Accused and Judged, But Not Guilty

This was first posted as a comment to the Obama discussion below, but is important enough that I decided it needed to be given its own post. Having been accused of something I have not done, I want to move this front and center.

Let me quickly address, by the way, the accusation by people—including the book destroyer—that I have been spreading misinformation. The quote from the article that caught my attention and sent chills down my spine was:

A crack team of cybernauts will form a rapid response internet “war room” to track and respond aggressively to online rumours that Barack Obama is unpatriotic and a Muslim.

Does that not bother you? If it doesn’t, then please define for me exactly what would constitute a rumor of “being unpatriotic”.

He’s not a Muslim, and not being mistaken for a Muslim is important to both him and to his campaign. Fine. Never thought he was, nor would his religious affiliation have been a defining choice in my decision to vote for or against him. Being a Muslim is a clear and simple fact, easy to prove. The rumor may be difficult to dispel, but it won’t be impossible.

But “unpatriotic”? Who defines that? Who defines what is a negative statement, and what is or is not a rumor of being unpatriotic?

“Unpatriotic” can mean anything the candidate doesn’t like. It is not, as Shakespeare would have said, “an ever-fix’d mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken…”

It is, instead, a wide-open field perfect for what the military would define as “mission creep.”

And THAT is where I drew my line.

You don’t like my opinion, I’m okay with that. Everybody disagrees with everybody sooner or later.

But those of you who have so gleefully piled on in accusing me of spreading misinformation may now give me a clear and precise definition of what a rumor of being unpatriotic would be, and where its boundaries lie, and then you tell me exactly how I have spread misinformation.

Or you may apologize.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.


82 comments… add one
  • DaveL Jun 24, 2008 @ 15:18

    I’ll make one more comment, and leave it alone, as I don’t think I can add much more to the discussion here.

    This thread started out as a criticism of Obama’s campaign forming a team to respond to rumors on the internet quickly – a group that was described in another thread as Obama’s “thought police.”

    In fact, what I think we’ve seen here has shown exactly why Obama’s campaign feels they need such a team.

    The supposed “whitey” video has been thoroughly debunked (happy to link non-Obama sources, if anyone’s curious), yet rumors about it linger on in this thread, along with comments to the effect that “and well, wouldn’t that be awful if it WERE true.”

    It’s not, and it wasn’t, and it doesn’t exist so (as someone pointed out) Obama can’t prove a negative.

    But the discussion shows how powerful rumors can be, and how rumors – no matter the truth behind them – can affect votes.

    I would submit to anyone still reading this discussion that the thread itself has proven the Obama campaign’s point.

  • Katze Jun 20, 2008 @ 10:31

    Gosh, am I glad that I am living in Germany! Right after the 2nd world war we decided (well, our grandparents did) that it is no good giving one politician too much power (of course they very well remembered the reason for the war). So our system is built in a way were every politician is under some sort of supervision or control from other politicians. Yes, this slows down making decisions a bit but it also leads to a far less personalized voting campaign. The focus of our parties is much more on WHAT the politicians stand for the WHO they are.

    That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any crap politicians in Germany. They just don’t get as much power as your President.

    I don’t know much about either candidate but I am sure it is wise to be a little paranoid considering the power he will yield. But not to vote at all seems to me even worse.

    To tell the truth, I do not thing that anyone can do politics without getting corrupted one way or the other (regardless of political party, country of origin and religion).

    The question every voter in every country faces is if the person in question will be the best available for the job. And that is a question that everybody will have to decide on his/her own. To make a good decision it is important to be informed – so Holly’s pointing out the website (and mentioning her fears) is part of the process. After all Holly is not forcing anyone to see things the same way she does. She merely provides a platform for opinions.

