Monday, April 17, 2006

The Ballad of Bill Hobbs

The top of the list to the right of ACU-X Bloggers belongs to Bill Hobbs, a friend from ACU. Bill was a serious journalism person, I was a tourist drawing cartoons for the paper on occasion (and "borrowing" Letraset from Craig Leese on occasion -- if I see you I owe you $5, Craig). I appreciated Bill for many reasons, not the least of which was that as a skinny, too-tall freshman in the fall of 1986 still adjusting to life in West Texas, Bill was friendly and actually took the time to talk to a non-JMC major who happened to be spending long hours composing the student newspaper with him. Bill graduated about a year later, and moved to Nashville.

Well, come to find out when I belatedly discovered blogging and Instapundit, the Don Corleone of right-ish bloggers also knew of Bill Hobbs and featured him in his blogroll (for non-bloggers, a list of blogs you recommend). Come to find out that Bill was a freelance journalist now and a major blogger in Nashville and Tennessee. Kinda cool to make those connections.

Bill let his site lay fallow on January 10, 2006. He was employed by Belmont University in Nashville as a PR person, and decided that maintaining his busy blog was one of the things he could jettison, even though he had maintained it for four-plus years. I hadn't seen much from or about Bill, until I saw the sickening headline on Instapundit: BILL HOBBS HAS LOST HIS JOB FOR BLOGGING.

"Bummer" doesn't begin to cover it. A decent recitation of the events is available here, an even more detailed one is available here, the nut of the story is that Bill posted a cartoon on a blogpage he started, then immediately abandoned. Later, when he started a blog about the Tennessee Governor's race, the earlier blog was listed as one of his on his Blogger Profile and a former press aide for Al Gore, Mike Kopp, chose this abandoned article to use as a platform to attack the Bryson campaign, which apparently does not employ Bill Hobbs. Another blogger who works for 'Nashville Scene', an 'alternative weekly' like the 'Dallas Observer', used Kopp's blog to bash Bill yet again, and call out Belmont, a Baptist college, about its employ of this hateful, spiteful un-Christian person.

Well, Bill isn't hateful. He's not spiteful. He's not un-Christian. And for reasons that are not yet clear, he's no longer employed by Belmont University, as of today.

Why do I say all this?

1. I like Bill personally and wish him well. The chances of him reading this are slim, but if you do, get a tip jar up on your site somewhere and for you, one of my Blogfathers, I will brave the perils of PayPal and chip in.

2. Bill is an important blogger to me, and likely to a few folks in Tennesee, but it's not like this 'Bill' is Bill Frist. Why Nashville Scene needs to take time out of its day to confront Bill and Belmont about an abandoned blog is not clear to me, other than that Bill has an opinion about the TN governor's race that they don't agree with. Congrats, Nashville Scene. I'm betting this will backfire badly on you, but hey, you're old media so your life ain't so great to begin with. Glenn Reynolds refers to bloggers as 'a pack, not a herd'. I don't live in Nashville and don't have a dog in this hunt, but I wouldn't be surprised to see an organized pack of bloggers casting a gimlet eye at each and every one of your actions in the future. Don't think of it as vengance, think of it as proactive defense on the part of people who don't agree with you. You never can tell which blogger with a different opinion they'll target next.

3. It's unspeakably ironic that "freedom of the press" has been applied by the Nashville Scene in an effort to embarass Bill and Belmont. I don't know the terms of separation of Bill from Belmont. It's entirely possible he was dissatisfied for some reason and this is a good opportunity to leave, or he's falling on his sword to save the school bad press (this, specificially, is not working at the moment), or Belmont pulled the trigger itself. In any event, it's unfortunate that someone's opinion outside of work should impact their job in this way. And as for a "Well, we didn't want him to lose his job" defense, freedom entails responsibility as well. What exactly was the expectation of what would happen in regard to this incident?

4. Freedom of opinion from the political left is apparently limited to freedom to agree with the tenets of the left. You're not just wrong if you don't, you're a horrible, awful, evil person and you should be destroyed.

I have admired Bill and Glenn Reynolds' bravery in posting under their own names on widely read pages on the Internet. My security is largely in anonymity (and if you were wondering and feeling frisky, an alarm system, a concealed carry permit, semiautomatic weapons and personal alertness), that and I'm easily self-employable and a partner in my radiology group. Bill shows anyone who's a blogger the dangers of deeply-held expressed opinion if you don't work for yourself, or have tenure, like Professor Reynolds. Bill didn't get attacked by a newspaper over his cartoon, he was attacked because he was felt to be effective in getting out a message. To a certain extent, that's an honor.

