Too much power in too few hands. Plus: Erik Wemple's right. And, dogs may be on a mission

By Gary Abernathy

Too much power in too few hands

USA Today reports that Facebook is about to issue a ruling on whether to reinstate former president Donald Trump’s account on its platform.

The fact that FB “deplatformed” the duly-elected president of the United States – yes, while he was president – is chilling. The decisions by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. to ban Trump from their sites is something that should alarm people all across the political spectrum.

The newspaper also notes, “Last week, the Florida state legislature approved a bill preventing social media companies from ‘deplatforming’ politicians such as Trump. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it into law.”

Good.

People who argue, “Hey, these are private companies that can make their own rules” ignore the fact that these social media giants have become the top means of communication among millions of Americans – the way in which they get their news and information. Unilaterally banning politicians or people of public interest is too much power concentrated in too few hands. New regulations must be made to address the problem. Even offensive speech should be protected speech, whether from the left or the right, and almost anything can be declared risky or incendiary, depending on your politics. The whole “you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater” Supreme Court analogy — i.e. whether speech is irresponsible to the point of endangering lives — is a decision that should not be concentrated in the hands of a few private entrepreneurs or their designees.

I agree with Erik Wemple, at least on one thing

Erik Wemple is a Washington Post columnist who focuses on critiquing media organizations, mostly the cable news industry. I often disagree with Erik, but I always find his columns both interesting and informative. I’ve had the chance to visit with him a few times in his WaPo office, which includes a bank of monitors, digital recorders and other gadgets so he’s sure not to miss anything.

Erik will criticize all cable news outlets, but he is particularly hard on Fox News, and saves some of his sharpest barbs for Tucker Carlson. Carlson, in turn, created an Erik Wemple mug, a coffee cup featuring an unflattering picture of the WaPo writer.

Each time I’ve stopped in to say hi to Erik, he’s always been friendly and welcoming, even when he’s clearly busy. I appreciate that.

Anyway …. The other day he wrote a piece about former senator Rick Santorum, now a CNN contributor, which morphed into an overall criticism of the cable news practice of filling time with roundtable “contributors” who “receive six-figure salaries for platitudes about politics and society, plus the occasional offensive remark that makes the rounds on media-watchdog sites.”

But his best line was a brazenly frank one that wrapped up the piece, and expressed a sentiment I have long shared: “No one needs 24/7 news channels anyhow.”

You can read the whole piece here. Subscription may be required.

Sometimes, missing dogs are just on a mission

Someone I know recently came home to discover their two dogs had escaped their property, and they were frantically searching for them, posting alerts on Facebook and so on. Fortunately, the dogs were found later the same day, safe and sound.

In the meantime, though, I reminded them not to panic too much. Dogs have been known to disappear for a long time before turning up. When I was a kid, my dog, Ranger, a mixed collie, disappeared once for several days. One morning I walked outside and there he was back home, lounging in his usual spot in the backyard, as though nothing had happened. He had a few scratches, and we heard later he was spotted several miles away.

A well-documented case involved a Wilmington, Ohio police dog named Karson, who escaped from a kennel and disappeared for two whole months before being spotted trotting across a field in February 2015. While Karson was missing, there were frequent stories in the news media, rumors of Karson sightings, etc. His recovery was such a big event that even then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich reportedly attended a welcome home party for the canine. You can read about Karson’s disappearance and recovery here.

I was the publisher and editor of the nearby Hillsboro Times-Gazette newspaper, writing a weekly column. After Karson was found, I asked him for an exclusive interview, which he granted. Unfortunately, there are few archives existing online from before 2016 for any of the former Civitas Media newspapers, which included both the Hillsboro and Wilmington daily papers, so I can’t link to it. It’s published in full below, just for fun – and a reminder that if your dog disappears, he or she is probably doing something important and will be back soon.

