Months after the story broke, the News & Messenger finally devoted all of four sentences to a controversy between a candidate for the House of Delegates and this local blogger that involves First Amendment issues, homosexual conduct and free porn. What local journalism has sunk to in these days of fiscal retrenchment, while biased editors who will do anything they can to prevent printing a story that casts liberal Democrats in a bad light is tragic. No wonder local papers are closing up shop all over.First, the part of the story that seems to create more questions than it answers:
The race has also seen controversy. This summer, the Rishell campaign tangled with Greg Letiecq, who runs the local blog Black Velvet Bruce Li.
Letiecq, a frequent Rishell critic, posted to YouTube a video slamming Rishell campaign manager Ilana Kaplan-Shain.
It used images from Kaplan-Shain’s profile on the social-networking site Facebook and suggested she was morally deficient.
Kaplan-Shain asked YouTube to take the video down, but it was eventually restored.
After reading that, I suppose most readers of the News & Messenger understand less about what happened than before. For the edification of those who might actually want to understand what happened, here as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.
The video about Jeanette Rishell’s campaign manager referenced, but not described in any way in the story is a good place to start:
Yes, Jeanette Rishell hired as her campaign manager a woman who had advocated for free porn in a university library, written approvingly of fleeting homosexual relationships, and had celebrated a picture on her public Facebook page of a used condom discarded in a toilet from her “awesome” hotel. She still has that campaign manager. After I posted this video, “Friends of Jeanette Rishell” filed a complaint with YouTube alleging copyright infringement and demanding the video be taken down. As it turns out, the basis for her claim was that her campaign owned the picture of the used condom and I was using it without permission. Not only was that claim utterly laughable (ever see a political video criticize someone while using their images before?), but to have her campaign make this claim rather than campaign manager Ilama Kaplan-Shain personally was an absolutely stunning blunder. Since when does a campaign claim ownership of disgusting pictures for the purposes of filing a copright infringement claim?
You’d think that someone running for office might understand the First Amendment. Media, even bloggers, have pretty wide latitude to use evidence of a candidate’s history to inform the public, and that latitude definintely extends to the campaign staff they hire. Just how does one demonstrate in a video that Jeanette Rishell hired a campaign manager who had gleefully posted a picture of a used condom without actually showing the picture in question? This question falls under what is called “fair use doctine” in copyright law and for a candidate to be so completely ignorant about such fundamental things as laws protecting free speech is pretty shocking. I can just imagine the results of this kind of incompetence at work in the General Assembly as they craft the laws that affect our daily lives, with Jeanette Rishell polluting the mix.
That blunder by the Rishell campaign prompted me to post a second video to highlight Jeanette Rishell compounding her mistake, because such patent idiocy cannot possibly go unanswered:
Of course once the laborious process that YouTube uses to deal with copyright infringement claims completed, Jeanette Rishell lost, and YouTube restored the video. The whole exercise ended up making Rishell look terribly stupid and got the attention of the local media, which promptly wrote not one story on the subject until months later. Meanwhile, the number of views for the video have gotten to about a third of the number of people who cast ballots in the 2007 election, so even without the attention of the “watchdog” media, the word is getting out there.
So here we’ve got a real scandal in a campaign, sort of a Van Jones at the local level story, a candidate’s campaign that tries to misuse copyright law in order to protect her campaign from criticism, and a campaign manager with a pretty sordid history that the candidate won’t let go. Long ago, newspapers would build empires with political scandal of this caliber, but that was back in the day they actually committed journalism rather than focus on applying tourniquets to the vast flow of red ink that’s leaking off their financial statements. The local press takes this story, which might actually constitute “news” in the opinion of many of their readers, and reduces it to a bland dispute between a blogger and a candidate, not telling the public anything about what the dispute actually involved. What public service.
When the Rishell campaign sends out a wacky press release about the NAACP debate chock-full of fabrications, the News & Messenger runs a story on that the next day, another follow-up story, and an editorial and a second editorial after that. When the Rishell campaign gets caught making bad personnel decisions then tries to misuse copyright law in order to protect itself from that criticism there’s nothing but a drive-by mention months later. Yeah, and we’re supposed to rely on the media to help make us smart voters.
The next time the News & Messenger complains that the electorate may not be adequately informed about the choices they’re asked to make, we ought to trot out stories like this one to explain why that’s the case.
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