Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Delegate Cosgrove Gets Blogged

I'm back. Just finished a very nice interview for an upcoming article in Real Simple magazine. No, the topic was not you-know-what. It was menstrual management--my research interest, and the actual subject of my book. [Don't you just hate it when real life interferes with blogging.] Not to worry. I somehow managed to work in a mention of HR 1677. So, what are my thoughts on the events of the past few days? [Proceed with caution; what follows might not meet with your expectations.]

The bill's withdrawal is a positive development. The many individuals, in particular Maura from Democracy for Virginia, who devoted their time and effort to this matter are to be commended and deserve our thanks. The Internet rules! Except, in this particular situation, I'm not exactly sure what it is that it rules. Allow me to explain.

I actually knew about the bill's withdrawal before it became public. [Yes, I'm psychic that way.] A reader was kind enough to share an email she received from Del. Cosgrove. With her permission, here it is (emphasis mine):

Dear Ms. X,

Thanks for your email in regard to HB1677. It will shortly be released that I am withdrawing 1677 due to the vast amount of misinformation that has been attached to this bill by those internet sites and the blogoshephere that you mentioned. The authors of those sites never talked to me or my staff about this bill and it would have gone a long way in alleviating the false information that is circulating about this bill.

It is indeed a new year and those who would blindly accept the rumors of the internet should also be vigilant to discern the truth.

Delegate John A. Cosgrove
78th House of Delegates

Um, yes, the blogoshephere [sic] is the main issue here.

My overall impression: A Kabuki move, and, in the end, I was left with a lot more questions than answers.

1) According to Del. Cosgrove, the bill was intended to add more teeth to laws penalizing women who abandon full-term infants after birth, in an effort, one presumes, to reduce the instances of full term babies who [are] abandoned shortly after birth and who di[e] horrible deaths. Nothing has been accomplished on this front. A lot of time, energy, and taxpayers money were spent without even touching on this topic, let alone producing a result. I only briefly looked into Virginia's program designed to reduce the incidence of abandoned babies, Into Safe Arms, and it appears much work remains to be done. Anonymity, protection form prosecution, a raised public profile for the program, are but a few of the areas that merit serious attention and discussion.

2) The reason Del. Cosgrove withdrew the bill is: variant one, due to the vast amount of misinformation that has been attached to this bill by those internet sites and the blogoshephere [I have to ask: So, if the blogosphere hadn't picked up the story, would the Delegate still stand behind HB 1677?], or variant two, [t]he language is just too confusing.

In any other place of employment this justification (and I use the term loosely) would be unacceptable.

We cannot do what the Delegate does and declare a do-over when the product of our work is substandard because: variant one, we make unsupported assertions, or variant two, we're incompetent. [There's no Bill Language Fairy with a magic wand; it is the legislator's job to draft a bill clearly.]

We've all had, or will have, professional failures. We are held accountable form them, we have to explain them, and, if we wish to keep our job, we learn from them. Del. Cosgrove doesn't have to do any of these things. He gets to withdraw the bill and presto, all is well again. Need I say it? This is not conducive to an improved (or even an acceptable) job performance.

3) Last, but not least the journalists and experts join in:

Rem Rieder, editor of American Journalism Review, said the blog phenomenon has both positive and negative consequences.

"It's certainly a way of stimulating participation in the political process. It's a way to get involved instantly," he said. "But the potential for bullying and intimidation is there. You wouldn't want people to not be putting in bills because they'd be flogged by blogs. And it can be a way of spreading misinformation or distorted information quickly. Blogs, while they are fascinating, are not journalism."

Jeff South, a mass communications professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the blogs proved beneficial for Cosgrove's bill.

"The bloggers pointed out, to me, some legitimate concerns," South said. "They created a healthy discussion. If there's a down side, it was that Del. Cosgrove didn't have a chance to get involved in the debate until it was too late."