    I am but confused by two things:
    1. Why is it so horrible to be “unpatriotic” (whatever that might mean). In Germany everybody who openly says that (s)he is proud to be German is labeled a fascist even if it’s not true. There has to be a way somewhere in the middle of both opinions, don’t you agree?
    2. We live in a country where one of the major religions is the Islam because of countless Germans originating from Turkey or other Islamic lands. Of course this leads to conflict, seeing the different ways we perceive the world. That doesn’t mean that all Muslims are bad people. Regarding their goodness and badness they are no different from us. If only people all over the world would learn to tolerate people being different, not thinking the same way they do and to accept customs they don’t understand, the world would be a much better place. But the truth is: nobody will ever reach this goal by becoming a politican. All you can do is start small – teach your children, your grandchildren, your friends and theirs to be tolerant … and give the world a little hope.

    If many small people in many small places to many small things they can change the face of the word (can’t remember who said that)
    Cat
    (Sorry, I didn’t mean to rant, I just though everybody was getting a bit too heated)

  • Arconna Jun 16, 2008 @ 23:30

    The problem, Icalvin, is that people that already don’t trust Obama aren’t going to go to his website for confirmation that something is a false claim. They need to hear it from their trusted news source, which, as we’re all well aware, is likely impossible since there aren’t many unbiased news sources left.

  • lcalvin Jun 16, 2008 @ 23:14

    I would agree that the newspaper quote is pretty disturbing, but what I don’t understand is how they got that from what exists on the actual website they are talking about at the moment.

    I’d like to suggest that people actually look at the website.

    http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/fightthesmearshome/

    It’s essentially a consolidated snopes.com type effort with a way to send a link to up to ten people of for things like Obama’s birth certificate.

  • tyu Jun 16, 2008 @ 6:36

    Arconna:
    Sure, you can ask me anything you like, if you want to email me at tyu@rainbow-mouse.net so we don’t clutter up Holly’s blog with immigration stuff =P

  • Arconna Jun 15, 2008 @ 13:09

    I wouldn’t be THAT concerned. Those of us in America are just getting up in arms cause we’re kinda sick of the crap politics as of late. The country really isn’t as bad as some of us make it seem. There are crappy parts, but for the most part the country is okay (yes, the economy is in a slump, but it’s not so bad like the doomsday folks would like us to think…it’s not the Great Depression all over again).

    I’d actually really like to talk to you about the process you’re going through to come over to the states. My girlfriend is in England and we’re planning for her to move here…so yeah.

  • tyu Jun 15, 2008 @ 8:48

    As a Canadian, I never really cared much about US politics, or Canadian politics for that matter either… buuuut…
    I’m currently waiting for a green card so I can join my husband in the good ol’ US. I was all excited that Bush would be long gone by the time I got there, and then I see the candidates for this run? Should I stay in Canada? >_>;;

  • Arconna Jun 13, 2008 @ 12:29

    Katherine: My opinion about Obama went down the tubes with the Reverend Wright comments. The video rumors only make me edgy. But I also believe it’s entirely possible that that video exists given the sorts of things that his wife has already said and given her dissertation from Princeton. Until it surfaces it can’t actually affect my opinion any further, but it puts me on edge nonetheless.
    I have no doubt they will claim it doesn’t exist. Because if it does, that’s the end of his campaign.

    Holly: Understood!

  • Katherine Jun 13, 2008 @ 11:41

    Arconna, I think your comment about the alleged “whitey” video proves the campaign’s point. The campaign claims that the video doesn’t exist. No one has produced a copy of it. And yet the rumor still affects your opinion. In a close election, that background rumble of negativity could easily make the difference.

  • wordweasel Jun 13, 2008 @ 9:22

    I won’t get into the more political aspect of this discussion as I also do not enjoy conflict of that type.

    However, I will remark that I find it utterly abhorrent that anyone would attack an author’s livelihood because of an opinion they hold.

    I, personally, will buy and read books I enjoy whether or not I “like” the author’s opinions. I struggled with this issue a few years ago about another author who wrote quite a long, hurtful (to me and others I know) essay about an issue that hit very close to home for me. For a while I would not buy his books because of it, but after a long internal struggle I decided that just because I do not agree with his opinions does not mean he doesn’t deserve to make a living. So now, I will buy his books if he ever comes out with another one that’s any good (haven’t cared for the recent ones, so right now I am not buying his books because they don’t appeal to me. But it’s not because of his opinions). And I frequently read and re-read his older books, four or five of which number among my favorite books from any author.

