Where’s my “Bill Hobbs post”? One of this weblog’s loyal readers just threatened to stop “paying good money to read it” if I didn’t comment on the Nashville (and now the vast right-wing conservative) blogosphere’s breaking controversy: that former Nashville blogger Bill Hobbs (I say former because he stopped blogging in January) got dooced from his job at Belmont University for posting a crude (in many ways) cartoon on a website in what he felt was an expression of his outrage at the western media’s timid response to the Mohammed cartoon riots. (Brittney Gilbert at Nashville is Talking has a round up of the blogosphere’s reaction to what’s going on. And she’s left Aunt B in charge for the weekend, so this should be fun.)
Here’s my 2¢: What Bill did was stupid (Sorry, Bill). The way in which Mike Kopp outed him was smarmy and a transparent political hack (Sorry, Mike). The Scene’s duplicitous role in this hack is an embarrassment (Sorry, Liz) in the way, as Roger Abramson so correctly described, they used their considerable power to shoot a butterfly with a bazooka. (“A minnow in a mason jar” was going to be my metaphor before reading his better one.)
I know all these folks: Bill, Mike, Liz and Roger and Brittney and Aunt B and most of the folks who think it’s great Bill got taken down and those who are jumping to his defense. I like all of these people. (Even the guy I’ve never met who sometimes attacks me for the most random of reasons.) I’m feeling not so good about all of this on this Good Friday.
I’m really hurting for the person Bill Hobbs (I’ll say more about that in a moment), but I don’t think this is a “free expression” issue. Rather, it’s a poor judgement issue. Unlike some very articulate folks jumping to Bill’s defense, I do not believe Belmont University is out of line for inviting Bill to leave (if that is, indeed, what happened). I especially do not believe they are cowardly, as Liz had suggested, if they fired him. In fact, I believe the PTB (powers that be) at Belmont have been very flexible in allowing Bill to (on “company” time and with “company” equipment) maintain an extremely partisan and political and advertising-supported weblog over the course of several years. While Bill served as a school’s spokesman, he was using his blog to become one of the most self-promoting and out-spoken partisan pundits in Tennessee (and the country). Kudos for Belmont for allowing him that freedom of expression. Frankly, if Bill had been an employee of mine, I would have encouraged him to disassociate his blog with anything related to my company — but during the time in which he maintained his weblog, it was very transparent that Bill was employed as a spokesperson for the University. As far as I know, his blogging was encouraged (or at least tolerated) and the University supported his blogging and the whole concept of blogging — including hosting Blog Nashville.
Also, an important point to keep in mind: Hobbs didn’t get invited to leave Belmont for blogging (if he, indeed, got invited to leave). He blogged for years and Belmont never fired him. His offense here is the display of an extraordinary lapse in judgement. Despite the passionate belief he holds and the expression of truth he felt his action communicated, all it did was display an outrageous insensitivity that is not merely, as some are suggesting, politically incorrect; rather it was politically and religiously and culturally intolerant, racist and, I go back to the only word I can think of, stupid. And, worst of all, it wasn’t funny. Belmont had no choice.
But here is where I say that I think this will turn out to be something good for Bill Hobbs, the person. For Bill, I feel certain there will be a silver lining in this story. Frankly, Bill Hobbs is too talented and valuable to be working at Belmont. He needed to leave there a long time ago. If this is what it took to get Bill out the door, then great. As much as I often disagree with his point-of-view and style, I’ve read nearly every post Bill Hobbs made when he blogged. I’d be happy to serve as a reference for any employer who is interested in tapping into Bill’s keen insight of the role of personal media in the context of corporate and institutional or cause-related communications. He knows more about blogging than anyone I know employed in the field of public relations or media in this region. (Okay, I can think of 3 or 4 who come close.) So what he did was stupid. But then, I don’t know of anyone who is as passionate as Bill is about the things in which he believes who hasn’t said or done something they wished for a do-over. (Even Mike Kopp.)
What Bill did was a lapse in judgement but I think he’ll one day look back at this as a very positive turn in his professional and life journey. Perhaps this is how Mohammed works in people’s lives.
(Note: There’s a good chance this will be my last post until Monday night or Tuesday. Nothing more fun than throwing out a flame like this and then going offline.)