I caught up with him to discuss Glenn Reynolds, independent publishing, and child-fighting.
Check out the interview after the jump.
So, you've published a book, George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Could you explain a little about what this is and how you came to discover it? Were you, by chance, crawling around in the attic at Mount Vernon?
I first came across them at Mt. Vernon years ago. We lived very near by, and the Mt. Vernon gift shop actually sells a tiny list of them. I rediscovered them as I was doing research on my family tree. There's no relation to the documents other than my ancestors probably weren't the most civil. One early Grantham was hauled into court for trading with the Indians and not going to church. Some things about the Granthams haven't changed.
During your time helming Nashville is Talking, you weren't always known for your civility. So, I had intended to tease you a little about your sudden conversion to "decent behavior," but I was doing some research for this interview at your personal blog and I get the feeling that you've actually given a lot of thought to the kinds of discourse that happen at big public blogs and whether that's a good headspace for a person to constantly be in. I wonder if you'd talk a little bit about that? Was civility something you were already mulling over and that brought you to Washington or vise versa?
Yes, civility online has always been an issue of mine. In fact, I was scorned by political bloggers for raising the issue during I think the 2004 elections in a Forbes magazine front cover article on the subject. I've always been known for never deleting incivility in comments or forums because I truly believe the free market place of ideas more properly values poor judgment than the act of deleting it. It's best 20 people call out a racists, for example, than a moderator delete it and you never knew it existed. Same goes for reporting. I've certainly reported my share of incivil behavior by others, and I can't help audiences wanting to heap scorn on reporting that someone beat their wife rather than applying that scorn to the actual wife beater. Civility allows for such reporting of facts. It doesn't allow for reporting it with malice or unfairly calling the perpetrator of incivility names for their actions. That's a very difficult thing for people to understand.
Jon Stewart just had his Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC and it seems like he's thinking about the same issues you are. So, I have two questions. One, did you have a sense you were linked into a certain kind of zeitgeist when you guys started the project? And two, is this evidence that for all of the United States' propensity for ridiculousness that we do also have a long-standing tradition of civility we could draw on if we choose?
First question: YES. I don't think you needed to be a rocket scientist to see the only two options the political rage of Tea Party activists had to change things was outright civil war and the mid term elections. I don't think many would have settled for blood in the streets, so we timed it for the mid term elections, a time we felt would see the zenith of full fledged gnashing of teeth. We knew this message would set some people's hair on fire, but I personally view the book as my answer to the question of what did I do to stop something bad from happening. What effort did I do to tone down the rhetoric?
Answer 2: That's a tough one. A lot of people in media know virtually 100 percent of their audiences scream and yell that they want civility and they want to see fluffy bunnies being petted on the set of the evening news. They also know the reality is those same 100 percent of people actually do the very opposite: They are glued to trash and only share and link to garbage. Actions speak louder than words, and the media, like most businesses, don't care what you say. They care what you do.
Glenn Reynolds, who wrote the introduction to your book: Scary or Super Scary? Just kidding. He's a pretty big get. How'd you hook up with him?
I have a history of working closely with people on both sides of the political spectrum. If you google around, you'll see a lot of attacks against me from some pretty big names out there. One humorous incident was when i set up a blog for a gay Republican called GayPatriot, still roaring today. He was anonymous then, but that didn't stop bloggers from putting all manner of conspiracies out there that I was actually him. That went on for months because I refused to play along and provide all this ridiculous confirmation. I said it wasn't me, and I meant it. I think those people respect my word a lot more now.
Glenn is a powerhouse, obviously. He started blogging shortly after I did. I was an early blogger, having set up online in 1999. The White House knew I had a blog at the time I worked there, but didn't know what it was and didn't care. Lucky for them I was mature enough not to share the amount of detail some publicity seeking bloggers simply wouldn't be able to resist these days. Throughout the past decade, I'd feed Glenn tidbits of info I knew he'd enjoy, so we know each other like that. Today, he's full tilt pushing the Tea Party. That's just how I roll.
Jeff Moore created the illustrations for the book. I don't really have a question about him, but I didn't want to leave him out. So, let's see. How about: In a fight between him and three seven-year-olds, who would win?
I'm sure Jeff would. He's just eccentric enough to throw off their animal instinct that tells children whether certain adults are good or monsters. But seriously, Jeff is extremely talented and could never self-promote like I do, so we'll likely work together a lot because i respect his work, and I think he has some amazing stuff ahead of him.
You decided to self-publish your book rather than go with a traditional publisher. Could you talk a little about how you came to that decision?
When I quit WKRN in February to start Stones River Media, I knew the book would be part of it. I also knew I'd be too busy with a couple of other projects the business would focus on to go shopping around a book. Being your own agent is fine on Twitter and Facebook, but in the book world you smell like a blogger, or whatever dirty words they use to describe the masses of free spirits with something to say. I also knew it wouldn't be enough time to release the book by 11-01-10. Publishers need your title at least six months prior to publishing to push it through their distribution catalogs and get their pre-orders going. It's the same convoluted middle man crap that will destroy ever single industrial aged media channel.
Anything else folks should know?
Sure. You'll find a whiskey barrel tucked away in this book. George Washington was a fine distiller, and it was also another one of a few secretly placed items in the book that touch on other relevant projects, like the distillery me and a couple of friends want to build in Cannon County. Tonight we find out if we have gained the support of voters to show Tennessee just how George Washington made farming successful in hard times.
I should add in regards to my own noted incivility at times that like most Christians who do the same, then get forgiveness in their bedtime prayers, I too know I fall short of the Glory of our Founding Father. That's another reason I wrote this book. Just as the rules were a penmanship exercise for Colonial American children, it was also an exercise in meditation for me on being more civil. A lot of the rules really no longer apply to today's social norms, but you can always ponder the rule's intent and find more modern context in thoughtful meditation.