Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dude, get over it

Jim Brady, the washingtonpost.com editor who famously suspended blog comments after ombudsman Deborah Howell's Abramoff mistake, has a long piece today that says, basically: Dammit, those horrible Internet people insulted me and I didn't like it one bit:

I am a twit without a functioning brain.

I also do not have any [ censored ].

Despite 10 years spent in online media, I really don't understand the Internet.

I am a dangerous ideologue , an enemy of democracy .
...
My career as a nitwitted, emasculated fascist began the afternoon of Jan. 19 ...
...
...the word "comments" doesn't convey the obscene, vituperative tone of a lot of the postings, which were the sort of things you might find carved on the door of a public toilet stall. About a hundred of them had to be removed for violating the Post site's standards, which don't allow profanity or personal attacks.
...
Instead of mollifying angry readers, the clarification prompted more than 400 additional comments over the next five hours, many of them so crude as to be unprintable in a family newspaper.
...
I was honored as "Wanker of the Day" on one left-wing blog. Another site dissected my biography in order to prove that I was part of The Post's vast right-wing conspiracy.
...
Out in the Web woodshed, a handful of bloggers called me gutless or a puppet; some of them compared me to assorted body parts and characterized me as the worst person to come along since, well, Deborah Howell. And any nasty posts I didn't see myself, my friends gleefully provided to me via e-mail. A few friends said they came close to jumping online to defend me, but chose not to for fear they'd be next in line for a public flogging.

...One of the complaints about my manners closed by telling me to go do something unprintable with myself "and that Wa:Po rag you ride about town." Uh, thanks.

OK, we get the picture! It's rough out there. Everybody should be nicer. Flaming vituperation is inimical to intelligent debate, etc. etc. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes on the web anytime in the past decade knows this already. Brady is the editor of one of the world's more influential and sophisticated media websites. He should develop a thicker skin.

He continues:

This all raises a question: Why are people so angry? It was a mistake, it was corrected. Part of the explanation may be the extremely partisan times we live in. For all the good things it has brought our society, the Web has also fostered ideological hermits, who only talk to folks who believe exactly what they do. This creates an echo chamber that only further convinces people that they are right, and everyone else is not only wrong, but an idiot or worse. So when an incident like this one arises, it's not enough to point out an error; they must prove that the error had nefarious origins. In some places on the Web, everything happens on a grassy knoll.

This is a pretty thin gruel, especially from someone sitting at the nexus of the Internet, the mainstream media and national politics. People are not "so angry" because they live in an echo chamber -- though that certainly helps. The anger emanates from a genuine sense of grievance and betrayal on both sides of the ideological divide. The right believes that MSM outlets like the Post are repositories of liberal bias, condescending to and culturally incompatible with large swaths of the population. The left believes the Bush administration and right-wing media have manipulated and cowed the MSM by using its own rules against it. Neither of these beliefs explains everything, but both have the ring of truth. Which is why the MSM are being whipsawed every day out there.