ETHERIDGE APOLOGIZES FOR CAPITOL HILL INCIDENT…. When it comes to videos posted online, it’s probably best not to jump to conclusions. Context is often missing, and creative editing can paint a misleading picture. Those caveats notwithstanding, a new video of Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) that’s making the rounds today looks awfully damaging

This clip, a little over a minute long, shows Etheridge being confronted by a young man, identified only as a “college student” — notice that his face was blurred before the video was posted — who wants to know if the congressman fully supports President Obama’s agenda. An agitated Etheridge demands to know who’s asking. The clip cuts away, but we then see the congressman grabbing the questioner, first by the wrist, then by the back of his neck.

This afternoon, Etheridge issued a formal apology, saying he “deeply and profoundly” regrets his reaction to the young man who confronted him on the street.

Etheridge clearly seems to have crossed a line here, and engaged in conduct that’s completely unacceptable for anyone in polite society. The video doesn’t show what the questioner was doing before we see him being held by the lawmaker — did the young man reach out to grab the congressman? — and the context likely makes all the difference. But under the best of circumstances, Etheridge showed poor judgment. Unless he was acting in self-defense, there’s no reason for a member of Congress to ever have a physical confrontation like this.

That said, there are some relevant questions that deserve answers. Was this “college student” planning an ambush? Why? Was he paid to instigate this incident? By whom?

DNC spokesperson Brad Woodhouse told Ben Smith, “Motives matter, and I think you can see who was behind this. This was a Republican party tracking operation. If it wasn’t a party tracker or intern, why is the face blurred and why is the source hidden? You know if it had been a right wing blog, they’d identify themselves and they’d be booking this person on TV all day. Republicans know if they admit their involvement in this game of gotcha it will undermine their credibility. One minute this guy is interviewing a member of Congress on camera and the next a video is released with his face blurred out? If that doesn’t tell you this is a Republican Party hatchet job nothing will.”

Etheridge’s conduct was wrong. There’s no getting around that. But one can believe that while also wondering if this was some kind of partisan set-up.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.