So, yesterday, I gotta admit I celebrated a little about the announcement that Cosgrove would pull 1677, especially when he admitted his own bill's "language was just too confusing".
The good news spread throughout the blogosphere, and many of the women who researched the bill themselves and wrote to Cosgrove celebrated a victory of ordinary people making a difference in the legislative process. Typical of the hundreds of related comments on blogs, Libby on Chez Marriage wrote in comments:
Talk about feeling empowered!
Fertile or infertile, democrat or replublican, mothers or childfree, it does not matter. We are women first and we can unite to make a difference. I hope we don't forget that.
Well, apparently John Cosgrove doesn't think we're empowered. According to Ema at The Well Timed Period, who posted a copy of an email from Cosgrove to a concerned citizen, he thinks we're misinformed. Everyone's concerns are based on "false information". Cosgrove also makes the condescending point that, "those who would blindly accept the rumors of the internet should also be vigilant to discern the truth."
So, Mr. Cosgrove, the people who wrote to you are just blind dupes? Just - dare I say it? - hysterical women who believed some crazy rumor unfounded in fact? Some evidence would suggest otherwise, given that nearly half of the blogs who linked to the story on the first day it gained popularity also linked to the General Assembly's bill tracking system to the full text of the bill itself.
It's an easy defense, really. The evil Internets are telling lies about me! And they never let me give my side of the story!
Dave Addis of the Virginian-Pilot, whose family suffered four traumatic losses of pregnancy, called HB1677 a "lulu" of a bill in "Good for us, pregnancy bill is nipped in the bud", and gives Cosgrove this advice:
A lot of..bloggers are morons, but a lot are savvy, dedicated, and on target. Just ask Dan Rather.
My parting advice: Grow scales, Cosgrove, or do a better job of writing your bills, because these people aren’t going away. And good on ’em, too.
(Continue reading by clicking link below...)
Of course any blogger aspires to earn the label of "savvy, dedicated, and on target" rather than "moron". But bad information is out there, surely. Yet if the Internet is populated with dupes, it's even more heavily populated with amateur sleuths, fact-checkers, and skeptics of all kinds, and in this case, all the primary source material was there for anyone to fact-check. It's worth noting that Delegate Cosgrove has never actually refuted the central information in the original post. Sure, he says he never meant "miscarriage", but the definition of fetal death in Virginia code clearly includes miscarriages.
Ema, who has done valiant additive research on this bill, makes the point much better than me about the value (or lack thereof) in an understanding of what Cosgrove meant (emphasis mine):
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.
Ema also shares her point by point concerns about the bill itself and the pros/cons of its withdrawal here. They're well worth a read. And don't miss her posts over the past few days
with additive research on Virginia Child Abuse and Neglect statistics,
the Chesapeake Police Department's mysterious legislative package, and
her point-by-point rebuttal of Delegate Cosgrove's first posted
But this "internet rumor" defense is sticking. According to Thursday's Augusta Free Press, Cosgrove plans to speechify on the evils of internet rumors when he withdraws his bill:
"The motion to strike will include an explanation that the reason that it is being stricken is in large part because of the misinformation that has been propagated on the Internet about what the intent was here," said Cosgrove, who decided to withdraw HB 1677 on Monday after being deluged with e-mails from people concerned about the possible implications of the legislation on women who have miscarriages.
"The misinformation has fueled the confusion on what should be a fairly straightforward piece of legislation that is still something that I think is very much needed," Cosgrove said.
Chris Graham of the Augusta Free Press published my retort:
"I don't think it's fair to dismiss citizen concerns about a bill simply because the medium for communicating the concern happens to be the Internet," Keaney said.
"The power of an Internet-based collaborative story like this is that any reader is empowered to be a researcher and fact-checker," Keaney said. "My original two posts on the issue contained links to all primary source material on which I based my concerns. I think anyone who read my original interpretation should have been skeptical. I encouraged them to be skeptical, to click in to the bill itself, or the definition of fetal death in the Code of Virginia, and come to their own conclusions.
I'm not taking Cosgrove's defense personally. He's a politician, and he's got to safe face. But I think it's pretty insulting to assume that all the ordinary citizens who took time to write to him over the weekend were just dupes, victims of some sort of miscarriage-related chain letter scheme written by the widow of a Nigerian dictator...you know, like the one in my spam filter now:
Dear Friend, Greetings,
I am Hajia (Mrs.) Mariam Abacha, wife of late Nigerian head of state- Gen.Sanni Abacha. We have not met before,I got your contact through the web in deep search for help and I felt Ishould trust you. It is no news telling you that my family has been going through untold hardship
since the death of my husband on the 8th June 1998.
From the bureau de change business, which has now been clamped down by Nigeria Government, I was able to save USD$24,000,000.00 in cash.
I would therefore need your honest assistance to move this fund from the Security Company to your nominated bank account. Once the money is safeguarded in your account, I would require your directives to enable me
invest same in any viable business venture.
Also, if you would please to write a very nasty letter to Delegate John Cosgrove of Virginia, because he wants to send you to a very bad jail if you have a miscarriage.
While thanking you for your anticipated co-operation. I look forward to your urgent reponse.
that's just how it happened. I'm still waiting for that
USD$24,000,000.00, but it's been fun reading other bills while I've
been checking my bank balance online. It's the real story behind the withdrawal of HB1677. So don't forget Delegate Cosgrove's advice: "Those who would blindly accept the rumors of the internet should also be vigilant to discern the truth."