========================================== 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 News. ††††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.* † † † † PARTICIPATION KILLS DEMOCRACY? ††††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. † † † † PUTTING LAWMAKERS WITHIN REACH ††††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! † † † † AVOIDING THE MEDIA ELITE 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.* † † † † BAN GRASSROOTS LOBBYING? † † † † 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.* † † † † UNANIMITY ON THE NET? NOT! † † † † 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 . . .