Ass Off card like they used to use perpetually, when it nearly always worked. (The credulity of the media in formerly allowing these fuckheads to get away with it nearly every time is definitely an issue as well, however.)

    Like

  2. I feel the same way about Anonymous commenters on political blogs. Of course, the SCOTUS recently let homophobic jerks off the hook because, according to them, it’s OK to be a bigot, but it’s not OK to identify them as bigots.
    And I speak as one who, like you, have spouted off some really stupid, sometimes hurtful things in my day, and had to live them down.
    It’s important to own your words. That’s why I always sign my name.

    Like

  3. Athenae says:

    David, even on the web, though, your handle becomes your byline. The reason I keep using Athenae even though I’ve been “out” for years is that I’d built up some small history with that name. Same with Digby or Billmon or any of the other anons (former anons, in Digby’s case). What’s important is consistency and honesty. It’s why the namestealing trolls over at Atrios drove so many people away.
    A.

    Like

  4. The Other Sarah says:

    Athenae:
    You know who’s behind my blog name.
    I don’t know who else knows, but that’s not what’s important.
    Owning what we say and standing up for what we believe are to facets of the same jewel.
    Doc:
    Congratulations for seeing and owning up to the consequences.
    BTDT, got my t-shirt worn to a rag over it years ago.
    As a reporter in the Stone Age before shirt-pocket recorders, never mind video-capable
    cellphone cameras, I got some beauties of quotes from local officials. The one time I
    had a fuss with my editor about using a particularly juicy macaca, the editor won: we
    paraphrased.
    Why? Neither one of us could find, anywhere, a way of spelling the words this guy used
    (and not only, as the Dems say, are Repubs not entitled to their own facts, they’re not
    entitled to their own separate *language* they pretend is English, either. But I digress.)
    so that we could put them into print. Seriously.
    This was back before AP had thrown its rules for grammar and word use out the window, and
    we’d gotten somewhat used to having AP pick up our front-page stuff, so we were trying
    not to shoot ourselves in the foot that way (it was part of a series of stories we were running).
    He didn’t quibble with the paraphrase, btw. We actually did make him sound like English
    was his first language …

    Like

  5. My point is that people need to stand behind what they say and be willing to accept the consequences for what happens.
    Yes but that goes both ways. Many of us use nyms on blogs so that we won’t have to accept the consequences for what we say.

    Like

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