Journalists and expert people, pay attention. This was not about Del. Cosgrove or the Internet, Republicans or Democrats, the position of NARAL Pro-Choice America or that of Baptists. It was about a bill, its content, and its effect on the citizens of the state of Virginia.

You wouldn't want legislators putting in bills just for the fun of it [I'm being oh, so diplomatic, with this characterization], irrespective of flagellating blogs. Conversely, you would want legislators who propose serious and beneficial bills to support and champion those bills even if they'd be flogged by blogs. Bills stand on their own, and legislators work for the best interest of their constituencies, not blogs.

Del. Cosgrove did not withdraw his bill because he was mistreated, bullied or intimidated. [I must ask, by whom, out-of-state bloggers?] Neither did he withdraw it because of vast amount[s] of misinformation attached to the bill by malevolent outside forces, circulating false information, or the rumors of the internet. [Note to the Delegate: All our sites have archives. Don't hesitate to use them to support your accusations.]

Del. Cosgrove's intent, feelings, wishes, hopes, and dreams, and other ethereal stuff went into the crafting of the bill [along with a considerable amount of serious, factual research one would hope]. Once the bill was finalized, introduced, and made part of the public record, it stands on its own. That is the Delegate's very job: to produce clear, pertinent, and beneficial bills.

Once the bill is introduced, we link to it, we read it, and we use our reading comprehension skills (and the occasional googling/reference) to understand the bill.

Divining the legislator's intent is *not* required to understand a bill. Incidentally, neither is talking to/asking permission from/checking in with the legislator or his staff before talking (er, blogging) about a piece of public legislation. Young children need permission to use the Internet, and they require supervision. Competent adults do not.

Del. Cosgrove withdrew HB 1677, and this is informed speculation on my part since the Delegate did not deem his constituents worthy of an actual explanation, because:

  • He originally stated that [t]his bill was requested by the Chesapeake Police Department in its legislative package [this later morphs into it was part of the legislative agenda of the Chesapeake Police Department to come up with [this] legislation], yet the city confirmed that no legislative package related to HB 1677 has been submitted by the Chesapeake Police Department.

    An interesting aside. The city official suggested that the request for this bill could have came from a private organization, the Fraternal Order of the Police. An alert reader (thank you) notes that Cosgrove himself just so happens to be a member of said organization. [File under things that make you go "Hmm?".]

  • The revision to the law currently on the books has been proposed in an effort to deter people from dumping liveborn babies and leaving them to die. Yet, the language of the bill--[w]hen a fetal death [legally defined in Virginia as "death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception, regardless of the duration of pregnancy"] occurs--only addresses fetal death. So HB 1677 does not pertain to, and has no impact on livebirths.

  • Presuming a pregnant woman guilty of a crime for having an unattended delivery is indefensible. [Just so you know, I am strongly and vigorously opposed to unattended deliveries. I will do (and have done) anything in my power to convince you not to have one. Still, if you do decide to give birth unattended, you are a competent adult making a decision, not a criminal.]

  • Into Safe Arms, the existing project intended to reduce the number of abandoned newborns, actually works. [Since its inception (either 1 or 2 years ago, I'm not sure), only one (pdf) infant was found abandoned.]

    One more point, apropos [i]f there's a down side, it was that Del. Cosgrove didn't have a chance to get involved in the debate until it was too late. [Too late for what? Did another Bill Fairy make an appearance while we weren't looking?] It is quite possible that Del. Cosgrove is a busy man, maybe not too familiar with blogs, and as such, he missed a chance to get involved in the online debate. This is perfectly understandable, and, at the same time, quite irrelevant. The Delegate has the chance to get involved in crafting and passing legislation. He also has the chance to criminalize the behavior of millions. That's were "too late" gets decided, not on online debates.

    In the end, it is very tempting to look at the withdrawal of HB 1677 as a victory.