Bill has a short post on his blog:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
- Romans 8:28 -

God Bless, Bill.

Check his blog more frequently, I am sure we haven't heard the last from him.

UPDATE: Lucas in the comments makes a pertinent point. Allow me revise and extend point 4:

4. Freedom of opinion from the political extremes is apparently limited to freedom to agree with the positions of the extremes. You're not just wrong if you don't, you're a horrible, awful, evil person and you should be destroyed. I tend to notice it more when it comes from the left, but from whatever direction it's generally unhelpful for political discourse to assume your opponent does not have the public interest at heart and is simply a bad person. Interpersonally, this behavior is a conversation-killer. Politically, this is part of the wedge driving the country into fractious groups.


Lucas Hendrickson said...

I've been contemplating the Bill Hobbs story/situation for the better part of the morning for the following reasons:

1. I've known Bill Hobbs off and on (mostly off) for the better part of 20 years. We were briefly at ACU at the same time, and we've worked with/for each other on a few occasions in the '90s, he for me on some CitySearch profiles, me for he on a couple of magazine stories.

2. I consider Bill a friend, even though we clearly have differing political standpoints.

3. I'm employed (on an adjunct instructor basis) by Belmont University.

My personal bottom line is this: I'm saddened for Bill because I truly believe, deep down, he's a good guy. And from conversations I've had with others truly in the know, he was not fired, nor was he pressured to do so.

But in his role as an identified media/public relations operative for the university, he represented Belmont at all times. At ALL times. Especially in the "blogosphere" (a term I really hate), where he had become a public figure.

Many times, working journalists are asked by their employers not to take public roles with organizations, primarily as a way to avoid potential conflicts of interest for both the journalist and the organization. It's tough to bring the hammer down on, say, a charitable outfit accused of misappropriating funds when your star columnist sits on the board.

While this scenario doesn't *exactly* apply to Bill's situation, a variation on it does. Bill has made a name for himself as a proponent of blogging, and in that expertise had carved out a place for himself professionally working for Belmont, within the confines of and increasingly within the workings of an active political campaign.

Thereby the conflict of interest.

I'm a writer. I've carved out my (albeit small) professional space in the publications and companies I work for (including Belmont Univeristy) via my writing. If I was found to be writing treatments for, say, hardcore snuff films, especially while on company time, chances are I'd be let go.

Please note that I'm not equating "hastily scribbled stick figure cartoon" with "treatment for hardcore snuff film." I'm equating "published item that could cause current employer public image damage, especially in light of current cultural situations" with same.

Where I'm really saddened in this situation is the now-commonplace radical division (ie. the finger-pointing and name-calling) this has enflamed. Especially in people who want to be engaged in public discourse. It doesn't surprise me, it just makes me sad.

Where I disagree with your assessment, Darren, is your point number four. In our current political/media/moral/business/ethical climate, you needn't put either the words "left" or "right" in your statement.

Both sides are equally fanatical in their hatred of the other side, oftentimes for the same reasons, and it's that zeal and that desire to outshout the other that marginalizes the conversation, fractures our collective spirit, leaves the underrepresented masses in the middle out of the discussion and allows the extreme fringes on both ends of the spectrum to control the debate.

But here's what I predict will happen: This will run hot for a few more days (if not hours), and it will die down as all of these kinds of "First Amendment martyrdom" situations do, most likely in time for the intense, world-changing discussion of who's baby will arrive first, TomKat's or BrAngelina's?

We're easily distracted that way, much like I've been easily distracted by this ultimately "non-story". And isn't *that* the real cause for sadness?

Lucas Hendrickson said...

Permission to revise and extend not only granted, but heartily welcomed.

Sir, Dude, Compadre...pick your descriptor of manly affection that works best...I do appreciate your comments and insights.

I had a long conversation about this (and other media-related issues) yesterday with Cade White at ACU, and I'll say to you the same thing I wrote to him later: I'm glad to get to hash out some of the issues of the day with a reasonable, engaged professional. The perils of freelancing most of my working day usually prevent that.

I'll give my thoughts on your comments via my blog over there. Join me, won't you? (And tell Marci I said 'hi.' I still have fond memories of watching you guys' relationship blossom whilst slogging through the perils of Comm Law.)

todd Robbins said...

One of the main attackers of Bill is a guy that runs this blog:
and affectionately refers to Bill Hobbs as "B-Ho" all the time... He blogs anonymously, which I find to be a bit cowardly given the nature of his blog...