Bob Etheridge: Apology and the Celebrity Possession Question

Andrew Belonsky :: Monday, June 14th, 2010 2:30 pm

Congressman Bob Etheridge received unwanted attention today, thanks to a video that shows him roughing up a young reporter. Some are calling the Democrat a psycho who took on a young-gun journo’s gumption. Others, meanwhile, claim Etheridge deserves a medal for standing up to a little punk who had a political mission and lacked the balls to show his face. Both of those things may be true, but the morality of this media ambush raises a pressing election year question: do we “own” politicians in the same way we do other public figures, like celebrities?

This video, posted over the weekend, shows a reporter asking Etheridge, who is up for reelection this November, “Do you fully support the Obama agenda?” Cranky Etheridge didn’t take kindly to the inquiry, knocked the cameraman’s hand, clenched the reporter’s wrist and demanded, “Who are you?” He later grabbed the reporter’s neck, even after the duo explained they were students working on a project. Now everyone’s in an uproar!

Some people contend that Etheridge did the right thing to stand up to what looks like an obvious ambush. Others insist this is the 21st century and politicians need to get with the program. The Republican National Committee has already capitalized on the incident: “Bob Etheridge has lost it. His conduct is unbecoming of a member of Congress,” they wrote in a statement. “It’s bad enough that he’s joined Obama’s assault on North Carolina jobs, but his physical assault on a college student goes beyond the pale.” Eh, if you ask me, this entire thing stinks to high heaven. But that doesn’t mean it’s a worthless debate.

Both Etheridge and the alleged reporter point out that they have a right to be on the public street. That is, after all, why streets exist. Celebrities make a similar argument when fighting against the paparazzi, a camera-toting group that has come under legislation in recent years. I wonder, then: are politicians and stars of the same ilk?

The public “creates” both celebrities and legislators: actors and singers earn our hard-earned dough, while lawmakers work for our hard-fought votes. They’re all public figures, and if celebrities can be caught mid-stride, don’t politicians deserve the same treatment? Even more so, considering they’re civil servants?

Unlike Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and the rest of the Hollywood brood, who so deserve their privacy, politicians “belong” to American citizens. They work within our government, a government for and by the people: we should be able to snap their picture and video tape their every public move if we see fit. If lawmakers they don’t like it, they can be voted out of office. Of course that may work out better: the private sector’s far more clandestine. Not to mention more lucrative.