    Unfortunately, while jumping up and down in celebration, I bumped into the huge elephant in the room and my enthusiasm was dampened. OK, forget stylistic flourishes. Let me be direct. I don't live in Virginia, so all this has been an academic exercise for me. Moreover, because of my profession, I am part of the select few who will not be personally affected by any type of whimsical reproductive legislation, at any level, local or federal [this dichotomy is unjust, yet a reality]. But what about the women who are not in my position? The saga of HB 1677 has made me realize that the lives and health of tens of millions of women are literally at the mercy of legislators of Del. Cosgrove's caliber. This realization is enough to subdue even the most optimistic person. [By all means, if you were already aware of the existence of legislators like the Delegate, please, carry on with the celebration. I wasn't, so it's taking me a bit longer to get over this.]

    Bottom line: I'm glad the women of Virginia, and their loved ones will not be subjected to HB 1677; I remain unconvinced it's a lasting victory; and I'd like to find a practical solution to end everybody and their legislator deciding a woman's life and health. [Well, as long as my goals aren't too lofty.]


    At 1:52 PM, Blogger annejumps said...

    "If there's a down side, it was that Del. Cosgrove didn't have a chance to get involved in the debate until it was too late."

    I thought Maura emailed him, waited for three days, and then proceeded.

    They're being awfully disingenuous here.

    At 3:02 PM, Blogger Rivki said...

    I'm actually a bit dissapointed that he withdrew the bill. I think it would have been more of an example and significantly more demoralizing for Cosgrove and his supporters if the bill had been introduced, debated and voted down. I think if it had ever gotten to the point of a vote there would have been an even more powerful firestorm (which I'm assuming is why Cosgrove withdrew it in the first place) if the bill seemingly had a good chance of becoming law. More Virginians would have learned about it and more people would have been exposed to the lows to which Cosgrove and co are willing to stoop. As it is I'm not sure how many people out of the blogosphere know about or were outraged by this bill. I know I wrote to my reps in Richmond but I'm don't know how many other non-bloggers did.

    At 6:22 PM, Blogger delagar said...

    Excellent post.

    At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    count yourself among the "fair and balanced" in realistically portraying the consequences of this bill. I use "fair and balanced" in the best possible sense of the word, not as it is commonly used in the trademarked version of certain "unbiased" media.

    Instead of the blogosphere-based political and ethical discussions (and activism), i suppose we'd make some people happier by just watching the 5:00 local news and learning about somebody's house that burned down.

    At 1:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


    This is Maura in VA, the author of the first article. I hadn't seen this email from Cosgrove. What BULLSHIT.

    This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Thank you for posting it. I'm gonna cross-post now. What a JERK.

    Here will be my next email to him:

    Dear Delegate Cosgrove,

    I'm told you say that my site has been spreading misinformation.

    Would you please care to point out the exact misinformation?

    ....or something like it.

    I was afraid of this spin myself, and I'm only glad that, thus far, the newspaper coverage of this has not given strong credence to the misinformation spin. (Today's article in the Virginian-Pilot is definitely pro-blog result.) But this definitely deserves an answer. I'll cross post to you - thanks!

    At 3:56 AM, Blogger Blogger said...

    Hey Ema,
    I'm still celebrating! Well, OK, I know Cosgrove-esque legislators were (and are) out there, so I fall under the "keep celebrating!" exemption.

    But here, I'll help you celebrate:

    Cosgrovian legislators are out there. They've been out there for years. They've been *passing bills* for years. And never before have they felt any need to listen to women about women's health issues. They passed these bills, and didn't care who yelled about it.

    Until now. We got him to care (and by "care", I mean "be afraid") and we got him to back down. That doesn't happen, except, it just did. Yeah, it would have been great to see this go to the floor and get smacked down in a huge, lopsided vote, but it would be even greater if asinine bills didn't get introduced in the first place.

    Yeah, it sucks that these battles exist, but it sucks less when we win. Which we did. Which is certainly a cause for celebration


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