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Taking Out The Trash

By Greg L | 3 October 2006 | Blogs | 12 Comments

When I have to step up and clean up the trash in the blogosphere, something is seriously wrong.

This evening Senator George Allen bought some airtime to deliver a short speech. His wife was on camera as well, but did not speak. I thought it was a great address, and I hope it changes the tenor of the political debate, as I’ve pretty much tuned out from the senate race’s mudslinging and have found precious little worth paying attention to for some time. I still hold out some hope that the debate actually becomes a debate at some point, rather than a discussion of long-past events which are shrouded in the mists of long-past recollections possibly colored by current political agendas. Until then, it’s not worth paying much attention to the current back-and-forth for me.

BVBL is a muckraker blog to a large degree. We throw some mud around here, and almost all of that is my doing. It’s usually about an issue, a policy or a candidate’s qualifications, although sometimes the more trivial observations about a candidate. Sometimes it strays over to public figures who are associated with a candidate, when that’s relevant to the discussion. I run right up to the line of propriety sometimes, because it needs to be done. But one place I will not go is into attacking someone’s family. No one should do that in the blogosphere.

I know what it’s like first-hand to be the target of an attack that goes over the line. Many readers will recall my posts about it, but what I haven’t discussed is what that feels like. I thought it irrelevant at the time, but perhaps it’s worth laying out what it’s like now just to make sure we understand just what happens to people when the line is crossed, so we’re clear about what we will and will not tolerate.

When I discovered that someone was trying to have my family harrassed with phone calls, I gave my wife a call to let her know what’s going on. I had to explain to her why someone would do this, and apologize that my political activity could result in her taking the heat that should be focused at me. And then I realized that not only was my phone number released, but my address was as well. I asked her if she had something she could do to get out of the house that day, where she could get herself and the kids out of the way until I got home from work, just in case there was someone with a little, or a lot less than a full deck reading that day. Dinner that night was difficult.

The next day posts went up that said my little girl should be drowned. Given the previous day’s events, I had to take that very seriously. Again there was a need to get the family out of the way, and this time the threat of harm was a lot more tangible. The police were not helpful, as the threat was not specific enough for them to warrant action, but they did offer to make a few passes by the house for the next few days and keep an eye on things. I accepted, but clearly understood that the protection offered was more an attempt at reassurance than an effective degree of protection from someone who might be possibly dedicated to the murder of my innocent little girls.

Although it appeared later that the threat was not as imminent as it first seemed, for about the month it took to track down what exactly happened my family was concerned that something could happen by someone who had a beef with me, but who lacked the courage to confront me and thought my family an easier target. And lately, we see too many of these horrid instances of a deranged individual who realizes it’s easier to attack children than adults. It’s pretty well known that I’m a veteran, and I’m not an easy target for a physical attack. My children and my wife don’t have my stature or my experience.

So what does this all have to do with attacks on Susan Allen? If what I had understood as an inviolable rule was universally understood, that families are absolutely off limits, my family would never have been attacked in an attempt to get at me. The attacks tonight on Susan Allen degrade that rule, making it a case-by case determination without a consistent standard about who can be attacked and under what specific circumstances. It creates a nebulous rule, where any one at any time can reasonably determine that the attack they want to make, regardless of their perhaps temporary emotional state, is justified. The loss of an absolute standard like this makes what happened to me and my family not only possible, but likely against someone else. Given my experience, I fully expect that unconcionable attacks will result absent a clearly understandable and consistently applied standard. It is absolutely necessary.

Left, right and in the middle, bloggers must have an absolute ethical standard that we do not attack the families of our political opponents. While politics can be hardball, let’s be clear about to whom we’re serving up our posts when we play.

The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.

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  1. Liberal Pi said on 3 Oct 2006 at 1:25 am:
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    You’re right about the need for a greater ethical standard in the blogosphere, but most of these things were said in jest. We mean no actual physical harm to Mrs. Allen, only the same snipes one would expect from a fashion critic. Certainly we overstep, as was the case with the CPAC scandal earlier in the year, but in living in the public eye one must be wary of public scrutiny. Bloggers have a choice as to just how much they wish to be in the public eye, while the families of public servants are thrust into the public eye whehter they wish to be or not. Consider the families of Bill Clinton, George Bush, Jimmy Carter, and even Ronald Reagan. Senator Allen is beneath the microscope of public scrutiny, and in stepping forward he brings his family with him. The difference, in this case, is between attacking bloggers as private individuals and attacking politicians and their families who are, by definition, public servants and thus public individuals.

