Real Time News and its Enemies

We are entering the next stage of personalized news. Rather than waiting for your congressman to be chosen for an interview by Fox News or the New York Times, you can interview your own congressman in "real time." Watch this video from John Culberson (R-TX), who uses an internet-connected video camera and a Blackberry to "broadcast" his side of a news interview. Imagine the possibilities, and the accountability!

What are the ramifications of this new technology? The first major benefit is that we no longer have to wait until the MSM decides to interview our congressman. Real time technology allows us to interview him or her directly. We can watch our representatives and senators explain their votes, make speeches, or even observe a chat in the hallway as it happens. The second benefit is that we can disseminate this information to friends via the internet. This activity is the essence of classical republicanism which is based on individual equality and self-interest bound by morality. Ideas and events otherwise hidden in the netherworld of uncovered MSM news are brought into the light and into the hands of everyday citizens.

Real time can become your personal news source. For example, Micro-blogging platforms such as
Twitter, where short text messages are used to spread information about what is happening right now. Twitter is used by the firefighters in California to relay information and by the people being evacuated to tell family and loved ones where they are and where they are going. The Red Cross uses Twitter and so do Congressmen from the floor of the House. Sign up for Twitter and search, monitor, and communicate with anyone you choose, on your computer or cell phone. You don't have to be a geek or have a bunch of spare time--Twitter is quicker and easier than email.

In Congress, only leaders are allowed to use this technology. All other members are currently not allowed under the archaic House franking rules. For example, because email has the word "mail", it must be reviewed by the Franking Commission before it is sent. However, there are two congressmen, Representatives
Culberson and Tim Ryan (D-OH), who are skirting the gray area by using Twitter, Facebook and Qik Video to talk directly with those members of the public that have signed up to do so. Culberson and Ryan send messages about what's happening on the House floor in real time, bypassing the MSM and, so far, leadership approval. This is the essence of the internet: free flowing information in real time. And as with Tivo, if you don't catch it live, watch the recording.

But not all is flowing smoothly. Full congressional use of this technology is being challenged in the Democrat-controlled House. At issue are concerns regarding decorum. The House doesn't want racy content or political advertisements adjacent to official congressional communications. Oddly, these same rules do not apply to print, radio or television.

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), Chairman of the Commission, wrote this letter to Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA), Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, recommending no actual changes in the rules. This sparked a flurry of activity on Twitter last week, with even the left-leaning Sunlight Foundation joining the fracus with the Let Our Congress Tweet campaign. YouTube has also responded by offering to provide a separate platform for Congressional use without advertising. Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) fully supports the use of this technology, and issued this letter (pdf) to Speaker Pelosi saying:

"I believe Memebers of Congress should have the ability to choose whichever service they believe will best assist in communicating with their constituents, and not be limited to only services "approved" by the House Administration Committee or any other government entity. We must encourage, not restrict, the free and open flow of uncensored informatiion between the American people and their elected leaders over the Internet."

Speaker Pelosi replied with this letter, castigating the Republicans for supposed false allegations:

"Unfortunately, inaccurate rumors have been circulated asserting that the suggested standards allowing for web video outside of the domain would affect Member blogging or use of sites such as Twitter. Dissemination of this false information does a disservice to the vital dialogue on using technology to increase citizen involvement, education, and transparency in the House."

The above link from "inaccurate rumors" goes to a blog post in which the Capuano letter is sanitized by someone telling us what Capuano "meant" to say. Culberson writes in at comment #5 stating that he spoke directly with Capuano to confirm that oversight over all congressional electronic communciation is the ultimate goal. According to Congress Daily,

"He [Capuano]said that he is not seeking to regulate anything other than video -- not blogs, chat rooms or any other written communication -- ‘but [at] some point we may have to.'" [emphasis added]

Culberson has since written this letter (pdf) to Speaker Pelosi in which he chronicles the fact that the rules placed upon internet communications are not, and rightfully so, applied to print, radio, or television. He believes Congressmen were elected by the people because of their good judgment and that Congress should place no burden restricting that judgment.

Real time is where it's at. Every rugged individualist should have the power to find their own personal news and then spread it among friends. Such ability is the true design of an engaged electorate in a free democratic republic. It is both the voice of democracy and the sublime nature of a republic when the leaders and the electorate can speak in an open dialog unedited into sound bites. The republic is then protected by a transparency that quickly reveals actions done for selfish motives for amassing control and power. Imagine congressmen who refuse to use this technology of transparency viewed not only as Luddites but as suspect. Congress should act soon to allow its use.
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