  • hollylisle Jun 13, 2008 @ 8:02

    Arconna—also a warning, though I know yours was in direct response to DaveL’s. Statements directed at an individual guest, which use the words “you” and “your”, are off-limits.

    I’m rusty at moderating, having been out of practice for…what…four or five years now? I failed to comment when earlier such comments sprouted, which led to a certain lowering of discussion standards.

    I apologize for being lax. My intent with these discussions is that people will still be able to talk with each other when the topic is talked out.

  • hollylisle Jun 13, 2008 @ 7:53

    DaveL—Having run a community for a long time, I learned to spot outbreaks of trouble early. At the point where people stop saying, “This issue…”, “This problem…”, “These words…” and start saying “You…” and “Your…”, the discussion goes straight down the tubes.

    Most of the folks who comment here know the flame rules (unposted on this site but still in effect at Forward Motion, my old community) and unconsciously follow them.

    You’re new, a point you noted, so you just got a warning. When discussions get warm, as this one has, responses that use “you” and “your” get booted.

    And why aren’t these rules posted here? Because I rarely rant anymore. I don’t enjoy conflict—it makes me queasy and screws up my writing focus—and I rarely post something I think will cause it. I only post things that I know will raise tempers if I think they’re really important. So most of the time, no rules are necessary.

  • vanity Jun 13, 2008 @ 6:40

    On the one hand – going after disgruntled individuals does leave a sour taste, not to mention that it is an impossible task of whack-a-mole.

    On the other hand, he is entitled to drag anyone, who spreads libelous shit about him, into court. Given that, paying someone else to simply correct false rumours is a very tame response.

  • Katherine Jun 12, 2008 @ 21:06

    The campaign has stated that the “whitey” video does not exist. They’re at a disadvantage, in that it’s impossible to prove a negative. Still, I’m dismissing that one as a smear unless and until someone produces the video.

    FWIW, the campaign’s response to many of the most common smears is at http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/fightthesmearshome/

  • Arconna Jun 12, 2008 @ 20:43

    For the record: If it’s not already clear, I just like to argue…a lot…it’s intellectually stimulating for me :P.

  • Arconna Jun 12, 2008 @ 20:41

    I have every intention to vote, but if it comes down to flipping a coin, I’m just going to leave the Presidential part blank. It’s a long way off before either candidate can convince me they are right for the job. And the things I’m hearing about Obama do worry me (present information excluded) and if it turns out there is truth to the rumors I’ll be forced to vote against him…particularly issues of racism and a supposed tape of his wife screaming at the white person (or “whitey” as it is being said). I don’t know if it is a real video, but there’s a lot of talk about her and about Obama right now in that field…

    Katherine: I agree with you to a point, but there is always a slippery slope and just because there isn’t evidence that he intends to do something that crosses the line doesn’t mean he won’t. Taking people in power on blind faith has led to far too many problems in the past. Maybe Obama means well by it and it was only a misuse of words, or maybe not. Either way, to question it is part of what makes this country great. In some countries we’d get our heads lobbed off for suggesting that something might not be right.
    Until there’s a legitimate super good politician who does all the right things, there’s always room for skepticism 😛

  • Katherine Jun 12, 2008 @ 20:18

    Many of the rumors being circulated about Obama are easily disproven factual statements. As an example:

    Blogger claims that Obama refuses to recite the Pledge Of Allegiance.

    Campaign responds with a link to video of him leading the Pledge on the Senate floor.

    In what way is that an “attempt to intimidate critics” or an “attempt to stifle dissent?”

    As I have repeatedly stated in these threads, and on my own site, there is absolutely no evidence that the Obama campaign intends to do anything more than counter unfounded rumors with factual evidence. Frankly, I have no patience for anyone (in either party) who finds factual evidence intimidating. If you can’t stand to be called on your errors, you have no business posting them for the world to read.

