Etheridge encounter an assault or a set up?

Rep. Bob Etheridge’s reaction to a street encounter with a student journalist has politicians and political pundits on both the left and right in a frenzy. The right is calling it an “assault.” The left is claiming it was “set-up.”  Etheridge possibly set a new record by apologizing so quickly, without hours of the video appearing on the internet.

At first glance, this is simply another example of “politicians behaving badly.” The congressman strolls up to the videographer, there’s a voice that says “Hi Congressman.” and then one of the students asks “Do you fully support the Obama agenda? ”

In simpler times, when a politician was approached on the street their usual instinctive reaction was to say something like “Hi, how are you doing? What’s your name.” Etheridge reacts in a entirely different way. He says “Who are you” in an accusatory tone, then grabs the young man by the wrist, all the while repeating the prosecutorial query “Tell me who you are?”

One of the most interesting things Etheridge says is that he has a right to know the identify of the fellow. Apparently the congressman thinks that his exalted office and the PATRIOT Act gives him some special privileges not afforded ordinary citizens.

Perhaps Rep. Etheridge should recall the words a a fellow Democrat, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

Granted, if these students were journalists or journalists-in-training, they might have learned that journalists usually identify themselves when initiating an interview. Usually, but not always. Maybe they haven’t had that lesson yet, or skipped that class. That is no excuse for Etheridge’s reaction, however. As a veteran politicians, he should know better.

Political figures, like other celebrities, should be used to being in the center of media scrums, with cameras and microphones being poked in their faces as the zealots of the Fourth Estate try to “get the story.” Why then should Etheridge feel threatened or intimidated by two young adults in suits who approach him on the street in broad daylight?

All the negative publicity about Etheridge has resulted in a boost to his Republican opponent. Rene Ellmers is not well known even within her own party. A GOP press release about the incident spelled her name wrong.

Meanwhile the third candidate in the race, Libertarian Tom Rose, is somewhat puzzled by Congressman Etheridge’s reaction to the question.

“All he had to do was answer yes, and move on,” Rose said. “Anything else would have been a lie.”