In recent days, my relationship with the web site Capitol Hill Blue has become a source of concern and debate, particularly as it relates to my role on this web site and as a newspaper reporter and photographer here in Floyd County.
Some express the belief that my opinion columns on CHB raise questions about my objectivity when it comes to writing here on Blue Ridge Muse and in my reporting on county government and the courts in The Floyd Press.
A recent column on CHB brought anger from some county residents who felt my strongly-worded commentaries about national politics showed a bias against the Republican Party as well as an anti-religious tone (the headline that probably caused some of the ire was later changed at the request of a member of the CHB staff). They expressed their anger to Wanda Combs, editor of The Floyd Press, where I cover the county courts, the county board of supervisors and shoot photos of high school sports and other events. This follows an effort last week to discredit my reporting on the Citizens Telephone events by rehashing past controversies involving CHB.
I started Capitol Hill Blue in 1994. It is the oldest political news site on the Internet. It is a national political web site with a edgy style and as such is written for a national political audience. Like many such sites, it is written in language that, as my mother would say, "is not used in polite company."
Because we began web publishing during the Clinton administration we were considered, at the time, to be a right-wing Republican site because of our frequent questioning of the actions of the President.
Felicity Barringer, media writer for The New York Times, wrote about Capitol Hill Blue in March 1999 with the headline What Hath Drudge Wrought?
The rash of telephone calls started coming in to Doug Thompson, the publisher of Capitol Hill Blue, a four-year-old Web site, about three weeks ago. Journalists from a broadcast news organization, from U.S. News & World Report, and from several British and American newspapers, wanted his Web publication to help them reach the sources for an article he had published.
Mr. Thompson refused to help them. Reporters, he said in an interview last week, do not ask for other reporters’ sources. In an editorial on his Web site — a rant, in Webspeak — he scoffed at the idea that he should ”trust the mainstream media that has either ignored the mounting evidence” against President Clinton or ”rushed to his defense whenever legitimate stories were published about his many high crimes.”
Mr. Thompson’s telephone calls tell a tale. A year after the gossipy Web site run by Matt Drudge became a bookmark in Washington computers, other, more partisan Web sites are becoming early warning systems for the mainstream press. Like talk radio, they are filled with free-form invective. Like trailers from a new X-Files movie, they offer previews of coming attractions from places where conspiracy is king.
”What is happening with Capitol Hill Blue reminds me of the early days of Drudge,” said Stephen G. Smith, the editor of U.S. News & World Report, who confirmed that his reporters were among those who called Mr. Thompson last month. ”It has caught on as an early warning sign of stories coming up.”
Although Barringer lumped us in with other "partisan" web sites, regular readers know that Blue is non-partisan and measures all elected officials with the same yardstick. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians or whatever are examined by the same microscope. When George W. Bush followed Bill Clinton, Blue questioned his actions with the same aggressiveness used against the former President.
It does not take much research of columns written for CHB to know that I have equal skepticism for Democrats and Republicans. For example:
- The Clintons and Jim Crow racism
- More of the same means none of the above
- Obama: Just another political phony
- Abandon hope all ye who vote here
During a sabbatical from journalism, I worked on Capitol Hill for three GOP Congressman: One as press secretary and two as chief of staff. I also served in the 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign and ran the National Association of Realtors Political Action Committee — the nation’s largest PAC at the time — for five years.
I worked inside the system long enough to know that when it comes to ethics there really isn’t much difference between Republicans or Democrats and that both parties too often put party loyalty above the best interests of the country. That was one of the reasons for starting CHB.
Despite working for the GOP, I’ve never registered as a member as one party or the other — even while living in states where party registration is allowed. In Virginia, I’ve voted in either the Republican or Democratic primaries depending on the candidate, not the party.
So any claim that I am biased in favor oo or against any political party is just that — a claim and not fact. I approach all parties and elected officials with equal skepticism. I’ve found that those who claim I’m either right-wing or left-wrong are doing so based on only limited exposure to the columns I have written over the past 13-and-a-half years.
Yes, Capitol Hill Blue is written in a style and language that one does not find in a family newspaper or even here on Blue Ridge Muse. As the New York Times reporter pointed out political web sites like Blue "are filled with free-form invective." If some here in Floyd County found the language used on Capitol Hill Blue offensive, I am sorry. My mother also gets upset over the language used on Blue.
But do not believe for one second that the language used on a web site written for a national audience is an indicator of any disrespect for religion or God. My wife and I were raised in Christian families and we share a strong belief in God. I grew up in Slate Mountain and Buffalo Mountain churches have served as both a deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church. My religious convictions remain strong.
The concern expressed to Wanda Combs about what some perceive is my lack of objectivity appears to be based on what I have written for a national political web site and not the stories I have written for the Floyd Press since returning to my home town four years ago.
Wanda tells me she has full confidence in my abilities as both a photographer and a reporter for her newspaper. She feels my reporting for the Press has been both fair and objective. I enjoy writing for the Press. Because it is the paper where my journlaism career started 45 years ago, coming back to Floyd and writing for it again makes the homecoming even more special.
However, both Wanda and I understand how others might feel differently about my objectivity based on limited exposure to what I write for Capitol Hill Blue. For that reason, I have decided to discontinue my columns for Capitol Hill Blue so that I can devote more time to Muse and my role with The Floyd Press.
Wanda did not ask me to make a choice. She did not ask me to quit writing for any web site. This was my decision and mine alone. As a resident of Floyd County, my efforts here are far more important to me than writing for a national political web site. My focus now is on community journalism and issues that more directly affect rural areas like Floyd.
It is also important that what I write on Blue Ridge Muse or for The Floyd Press be judged on the merits of each here in Floyd County and not by preconceived notions over what has been done elsewhere.