Appendix 1b. Brock Meeks vs. Cokie Roberts

from:  http://www.msnbc.com/news/69150.asp

How the Net will kill democracy 
Media elite discovers new plot!

Brock Meeks

WASHINGTON -- Some 200-plus years of democratic government in the United
States is *under attack* and a thriving, politically active Internet
community is the perpetrator. Thatís the theme of a recent syndicated
column by ABC News talking head and National Public Radio commentator Cokie
Roberts and her husband, Steve Roberts, a columnist for the New York Daily

††††The hysterical tone of the column is astounding. The Robertses claim
that computers facilitate the ability of people to *get in touch with each
other on public policy issues.* Horrors! Further, this new, digital
democracy-slaying beast comes close to fulfilling Ross Perotís notion of
nationwide electronic town halls that *let the politicians know what we
want, so then they will do it! No more pandering to the big contributors,
no more deals between members, just the voice of the people will be heard!*
At this revelation, the Robertses write: *We hear that and shudder.*
† † † † These are the same sentiments I heard last year during a House
hearing discussing how to wire Congress for the next century. Reading the
column was like deja vu all over again, to borrow from that great political
pundit, Yogi Berra. The Robertses claim that electronic, participatory
government would mark the end of deliberation among lawmakers, that there
would be *no more consideration of an issue over a long period of time, no
more balancing of regional and ethnic interests, no more protection of
minority views.*
† † † † 

††††Bull. All this would be laughable if the column had been cranked out by
some backwater hack on a second-rate newspaper in a third-rate state.
Instead, it carries Cokieís byline, who, according to a cover story in the
April 5 issue of the National Journal, is noted as being among a handful of
the most influential journalists in Washington. *Sheís a celebrity, but an
influential one,* the Journal writes. 
† † † † This sort of journalistic tripe is poison and yet at the same time,
grist for the mill among the twisted jackals that make up Congress and who,
it seems, have no qualms about using the Internet as a personal whipping
post whenever it suits their fancy.
† † † † The Robertses column falls within days of another equally
remarkable event: A nationwide *town hall meeting,* cybercast by
Democracy.Net with Rep. Rick White, R-Wash. The cybercast interview of
White, broadcast in RealAudio with a simultaneous live chat happening,
flies in the face of the column for a few reasons.
† † † † 

††††First, Democracy.Net, strung together on a shoe-string budget with
borrowed equipment and staff, easily and effectively puts lawmakers within
grasp of the public. Unlike a physical town hall meeting, where if you
canít make it in person you lose out, on Democracy.Net there is a full
audio archive of Whiteís remarks along with a full transcript of the chat.
† † † † A member of Congress answering to the public, in real time, might
frighten Cokie Roberts, but to me itís the beginning of a new movement to
breach an ever-widening gap between a public that feels far too removed
from its government and impotent when it comes to being a part of the process.
† † † † To Whiteís credit, he took question after question from those
firing away at their keyboards. He was frank and honest. *How refreshing!*
remarked one person in the real-time chat, *A congressman with a brain!*
Just think, a member of Congress at the mercy of the public they are sworn
to serve and not a lobbyist within earshot. How revolting!
† † † † 

The Roberts claim that electronic, participatory government would mark the
end of deliberation among lawmakers. 

††††Another reason this democracy.net experiment works is that there is no
middle man, other than some software and a keyboard. Yes, a moderator,
Wired Magazine editor Todd Lappin, did field the questions and pass them on
to White. But Lappin handled the job with the even-handedness usually
reserved for C-Span. The *Washington Media Elite* are as reviled by the
public as the Congress itself; this process effectively takes the media out
of the meeting.
† † † † White doesnít brook with the Robertsesí assessment of the Internet.
*Iím not as skeptical,* White told me in a phone interview. In a short
statement highlighting his appearance on democracy.net, he says: *The
Internet is one of the best new tools we have to create a more open
democracy the Internet is helping bring the issues before Congress into the
homes of people across our country. This is a positive development and one
that will help foster more participation in our government.*
† † † † White said his experience on democracy.net was *great fun,* but
like other such experiments using the Net, *itís an initial first step down
a long path* to putting people more in touch with their government.
However, White said the experience on democracy.net *doesnít quite
substitute for the direct feedback* in a face-to-face town hall meeting,
where there are no intermediaries. He said thereís no reason to believe
that members of Congress, in the future, wonít be able to carry out their
own version of electronic town hall meetings, via video conferencing links,
*where we could look at each other face-to-face on a laptop screen.*
† † † † 

† † † † The Robertses, for whatever reason, believe that putting Congress
within a modemís reach of the public would threaten its very existence,
*thanks to the Internet.* Yet I know of no one making a case for every
single issue being voted on by the public, via modem, and therefore
usurping the duty of Congress to carry out debate on the issues. All anyone
is asking for is more of a voice, more of a presence. And thatís what the
power of the Internet can help facilitate.
† † † † Jock Gill is a former White House staffer and an original member of
the Clinton Ď92 campaign that first incorporated the power of the Internet
into a presidential campaign. He noted in a message to the Interesting
Persons mailing list, run by Internet icon Dave Farber, that the current
two-party system relies on *top down, legacy media branding and
communications structures, which are clearly seen as not producing useful
solutions to tomorrowís pending problems.* Gill maintains that this is one
reason why *citizen participation* is at an all-time low. *This lack of
participation is the greatest threat to our security, not the content or
habits of the Internet,* he writes.
† † † † On the Fight-Censorship list, James Halpert put a fine edge on his
critique of the Robertsí thoughts: *The logical extension of the Robertsí
position is to call for congressional offices to disconnect their
telephones so that mass call-in campaigns by well-funded, highly
disciplined grassroots groups are not heard. Are these troops more
reflective than Net users? Hardly.*
† † † † 

† † † † Another thing that irks me is that the Robertses column assumes
that Congress could be held hostage to a digital band of nationwide
activists just waiting to hijack critical items of the national agenda. As
if Netizens all spoke with one voice and always agreed on every issue. As
Halpert so adroitly dead-panned: *Hardly.*
† † † † I have to applaud the efforts of those like White who are taking a
stand and helping to push the envelope in an atmosphere that is at best
chilly when it comes to the Internet. Unfortunately, heís in an even
smaller minority than the Democratic Party. 
† † † † Access to the public via the Internet is no panacea for what ails
Congress, but it can help foster a better dialog and allow people to feel
more connected to their lawmakers. If we can just lead them to these
digital waters, Iím sure those behind efforts like democracy.net can make
them drink.
† † † † Meeks out . . .