By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Insults are a part of life, especially in the political arena. The politicians, the political operatives, and the press are all targets, subject to the vilest vilification. This has always been the case.
It is not wrong to criticize the press, or for the press to rail against politics. That is the nature of the relationship.
But today, anyone with a smart phone can hurl criticism and spew invectives with anonymity on any news website. It’s cowardly, but most anonymous critics are spineless, craven individuals, who dwell in the shadows of greater men and women.
The advent of digital media has, in many ways, been good for the Republic, allowing the true meaning of the 1st Amendment to flourish. But as with any new medium, there are down sides. The comment section of news websites are an example, as attorney Max Kennelly has written, “are the cesspool of the internet. Like a moth to a flame, hateful and resentful people flock to the comments of media sites to hurl invective at everyone they can find, including parents who have just lost a child in an accident.”
This is why alreporter.com doesn’t allow anonymous comments. While they are good for clicks, they are generally harmful, or silly, and do not add to the overall debate. Comment sections grew out of Blogs, in itself a distasteful word to journalists, and is most often used to disparage a writer or a site’s content. After over two decades of news reporting in print, broadcast and digital media, I cringe every time I hear the word Blog.
For those of us who remember the origins of blogs, the very word conjures up images of an unwashed, pale-skinned, boy/man, sitting in his parent’s basement eating Cheetos, and pounding out opinions to impress his cohorts. This is not to say that blogs have not contributed to overall news reporting; they have, but the term blog is more often used as a pejorative, to dismiss a news report.
Even though this news organization has broken many important investigative stories about corruption in State government, the Alabama Press Association (APA) will not recognize alreporter.com as a full member, hiding behind words like blog. We are only allowed associate members status which offers few benefits. For almost five years we have asked APA to rethink the rules that deny us and others like us the right to full recognition as members. However, we are given the same old excuse: they are working on it, but it is difficult to define who’s in and who’s out.
Perhaps this is why news organizations throughout the State have time and again seen fit to copy our reporting without attribution. Of course, when they reluctantly give us credit, we are referred to as a blog.
Recently, an award winning journalist wrote me saying, “I have noted over the years, that AL.com and the so-called remaining MSM in Alabama have basically tried to ignore you, dismiss you, belittle you (referring to you as a “blog”) and pretend you don’t exist—until they need to steal from you…they are jealous that your operation can consistently beat them on big stories.”
We have faced the wrath of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, because we dared publish in-depth reports concerning his disgraceful leadership. He has pursued our advertisers, and even those who would dare repost our stories. The House and the Senate have tried to pass laws that to take away our press credentials for three years running, and these are the same republicans who promised government transparency.
Of course, much of this has gone beyond insult to injury, but that is the price of a free press, which we happily pay knowing the Fourth Estate has a vital role in holding government responsible to the people.
In the next few months, the State Legislature will reconvene for the 2016 Session, and Speaker Hubbard will finally face a jury of his peers.
In our State, as in the nation and world, we face perils unknown. Insults are the least of our worries. But it is good to remember what Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the man whose political philosophy influenced the Enlightenment in 18th century Europe said: “Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong.”