We were all shocked recently to learn our state Senator, Bill Dix, had suddenly resigned following a video showing him kissing a woman other than his wife. Although the reasons for his sudden downfall are obvious, it is noteworthy that we became aware of it because of video shot by a cell phone in someone’s pocket.
What if we only had the word of the person in the bar who saw the senator misbehaving; would we have believed him over Dix? The fact the witness had a less than perfect past would have been used to discredit his testimony. But with video evidence, there was no denying the misconduct.
This underscores the role of video in our society, a role that has increased exponentially with the advent of “smart phones.”
Remember some time back when a man was forcefully dragged off an airplane ready to take off, kicking and screaming, because he was “bumped” by an off-duty pilot, and he would have to leave the plane with his wife still on it? Video from fellow passengers’ cell phones of him being manhandled by airport security quickly went viral on the Internet, causing United Airlines’ stock to plummet.
Would the same attention have been paid to this event if we only had a verbal or written description of it? No. Being able to see and hear what happened as if we experienced it ourselves, thanks to video, made the difference.
Video even affects American foreign policy. Last year, President Trump ordered a symbolic retaliatory strike with cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield after poison gas was used on a small village. Trump himself said he ordered this strike after seeing cell phone video of small children dying in agony from the attack. Would he have been so moved if he only read a written description? It is beyond dispute that the “you are there” quality of video greatly affected his decision.
And sadly, Senator Dix’s video moment of infamy is not the first time a legislator has been caught on video misbehaving, although admittedly to a lesser degree.
I worked at the state capitol complex in Des Moines for 28 years, and frequently saw various groups exercising their free speech rights to communicate their views to their elected representatives via signs and rallies in the capitol rotunda. Many fifth-grade classes tour the state capitol as part of their Iowa history unit, and see this for themselves, a great example of democracy in action.
However, one day a few years ago when Annette Sweeney was a state representative, she walked by a group in the rotunda that was advocating a cause with which she did not agree. She also apparently did not feel the group had a free speech right to express a view with which she did not agree. As she walked by an easel with a sign containing a message about this issue, she grabbed the sign off the easel and threw it onto the floor, then walked on. This is not exactly the conduct we have a right to expect from an elected representative who took an oath to uphold, not violate, the Constitution.
How do we know this actually happened? Again, because it was captured on video. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Sweeney, a television news crew was interviewing someone else on camera in another part of the rotunda. Sweeney’s actions were captured in the background of the interview, to the great embarrassment of all Iowans.
So it is undeniable that video has assumed an important role in our society. And for those in public life, it has become an important part of the checks and balances our democracy depends upon to hold them accountable to the people they serve.
Jon Heitland is a retired attorney and former administrative law judge living in Iowa Falls.