    And arguing about what he “could” do, without evidence that he has actually done it, is just a waste of everyone’s time. Either candidate “could” do all kinds of nefarious things–I’m sure the writers here could come up with a dozen nightmare scenarios in the time I’ve taken to write this post– but without evidence you’re just playing to the conspiracy theorists.

  • cherylp Jun 12, 2008 @ 19:26

    The scary part of this whole conversation is those who have already mentioned they may not vote this year, especially women.

    If Alice Paul had thought “what’s the use?” would we women have been allowed access to voting polls today? Certainly much later than we were.

    Voting is a right. Don’t give away that right just because your candidate’s platform doesn’t match yours in every detail.

  • Arconna Jun 12, 2008 @ 15:24

    Or maybe Holly and I are far more skeptical about politicians and you’re giving Obama far more credit than he deserves. Obama may very well be the best thing since sliced bread, but I’m a skeptical cynic from the start because he is a politician. I’ve yet to see a politician who didn’t have an agenda, didn’t attempt to do something that pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable, etc. Laying down and taking it is the attitude that Americans have had for too long, and look where it has gotten us.
    How do you know he’s responding in back and forth discussions with bloggers? It’s entirely possible that he’s attempting to thwart the discussion of both truthful information and false information by having a hired team of people (the hired part is important, which implies a BIAS, since it is their job to represent their client positively) go around refuting things. Is it so outlandish to think that maybe, just maybe, Mr. Obama might want to paint the truth as a lie so it makes him look good? Is it really that out there?
    I don’t live in a box that doesn’t get politician TV. I’ve read enough and seen enough on how politicians work in my short life to be skeptical and to look deeper into everything politicians say and do because to take everything they say at face value is naive and idiotic. That’s what has gotten this country in trouble numerous times before.
    If you’re not scared of Obama, you’re naive. You can like Obama and still be scared of him. I voted for Kerry last time around, but I was still scared of him. Why? Because he’s a politician.

    If we were talking about McCain I would treat him with the same skepticism. And no, I’m not into a frenzy over his interest in the Internet. I’m not into a frenzy at all. I have too much to do to get worked up. I just like discussing politics on occasion.

  • DaveL Jun 12, 2008 @ 15:22

    Sorry, Holly. Not my intention to flame anyone. Reading back through the only thing I see in my post that edges close is the “frenzy” comment, and if that’s what’s bugging you, my apologies.

    I’d be curious to hear what you think of the discussion we’re having here, though.

  • hollylisle Jun 12, 2008 @ 15:15

    DaveL, you’re responding to the writer instead of the post, and you’re edging very close to the sort of flaming I delete.

    Please discuss issues and don’t attack my guests.

  • DaveL Jun 12, 2008 @ 14:58

    What exactly – specifically – are you afraid the Obama campaign is going to do? Send guys over to the houses of bloggers they don’t like and break their kneecaps?

    Why do you think it’s scary for a national campaign to hire people to respond to political attacks? Can you name a political campaign that hasn’t done this exact same thing in our nation’s entire history?

    It strikes me that what’s worked you up into a frenzy here is that Obama’s campaign recognizes how important the Internet has become as a medium of communication, and has hired an Internet-focused team.

    In fact, by responding and engaging in a back-and-forth with bloggers (beyond whatever regular press they get in the mainstream media) I’d argue the campaign is actively promoting the ideals of free speech and more directly engaging with the voters than McCain (“what’s a computer?”) ever will be able to do.

    The bloggers can respond in turn to Obama’s responses, if they feel that Obama’s campaign is lying about something. And then guess what – he can respond again in return, and the cycle begins again. That’s the way free speech works.

    We don’t know each other at all, but I can guarantee that you will find no one more supportive and absolutist on the issue of free speech than I am. You and Holly are doing a poor job of convincing me that I should be scared of Obama.

    If you’re going to bash the guy, bash him on the issues instead of painting some scary worst-case scenario that brands him as a fascist and a censor – when based on his record to date, and everything he’s ever stood for, that’s clearly and obviously not what he is.

