In early August,
(a citizen-owned and operated site devoted to Michigan politics) was
from State Senate computers by Mike Bishop, the State Senate Majority Leader.
The incident recalls last summer’s internet censorship struggles in Kentucky, over which a lawsuit is currently pending in U.S. District Court.
In this case, rapid response on widely-read blogs helped to galvanize a local and national outcry over this deplorable act of censorship. Perhaps most importantly, the controversy has fueled discussion about the role of blogs as an alternative to (and a valuable check on) the mainstream news, and the valuable role they can have in connecting politicians to their constituents.
Below, we are pleased to present some reflections on the incident from Cathleen Carrigan (aka wizardkitten) of Blogging for Michigan:
Can you describe a bit how you got into blogging, and how you see your role as a citizen journalist and observer of Michigan politics?
I started my own blog in Oct. 2003, just for something to do, post my pictures, express my thoughts. After discovering Daily Kos in late 2004, I learned what blogging was really about, and went from there. I applied what I learned from Kos on the 2006 gubernatorial election in Michigan, and did extensive work on that. It has been a continual learning process.
One of the things that impressed me about Kos was their ability to report breaking news. If something was happening, they more often than not had it before the MSM, and with a reader base as large as that, usually they had someone on or near the scene to report what was happening from their viewpoint.
It is fascinating. I always turn there first when national news breaks.
As far as Michigan goes, there are things that happen that don’t get reported by the MSM; they only show up in the pay news services out of Lansing. Between them, the regular media, and the government itself, I can put together a decent story.
As far as breaking stories- again I follow the Kos model. If I’m around, I get it up as soon as I can. Everything I’ve ever posted can be sourced using the Internet alone.
Did you ever consider that your site could be the target of this sort of action, and have you ever seen censorship in action like this in Michigan?
No, I never dreamed something like this would happen. I can’t recall anything like this is my lifetime, unless you count certain groups trying to ban certain books from schools.
We were the first website ever targeted by the Michigan Senate, I hope that we will be the last.
How did you find out about the block? And what steps did you immediately take to call attention to the block and enlist support? What factors do you think most contributed to Bishop’s backing off?
On Thursday, August 2nd, the Senate Democrats were to begin a series of 10 posts on legislation they would like to work on. Senator Deb Cherry was the first to post. When the Senate couldn’t reach the site, they contacted us to see if we were down. No, we were up and running, everything was fine, only the Senate couldn’t access the site. As a joke, I wrote to the Senate staffer and said, and this is a direct cut-n-paste-
"The Republicans blocked us!! Conspiracy! Trying to stop the Dems from speaking out!!! Better make sure your cars start up too. They probably pulled the spark plugs or something."
Senator Cherry eventually got her post up, to this day I’m not sure if she did it from home, or from a different state computer (remember only the Senate was blocked, the House and the rest of the state government could access us)
The next day the Senate Democrats did some investigating and were told by the Secretary of the Senate that Mike Bishop’s office had the site blocked. This was about noon on Friday that bit of information came out. Wasn’t much we could do until the following Monday.
We posted that day on our site about the block, and the pay news services in Lansing reported on it that night. Daily Kos reported on it that night also with a front page post. We started to contact some of the MSM that day, Monday put on a full court contact to every paper in the state, by Tuesday the AP picked it up, and off we went. Suddenly it was everywhere.
The ACLU was ready to take this to court, and I believe that, and the outcry from the press, the blogs, and the Senate Democrats themselves, including a formal letter from Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer to Mike Bishop’s office, all contributed to Bishop backing down. He really didn’t have a leg to stand on, and he knew it. To continue down this path would have been nothing but bad press for him on top of a long, protracted Federal lawsuit.
So, ultimately I believe that it was a combination of those things that made Bishop back down. Even the right wing blogs were on our side.
It seems as though Bishop made a succession of excuses – each rather dishonest – when he was pressed to explain the block. How would you respond if, as he suggested at one point, all blogs, regardless of viewpoint, were blocked from Senate computers? How would you address the argument that participation in the blogosphere is an inappropriate use of government employees’ time?
If all blogs are blocked, then they would have to block newspaper sites too, for they have "blogs" also.
The notion of blocking all blogs is a ridiculous one. Can’t be done, but let’s assume it could, and then yes, I would have a huge problem with that, and I believe the ACLU would also. Who is going to decide what is to be censored and what isn’t?
This is no different than any other form of communication between the government and the citizens, whether they do it through the MSM with a press release, a phone call from a constituent, an interview with a reporter.
Is Mike Bishop really going to consider blocking Senators from communicating with their constituents? I don’t see how that can be even remotely legal.
The "inappropriate use of time" was just yet another excuse for censoring speech that he didn’t like, whether it was from me or the Senate Democrats themselves. And if these people can’t be trusted to use their time correctly, then they can’t be trusted to make decisions on policy or work on behalf of the people.
Remember, the "government employees" he was speaking of are Senators in the Michigan Senate. He tries to confuse that fact as staffers "goofing around". That wasn’t what was happening here.
One of your readers commented,: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Has this statement rung true for BFM?
Mike certainly brought a lot of attention to our corner of the Internet. I wouldn’t say that we are more "powerful", but thanks to Bishop’s actions this issue has been raised in the media and hopefully it will draw attention to the fact the citizen journalists have something to say, and we do a pretty good job of addressing current issues that are only given a passing glance in the MSM.
It brings more awareness to the blogs, not just ours, but all of them, and perhaps people will be interested to learn what is going on in state government and feel more comfortable about communicating their thoughts to our elected officials. And elected officials will feel more comfortable about communicating their ideas back.
So, for the bad that it was, ultimately the awareness it raises will be a good thing.
We were thinking of sending Mike a big "thank you", but then he would probably want the mail blocked too, so we decided to leave it alone. 😉