Hundreds of people met with Representative Tom Perriello in Martin Luther King, Jr., Performing Arts Center at Charlottesville High School Tuesday 11 August. Among those attending were representatives of the local press, including Brian McNeil (Charlottesville Daily Progress), a crew with Jennifer Black from Charlottesville CBS television affiliate, one accompanying Angela Pellerano from the Richmond CBS affiliate, Henry Graff of the local NBC affiliate, and undoubtedly others.
Mr. McNeil’s coverage refers to the people in the assemblage as mostly civil. But Ms. Black reported that the meeting was “loud.” Meanwhile, the snippet of text on the Web site for WINA characterized the audience as “different from what many of his colleagues have encountered.” There was not extended shouting, as news reports indicated occurred at meetings of representatives in other districts, but Ms. Black’s note about volume captured a few occasions when people shouted. Ms. Pellerano’s on-air comment that it was “lively” but “tame” by comparison, seems pretty accurate.
Of course, mass market news is usually predicated on very brief analyses. However, there is an extended video segment—13-min long—provided by the Daily Progress. Also, the ~90-200 sec coverage by TV stations often included snippets of interviews conducted before and after the main session ended along with some tape during the main session. Not only do these articles conflict in how they characterize the behavior of people in the crowd, but they do not capture the entire event. An important reason that they do not is that the event lasted four hours (i.e., ~240 min); I stayed all the way through it. Another reason, in the case of the DP video, is that it all came from the time before Mr. Perriello took a very brief break and a large proportion of the audience left the meeting. It seemed to me that the people who stayed disproportionately represented those who disagree with the proposed legislation.
There sure were lots of personal accounts. Both detractors and supporters of the proposed legislation told them. Anecdotes make for good stories, and good stories are great for news, but not for policy. Policy needs to be predicated on broad understanding of issues. Anecdotes are the opposite of broad understanding: They are brief accounts of personal experience. They are more like the individual tree than the forest.
To be sure, a survey drawing together a very substantial number of anecdotes could provide that broader perspective, but hearing just a few people volunteer their personal experience doesn’t provide that representative sampling. The speakers at Mr. Perriello’s meeting 11 August in Charlottesville illustrate this point clearly. One person recounted experiences with health care for relatives in Canada as if it was ghastly; another recounted experiences with health care in Germany as if it was exemplary. (Note: I’ve just told an anecdote as if it characterized the meeting!)
Another feature that appeared common to me was people predicating their comments on their interpretation of the motives of people writing, sponsoring, or supporting the proposed legislation. I’m not sure anyone said exactly this, but there were multiple comments that amounted to the assertion, “They want to take away my freedom. Please don’t let them do that.”
There also seemed to be plenty of misinformation. For example, several speakers referred to the Advance Care Planning feature of the legislation, characterizing it as something akin to an effort to mandate euthanasia. Some of the same folks commented on the government’s plan to use electronic transfers as a means for taking funds from their personal banking accounts. Several people noted that the US Constitution does not mention health care.
The health care and insurance issues frequently were rolled into other issues on the political landscape, too. Several commenters expressed concern about the net result of the legislation being the funding of health care for illegal aliens. References to people who are not citizens of the the US brought intense bursts of applause from some people in audience.
The news sources differed on the number of people attending, too. Some of the numbers were “1300,” “1200,” “over a 1000,” and “hundreds.” I don’t know the capacity of the auditorium, but I presume that reporters did their homework. I used “hundreds” because it seemed safe to assume that at last 300 were attending and that one thousand three hundred can also be said “thirteen hundred” (teehee).
Links for (a) Mr. McNeil’s coverage for the Daily Progress, Perriello’s town hall mostly civil and his coverage for Media General; (b) the Newsplex story, Perriello Town Hall Meetings Continue Tuesday in Charlottesville; (c) the online coverage for radio station WINA’s; (d) Ms. Pellerano’s coverage, Perriello Town Hall Meeting in Charlottesville, for the CBS Richmond affiliate, WVTR; (e) Mr. Graff’s brief post under ‘Tom in Your Town’ Hits Charlottesville. Waldo Jaquith posted photos from the event on Flickr.
Now, to some of the blogs: Over on Jefferson Area Tea Party, BlueRidgeGuy has a note about his view of the “astroturf” allegations. Mike Stark posted an entry on Campaign Silo about the 10 August meeting Mr. Perriello conducting in Danville. Aimee Fausser, of New Dominion Project has coverage, too. There’s a post at What is Right for Virginia by JC White about the meeting.
Warning, some of these links may work only temporarily. If you’re reading this post more than a few days after I’ve published it, you may not be able to see some of the video content, as news sources may have removed it from their servers.