  • Arconna Jun 12, 2008 @ 14:34

    Yes, I do know words, but I also know we’re talking about a politician as opposed to a writer or an average everyday American.

    How words are used can have great influence. That’s how Obama got to where he is now: with words. Just because he’s only responding to attacks and rumors sounds like something harmless doesn’t mean that it actually is. This has everything to do with the very notion of a politician hiring people to interfere. He doesn’t need to be quiet about it, but if the rumors are as bad as they seem he can just address them in a press conference or in a debate. The need to hire people to deal with it is scary. As I said, what’s to stop him from responding to a rumor that is actually true, but in a manner that paints that rumor as false? Hmm? The object of attempting to respond is to stifle the discussion, to make it obsolete. That’s the very meaning of a political use of those words. We’re talking a very direct, personal approach to the subject of free speech. If these issues are a problem there are plenty of avenues to deal with them. Youtube is there for a reason.

    The way we’re told things by politicians doesn’t always mean we should take them literally. There are always hidden agendas, hidden meanings, etc.

  • DaveL Jun 12, 2008 @ 14:23

    Arconna, it’s the “tries to stop” assertion I’m having a problem with here.

    Responding to an assertion is not “trying to stop” someone from making the assertion.

    You say the point of “Obama’s little group” is to “stop the discussion entirely.” Show evidence of that, because it’s certainly not in the article Holly originally linked. Responding is not stopping a discussion.

    Let’s say a blog floats a rumor that Obama is unpatriotic – let’s say the classic now-debunked “he doesn’t hold his hand over his heart for the pledge” – then how exactly would you like the campaign to respond? Just be quiet and take the hit?

    As writers and / or fans of writers, we know (or should know) what the impact of the words we choose to use will be.

    You keep using the phrase “stifle discussion” without any actual facts to back up your assertion that Obama’s campaign is trying to do that. I can only conclude that you’ve already made up your mind.

    “Stifle the discussion” does not mean the same thing as “respond to attacks and rumors.” That’s why they are different words. You know, words. 🙂

  • Arconna Jun 12, 2008 @ 14:08

    Just a note: it means the same thing as stifle discussion to say “respond to attacks and rumors” in a political battlefield. The point of Obama’s little group is to stop the discussion entirely so that the misinformation (or perceived misinformation, since this very tactic could be used to make it seem like the truth is really a lie) doesn’t continue to go unchecked.

  • Arconna Jun 12, 2008 @ 14:05

    What happens if some of that crazy stuff he tries to stop is actually the truth? We seem to be forgetting that Obama is a politician. Just because he’s Obama doesn’t exclude him from being everything that that name implies (the politician name, not his name).
    So, would we be so open to the whole idea of his attempting to stifle discussion he doesn’t like if the stuff being said turned out to be true? What if Obama is a racist and an anti-American? What then? You might not want to believe that (or maybe you do, depending who you are), but if it’s true, shouldn’t that truth be out?
    Holly jumped to a logical conclusion. The idea that a candidate can stifle discussion (right or wrong) or would try to stifle that discussion opens the door to potentially stifling all discussion that the government doesn’t want. Would we be having this discussion now if the government set up a team of folks to go around and make sure nobody talks about something Bush did or maybe to stop discussion about UFOs or whatever? Freedom of speech works both ways.

  • DaveL Jun 12, 2008 @ 13:55

    Hi there,

    My wife really enjoys your work and your thoughts on the writing process. But she was deeply disappointed with what you had to say about Obama. She directed me to your website.

    I just have a few thoughts for you to consider.

    You seem to be equating a candidate forming a rapid response team to quickly answer what they perceive as inaccuracies on blogs with censorship. I’m having trouble understanding how you made that leap.

    The real virtue of the right to free speech is that it gives us the ability to openly debate and discuss, and through those debates and discussions, to be able to get a little closer to something resembling objective truth.

    The article that so angered you has no evidence that Obama is trying to stifle bloggers. As I read it, the campaign is just making sure that they’re positioned to quickly respond to attacks and rumors (“Obama’s a Muslim! Obama’s wife hates America!”) rather than letting them hang out in the blogosphere for weeks unanswered.