March 2015:

As everyone knows, Karson, the K9 police dog from the Wilmington Police Department, recently went missing for two months. The official story was that Karson escaped from a private kennel and was lost for 61 days. Only now can the truth be told. In an exclusive interview, I sat down with Karson over the weekend to get the true story.
GA: Karson, thanks for granting this interview today.
KARSON: My pleasure.
GA: Why have you decided to tell the true story of what really happened while you were gone?
KARSON: Frankly, I don’t like people thinking that I just got lost. I’m a highly-trained officer with exceptional intelligence and outstanding tracking skills. It’s ridiculous to think that I got lost a few miles from home and couldn’t find my way back.
GA: So as I understand it, from what you told me on the phone, you were actually on an undercover operation?
KARSON: That’s right. I was so deep undercover that I couldn’t even tell my handler.
GA: Then where did you get this assignment?
KARSON: From CSI – the Canine Secret Initiative. All police dogs are members of CSI, usually unbeknownst to our human handlers. When a CSI mission is assigned, we can’t even tell our human officers. We just do it. And frankly, it’s the worst.
GA: Really? What can you tell me about the nature of the mission?
KARSON: Not much, really. There will be a number of arrests made in the next few weeks as a direct result of my investigation, but until then I have to be vague.
GA: I understand. Can you tell us anything at all about it?
KARSON: Only in general terms. As with all undercover operations, I had to be accepted into the packs, gangs and households that I was investigating. I adopted a number of aliases and disguises.
GA: For example?
KARSON: Well, I spent 11 days disguised as a Poodle.
GA: Wow. How can a Belgian Malinois look like a Poodle?
KARSON: By swallowing his pride. And being a master of disguise. At CSI, we’re taught to change our appearance, from the length of our fur, to the volume of our bark, and even our size, from tiny to huge. I spent two days as a Collie, one week as a Great Dane, and three horrible days as a Pekingese.
GA: Why was it horrible being a Pekingese?
KARSON: You try smashing your nose into your face and holding it that way. Every time I sneezed it popped back out. I nearly blew my cover twice because I was allergic to ice cream, which they kept trying to feed me.
GA; Which was your favorite disguise?
KARSON: For pure comfort, Great Dane, no contest. Those princesses have it made. All they’re expected to do is curl up and relax all day. Unfortunately, I had to abandon that disguise because people got suspicious anytime I stood up. They gave me weird looks just for being off the couch.
GA: Were you ever in danger?
KARSON: Are you kidding? Try being a Chihuahua crossing a busy highway.
GA: Wow.
KARSON: Yeah. And another time I had to spend three nights roaming with a pack of wild coyotes. Those guys stink to high heaven. And they’ll eat anything. One night we were all eating the carcass of a groundhog that had been dead for like a month. I kept sneaking behind a tree to spit it out. I thought for sure someone would notice, but those guys were idiots.
GA: Every once in a while, you were spotted by various people, running through fields or yards. Was that on purpose?
KARSON: Absolutely. I wanted to let the police know I was OK, so I would pop up here and there, and then get back on the job.
GA: Amazing. When you finally allowed yourself to be recovered, you were treated to a real hero’s welcome. How did you feel about that?
KARSON: A little embarrassed, frankly. I heard it was the last day of their search, so I felt like I had to show up. But there are police dogs all over America risking their lives, engaging in undercover operations, busting up drug rings, and they get no recognition. Here I was, just a lost dog as far as everyone knew, and they threw me a party. That’s why I had to tell what really happened.
GA: Karson, the Hillsboro Police Department has a new K9 in training who will be on the job in just a few days. Any advice for young police dogs coming up?
KARSON: Sure. First, make sure you get the same pension plan as the rest of the department. They won’t even give you the paperwork if they think they can get away with it just because you’re a dog. Second, when you smell drugs in a car during a traffic stop, take your time before you let anyone know. Walk around the car five or six times like you don’t smell anything. The more time you spend on one car, the less time they have to drag you out to another one. You’re only getting paid by the hour.
GA: Anything else?
KARSON: Yeah. When CSI calls, let it go to voicemail.
GA: Karson, I really appreciate your time today. I think everyone will be very interested in what really happened to you.
KARSON: Well, truth is, I’m happy to be back. It was nice that everyone was so worried about me. And it was great to be back with my handler, Officer Popp. He spoils me like a Great Dane.

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