Joining a growing list of politicians who have attacked the blogging medium, a Maryland mayor identified local political bloggers as a danger to society in her final State of the City address last week.
“While we face the same challenges that other cities and towns are facing, our biggest challenge by far is a small element within the city that consistently seeks to find ‘smoking guns’ and conspiracies within the ranks of the city workforce,” Salisbury Mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman reportedly said. “Daily, I run into citizens who are wary of the constant ‘gotcha’ mentality on the part of a few citizens and City Council members. Citizens fear standing up and serving because it is simply not worth the vilification they chance at the hands of blogs and with threatening phone calls.”
Later in the speech she said, “This is not about differences of opinion and policy questions. This is quite simply mean-spirited ugly constant intimidation. Combined with the lies and innuendo of several bloggers this city is under siege.”
I spoke to Joe Albero, who said he is likely the sole blogger she’s referring to (“I am the main target. I’m the only target.”) The blogger told me he launched his site Salisbury News three and a half years ago after he personally met with Tilghman to try to inform her about concerns he had about the local zoo. When she failed to address the issue in what he considered a timely fashion, he decided to take his complaints to the internet and has been aggressively covering local issues ever since.
“Her remark is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “To try to reach out to the public, and blame Salisbury News for the blight, for the graffiti, for the lack of business, for the real estate market taking a dive. It’s just absolutely crazy, if anything; unfortunately for her, we’re here to expose all the things that she had 12 years to cover up.”
Albero said that he and other bloggers have been more aggressive than traditional media in that area, and that local officials are not used to such close scrutiny. “We have an election coming up, she’s not running again. The press said directly to her, ‘do the blogs have anything with your decision not to run again?’ She said absolutely not. Then she does her State of the City address and blames everything on the blogs. It’s just incredible.”
Kenneth Burns echoed the idea that these remarks are a direct result of Salisbury being such a small news market. Burns works as a producer for a DC-area radio station and runs the blog Maryland Politics Today, which he launched a few years ago.
“If she had pulled this in either DC or Baltimore, she would have been laughed out of the room,” Burns told me in a phone interview last night. “Because [in those areas] there are blogs, there are radio commentators, there are newspaper columnists that will criticize you at the drop of a hat if you do something wrong, good, bad, or indifferent. The only reason she’s going to get away with it is because Salisbury’s a much smaller market where they only have one newspaper, a couple television stations down there, and a couple of talk radio stations.”
While he agreed that some of the online coverage of the mayor has been “outright ugly,” he said much of the criticism from blogs has been constructive. “This isn’t the first time she called out bloggers,” he said. “There was a press conference — I believe in early 2007 — where she said these blogs are mean spirited, they’re evil, and they don’t put the city in a positive light. But really they didn’t put her in a positive light because there are not too many people who approve of the job that she’s doing.”
But most importantly, Burns said, the mayor shouldn’t have said these things because she’s essentially attacking her own constituency. “Obviously she has a lot of guts criticizing not only people who are bloggers, but some of those bloggers might be citizens of her city, so she’s basically saying that some of your fellow citizens are dangerous to your city, and that’s not a good thing to say in any respect.”