    Rapid response does not somehow equal censorship. I fail to understand how you make the leap you made – that Obama is somehow going to stop bloggers from saying whatever crazy stuff they want to say.

    As someone who was deeply disappointed in 2004 with Kerry’s inability to respond quickly to the Swiftboaters, I’m thrilled beyond measure that Obama understands how bloggers can affect political campaigns.

    In fact, I can’t think of another presidential candidate other than Howard Dean that has so wholeheartedly embraced the entire concept of bloggers and what they can do FOR his campaign.

    So the bottom line is that I think you’ve misread Obama’s intentions here, and at a minimum, the assertions you’re making are unsupported by the evidence you’re providing.

    I also think you’re 100% wrong about McCain being a “lefty” (with the unspoken message being that this election doesn’t really matter much), but that’s another debate.

  • Monica Jun 12, 2008 @ 13:38

    I think some Americans are going to be far more interested in stuff such as Wright (which is my worldview is not nearly as scary as some such as Hagee and Bill O’Reilly) rather than actual platforms and facts.

    Obama is never going to win those types over. What he’s doing–making the info about himself and his platforms and opinions easily available on the web and concentrating on the Americans with some sense–it’s the smart thing to do.

  • Arconna Jun 12, 2008 @ 13:34

    It’s unrealistic to think that the average American will read all or even a part of that stuff. Will I eventually read some of it? Probably. I’ve gone to sites that put everyone next to each other and show their voting records and positions on certain issues, which is a good start.
    The biggest problem I have is just that he isn’t telling us anything. The average American is not going to go read his website and so if he can’t communicate with those people verbally he will be a failure either in the sense that many won’t like him even if he wins, or in the sense that he will lose because of it.

  • BookLover Jun 12, 2008 @ 13:04

    What Katherine said. I have forty pages on Obama’s policies on Energy, Reforming Lobbying, Health Care, Education, Urban America, and Iraq. And that is just the beginning. I have his two books – a total of 817 pages. His Senatorial website covers his objectives for the Senate, and barackobama.com, his presidential election site, is constantly updated with his policy papers and news. I do not know anyone who has read all that and is still confused about what he stands for, but there’s an amazing number of people who are willing to claim he stands for nothing who have read none or little of it. I do not expect everyone to have the time and interest to read it all, but then I would expect them to consider all of people who know the issues and who know Obama who have endorsed him. When I can’t verify something myself, I’m willing to take the word of experts who can. If I sound a little irritated, it is because it is like the proverbial ‘nails on a blackboard’ to me when a candidate is ‘dammed with faint praise – or praised with faint damns’ over and over because someone is not willing to do their homework.

  • Arconna Jun 12, 2008 @ 12:55

    Obama has addressed legitimate claims against him, and in my opinion he has failed to prove his innocence from such claims. The Reverend Wright thing is still a huge concern, and a valid one that voters should be aware of. Someone just doesn’t become a racist overnight. That’s something that’s been there for a while and someone who doesn’t agree with such ideals probably shouldn’t spend 20 years attending sermons with such discussion…but that’s my two sense on that. It goes towards his integrity. And there are other things too that he’s spoken against that are equally of importance and which will show up in the Presidential debates.

    The problem I have with Obama’s speeches is he doesn’t ever get to the point. He plays for brownie points by saying exactly what the voting public wants to hear. That makes me uninterested. I don’t care about flashy language, babbles about change and hope, etc. I want the information up front on how he expects to do it. I shouldn’t have to sit through ten minutes of ridiculous babble to get that. Get to the point. If there’s a speech where he has done this, I’d like to hear it, but as of yet I haven’t seen one. Obama lost ground with me a long time ago and if he wants to gain it back he has a lot of work to do. Right now I’m on the fence. I was for McCain until he started this whole “I love Bush” campaign, so I’m mostly left without someone to vote for.

  • Katherine Jun 12, 2008 @ 12:38

    Sorry, forgot to add… Obama *has* addressed the smears directly. Repeatedly.

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