As police took Nation columnist Eric Alterman into custody during Sunday's Democratic debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, after a dispute over whether or not he really belonged at a post-debate party, Representative Ed Markey came over and stuck out his hand for a shake.
"Sorry, Ed, I'm being handcuffed," said Alterman, as he reported in an article on the Huffington Post. Despite Markey's offer to vouch for his character, Alterman was taken to headquarters, booked and released.
The arrest of the amiable but sometimes irascible columnist (full disclosure: I was his editor at MSNBC.com from 1997 to 2003) resonated in the blogosphere. Gawker and New York magazine gossip Lloyd Grove exulted. Choice placement of the news on the Drudge Report sent the conservative echo chamber into paroxysms.
Though The Nation is pleased we don't have to send lawyers to New Hampshire to spring our columnist from jail, we thought it would be nice if he told his side of the story on our site. Worn out from all the media attention, Eric did take a minute to answer a couple of questions:
So, were you arrested for simply being yourself, or is there some larger principle at stake here?
I was arrested, as I now understand it, entirely on the basis of a misunderstanding. I was asked to leave a room. I left the room. The entire conversation that led to my arrest took place outside the room I was asked to leave.
My impression, in retrospect, is that the police officer wanted me to leave the entire building (even though I was credentialed to be there). But this was never made clear to me. I thought he was just continuing to hassle me for no reason.
When I was handcuffed and arrested, I was having a civil conversation with his commanding officer, trying to ask him to ask the guy to stop hassling me. The arresting officer, who did not actually work for the jurisdiction in question, continually interrupted my attempt at this conversation, until I finally asked him to please let me finish a sentence, at which point I was arrested.
Again, I had no idea why this was happening, since I thought the issue of my leaving the room--and again, nobody asked me not to go into that room in the first place--had long been settled.
CNN originally reported that you were "asked to leave seven times" and that you had raised your voice to the arresting officers. But the details of the arrest have changed several times on the site since then, with no editor's note about corrections or updates. As a media watchdog, how does that strike you?
I do not think CNN should have gone with the story they did without first trying to contact me on my cell. Many people managed to reach me on my cell, and I don't think they even tried.
There are always at least two stories to such events, usually more. In the first story, they treated the officers' version as pure fact. In the second version, which went up after I called Atlanta and sought out the people in New Hampshire who were writing the story, they changed these details to attribute them to the police. (I did not, as I understand it, refuse any requests to leave, much less seven of them.) That should have been noted as well.
Also, I should say something about Drudge. Because this was the only story out of the debate before it ended, it went up on Drudge. The power of that man to move "news" is, as a 9-year-old I know would say, "totally awesome," and for me, a total pain in the neck.