Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maybe I Won't Tweet After All; Learning A Lesson About the New Media

The Indianapolis Star is reporting that Attorney Greg Zoeller has fired Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox over a "tweet" of his suggesting that "live ammunition" be used on the Wisconsin labor union protesters. 

I'm going to write on this matter more soon, including addressing Attorney General Greg Zoeller's  extreme hypocrisy when it comes to sanctioning unethical behavior in his office. 

Let me just say I know Jeff Cox.  I had Jeff on the other side of an eminent domain case that is still pending.  He has been nothing but professional and courteous, a far cry from other Deputy Attorney Generals I've dealt with during the Carter/Zoeller regime.

I ran into Jeff at the Distillery a couple years back.  He defended Attorney General Steve Carter's do nothing approach to his job.  Jeff argued that the AG's powers were so limited that he couldn't do anything about the issues I raised.  I said that AG Carter was simply making excuses to avoid taking action where he was legally authorized to do so.

One thing I learned about Jeff Cox early on is that he likes to say provocative things, things he may not actually believe, in order to provoke a response. That's fine when you're having a conversation in a bar. It's hazardous though when the conversation is memorialized in a writing through a Twitter account that can be copied and used against you.

That is indeed what Twitter is about.  Twitter is about people having conversations, through the Internet, about things that are going on in the world.  People are "speaking out loud" in snippets about things that pop into their head.

When people speak face to face, in less guarded informal settings, they tend to say things they would never say in a more formal letter or even a blog post.  When Twitter intercedes, those informal conversations, those off the cuff thoughts, are made permanent.

I thought I could be a successful Twitterer or, as my enemies would say, "Twit."   I often have observations about daily life that my friends find to be funny and/or interesting.  Then again, given my sarcastic nature and dry wit, I also tend to say things that I never intend to be taken seriously, but rather to provoke a response  Falling into the wrong hands and taken out of context, those humorous, provocative tweets could easily be used against me.

Maybe tweeting isn't such a good idea fter all.


Doug said...

I think what sunk him is that he was given the opportunity to clarify his remarks but decided not to do so.

When the Mother Jones guy pressed him on his "use live ammunition" statement, he chose to double down, saying "You're damned right I advocate deadly force."

I don't know if that made him feel like a tough guy or what, but it was the wrong response. The first "live ammo" remark can be chalked up to being cute or glib or whatever. The second one looks like he was just being a jerk because he didn't like being questioned & was maybe too proud to back down from what was obviously a stupid statement.

Paul K. Ogden said...

You make a very valid point, Doug.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Paul, I have never dealt with Jeff professionally, but I too have had very favorable interactions with him. Completely missing from the context of the discussion was the fact that these protesters were carrying signs with images of Gov. Walker's head with the target of a gun sight, signs suggesting they were there to gangbang tea party protesters if their asses were as hot as the Fox News anchors and numerous twitter posts by lefties calling for Gov. Walker's assassination. Anyone who has followed Jeff's writing style knows he is known for his satire. Before this incident, I had not read any of Jeff's blog posts or comment that were troublesome. Jeff should have known better than to post that kind of comment, even though intended as satire, on such a widely-read liberal site where his identity could so easily be traced. There was a deputy attorney general in the Michigan AG's office that recently lost his job because he kept making intolerant statements on the Internet and in person towards gays. When left-leaning blogs drew attention to it, the AG had little choice but to sack him. Jeff put Zoeller in a very awkward position. If he hadn't fired him, the media and Jim Shella, in particular, would have been all over him with negative reports, largely because I'm told Shella doesn't like his father, Norm Cox, the State House reporter for WRTV, who runs circles around Shella when it comes to hard-nosed reporting.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Gary, I think that Zoeller could have given Jeff Cox a suspension without out pay for a few weeks and the furor would have died down. I don't think he had to fire the guy. I feel sorry for Jeff. The job market for attorneys is extremely difficult. I have so many attorney friends of mine who can't find jobs yet while they're face paying back six figure debt. Maybe Jeff has the contacts to avoid unemployment long.

M Theory said...

I've met Jeff too. And yep, he is provocative, and an interesting fellow.

Jeff crossed a line. He is a public servant and represents Indiana. Condoning violence is not who we are.

Just because the left behaves as idiots and puts out photos with a bullet in the WI Gov's head, does not mean we need to respond with suggestions of violence. We will win by taking the high road.

Over and over I hear people like Alex Jones implicitly state that we cannot win this fight with violence or suggestions of violence. Violence is a line that cannot be crossed.

The state of Indiana acted appropriately and swiftly. We just cannot have that. No matter how much we disagree, we must win this war with words and PR, not violence or violent rhetoric.

I feel sorry for Jeff too and genuinely like the guy. I hope he finds his way again and a new job soon. He certainly got a lot of publicity over this.

I hope Jeff will make a public statement, apologize, and try to make amends for what he said if not for his sake, for the sake of Indiana.

varangianguard said...

I used to follow his personal blog, partially because we seem to share an interest in military history.

But, his interest in that blog seemed to wane after he joined the CCP (run by that ubër-narcissist "what's-his-name", I know what his name is, but won't bother enabling him), which soon after became "read by invitation only".

So, maybe he just got lazy interacting only with those who agreed with one slender side of the conversation?

marksmall2001 said...

I do not agree with what was said by the Deputy AG in question. And I have not had any cases with him, at least that I can recall. But 1) he was not acting in his official capacity and 2) while I find his statements absurd, there is a little thing called the First Amendment. I consider myself to be to the left of most out there. My hero on the Court was William O. Douglas. But especially given the modern forms of communication, he could have been caught anywhere and asked questions. If he was not in his office---say he was in a bar, just as a wild example---and was not acting in official capacity, he could say anything he wanted. It was imprudent on his part; damned stupid, in fact. But both Indiana and Federal constitutions protect his right to say those things. As such, he should not be sanctioned by loss of employment. That's simply punishment for exercise of the right. Again, I cannot agree w/what he said. But he has a right to free speech.

marksmall2001 said...

And btw, I still have no takers for the debate about the Gipper.

Blog Admin said...

Mark, he wasn't censored by the AG. He's just as free to make these comments today as he was a day or two ago.

But Indiana is an at-will employment, meaning you can quit or be fired for almost any (or no) reason at all.

And while I might disagree with codes of conducts, they are fairly common in the school and work environment, and they often include how an individual acts even when off-the-clock.

Part of free speech is taking responsibility for your actions. It's freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences.

Now was firing overkill? It's possible. I suspect this was a PR move more than disciplinary, since this story was gaining some national media attention.

M Theory said...

It was good to hear Jeff apologize this morning on Abdul's show. His interview was good.

Cato said...

IS, the more an employer has a Code of Conduct, the less the employer can claim to be an at-will employer.

Had Enough Indy? said...

I don't know Jeff Cox and I don't care for what he had to say. But, he had a right to say it and he should not be fired because of it. The Governor has made comments nearly as bad and he is patted on the back for it.

Public employees should be treated as citizens of the United States, entitled to free speech. Even if Indiana is an at-will State.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Indy Student, while Indiana is an at will state, you still can't fire someone for the exercise of right rpotected by the constitution or by law. If Jeff was a private employer then they could fire him. But the problem is he was a state employee and the First Amendment applies to protect him.

The argument that he can still make those statements go to the chilling of free speech. Even if you don't completely prohibit free speech, chilling it is enough for there to be a violation.

It's a lot closer question than what people realize. Ironically if he would have been whistleblowing about wrongdoing at the AG's office he would have much less protection under the First Amendment than he would have with his comments unreleated to his job.