Local/State

Etheridge apologizes for on-camera confrontation

Monday, June 14, 2010

North Carolina Congressman Bob Etheridge (D-Lillington) apologized repeatedly Monday after a conservative blogger posted video on YouTube showing him in a confrontation with men carrying cameras on a Washington D.C. street.

The story by Breitbart.com contributor Mike Flynn says the men were students. In the video, they ask the congressman if he supports the Obama agenda.

Read the blog and see the video

Etheridge's reaction was to demand to know who the photographers were. He then got physical - grabbing the camera from one man and then taking him by the wrist. In the edited video, the photographer's faces are blurred and their identities aren't given. They never identify themselves to the congressman other than to say they're students working on a project.

When they continue to refuse to identify themselves, Etheridge grabs one around the neck and then the shoulders refusing to let him go. The man eventually slips Etheridge's grasp and the video ends.

The video is titled with the headline "Congressman Goes Berserk."

Republicans quickly weighed in - calling Etheridge's behavior unacceptable. National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jon Thompson e-mailed a comment to ABC11:

“Bob Etheridge has lost it. His conduct is unbecoming of a member of Congress. It's bad enough that he's joined Obama's assault on North Carolina jobs, but his physical assault on a college student goes beyond the pale.”

Monday afternoon, Etheridge released the following statement:

“I have seen the video posted on several blogs. I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction and I apologize to all involved. Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect. No matter how intrusive and partisan our politics can become, this does not justify a poor response. I have and I will always work to promote a civil public discourse.”

ABC11 has checked with DC Metropolitan Police, who said no assault report has been filed over the incident.

At a news conference later Monday afternoon, Etheridge told reporters he had just left an event and had "a bad day."

"All of us have bad days, but that's no excuse," he said.

Breitbart.com - the website that originally posted the video - is owned by Andrew Breitbart. The conservative internet entrepreneur also made headlines shortly after the election of President Barack Obama when he released video of workers for the community organizing group ACORN counseling actors posing as a pimp and prostitute.

Asked if there was any creative editing in the video or if there was any material not seen, Etheridge refused to address the subject, saying he only wanted to apologize and wasn't interested in making excuses. He also declined to speculate if the video was a gotcha moment organized by Republicans saying it was for the media to investigate that.

He also said he would apologize personally to the photographers in the video, but he still didn't know who they were.

But fellow Democrat Brad Miller (D-Raleigh) told ABC 11 that the man in the video with the blurred face was not an innocent college student.

"It's absolutely a partisan effort. The kid who had the camera was part of a whole group," he said. "It was obviously a contrived effort to irritate members and try to get them to show some annoyance."

Miller said the group was jeering Democrats, hazing them as they walked into a hotel.

"The same student tried to talk to me or tried to do the same thing," he offered.

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer said Monday the identity of the photographers or their intent is irrelevant.

"The video that you saw displays an arrogance and entitlement that … he thought he could get away with because he's been elected so long."

Etheridge faces reelection this fall and some are calling the incident a gift for Republican opponent Renee Elmers.

Indeed, since the video was posted on the internet, hundreds of people from around the country have donated to her campaign. But in an interview with ABC11 Monday, she took the high ground.

"I want to win the people in district two," she said. "I don't want to win on a situation that's just a misfortune for the other candidate."

But Elmers said she's not sure Etheridge's apology was complete, and she said she was surprised at his response to what she called a "straightforward question."

ABC11 viewers are also sending us opinions.

"We can't have our ELECTED congressmen smack and stranglehold citizens of our country just for asking a question," ABC11 viewer Anthony Davar wrote on our Facebook page.

"Provoked or not, any response would have been better than this one," wrote ABC11 viewer Michelle at ABC11.com.

Others defended the congressman.

"…we all lose our cool and I think in similar situations we wouldn't fare much better. I'm glad I am not followed by camera crews when my temper is tested," wrote Kyla Marks on Facebook.

You can comment on the video below or on our Facebook page.

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