  2. Not Larry Sabato said on 3 Oct 2006 at 3:14 am:
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    Susan Allen has a specific political purpose tonight. Her appearance was to remind voters that firing George Allen will impact more people than George. The implied message is “You may be mad at George, but don’t forget about others it will hurt”. A couple quips about the purple is nothing. When you step into being a political prop, people are allowed to criticize you, period. Anything less is un-American.

    I think comparing it to your situation is crap. You aren’t running for anything, and your family has done nothing to step into the public light. It was wrong for the person to say anything about them, because they are not in the public view. Susan CHOSE to stand in front of the TV tonight, she can take the critiques.

  3. Anonon said on 3 Oct 2006 at 6:37 am:
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    I would say that what happened to you and your family was or verged on the criminal. What was said about Susan Allen was rude, but not on the same scale. Not even close in my book.

    Didn’t she host the event here in Manassas last week? When you do something that, you jump from supportive spouse to active participant. I met them once at Ihop in Alexandria six years ago - apparently it was post some event, but she was campaigning just as hard as he was there, glad handing, talking him up to the customers.

    On this point Greg, I have to respectfully disagree with you.

  4. Greg L said on 3 Oct 2006 at 9:07 am:
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    So where is the line going to unambiguously be drawn so it’s clear to everyone what is acceptable and what is not?

  5. Not Ben said on 3 Oct 2006 at 9:51 am:
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    I’m not in any position to draw the proverbial line, Greg, but if you voluntarily participate in a political advertisement, like Susan Allen did, then you’re fair game. Your wife, as best I can tell, plays no role in your blog. She is not fair game.

    Being a spouse does not innoculate someone who takes active political steps in the furtherance of a public official’s candidacy.

  6. Riley, Not O'Reilly said on 3 Oct 2006 at 12:22 pm:
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    Is it fair game to bring up that Jim Webb, Sr. quit his Pentagon post, too?

  7. Riley, Not O'Reilly said on 3 Oct 2006 at 12:23 pm:
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    Leave the families out of it. Period.

  8. Riley, Not O'Reilly said on 3 Oct 2006 at 12:24 pm:
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    Sorry, I hit the “Enter” key and it posted instead of creating a paragraph break there.

  9. pieceof**** said on 3 Oct 2006 at 7:03 pm:
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    Once you’re in a political advertisement, you are fair game, no matter how dainty you try to look.

    When Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2 years, will Bill be off limits?? lol.

    [Ed Note: Let’s lay off the foul language]

  10. charles said on 3 Oct 2006 at 7:47 pm:
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    Actually, I don’t believe attacks on people’s appearance is fair game, especially if they aren’t actually running for office.

    Candidate’s wives appear with them all the time, and I don’t think that means we should forget our Virginia Manners.

    Anyway, making fun of how people look or act is childish.

    NLS, your take on why she was there is wrong.

    Her reason for being there was NOT to invoke some sad sympathy, but to lend credibility and support to Allen. It’s the “stand by your man” tactic. To the degree she is seen as a positive and believable figure, her standing with George tells people “would I stand next to a person that was anything like what his opponents are saying about him”.

    I’m certain you know this, Ben — you aren’t a political neophyte.

    So I am calling shenanigans, and saying I believe you said that just to try to spread a negative spin to help your candidate.

    Do you think anybody actually votes based on how it will effect candidate’s families, or their staff?

  11. Anonymous said on 3 Oct 2006 at 9:04 pm:
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    Yeah, that is the lamest theory I’ve ever heard.

  12. Anonymousisawoman said on 4 Oct 2006 at 9:26 pm:
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    Greg, I think what was done to your family is horrible. And attacking a child for being hearing impaired is beyond the pale. By the way, I am hearing challened too and wear hearing aids, so I have little sympathy or patience with people who make such attacks.

    I wish people would not go after candidates’ wives. But to be fair, look at all the flack Hillary Clinton took from the right while she was first lady. And some reporters in the mainstream press even made rude jokes about Chelsea’s appearance when she was a 12 year old girl going through the typical awkward stage children at that age all go through. Can you imagine how hurtful that was to an adolescent? Fortunately, the public backlash to that was so strong that the media cut that out.

    Going after children, making physical threats and printing peoples’ addresses and phone numbers is wrong. It’s evil. Criticizing a candidtate’s wife’s fashion sense is, unfortunately, par for the course on both sides. Not saying it’s right.

    But if you want that stopped, you’ve also got to criticize your own side when they do it.

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