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Language Abuse

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen wrote a column saying (incorrectly, I believe) Stephen Colbert wasn’t funny in his lampooning of the president at the ridiculous White House Correspondents Dinner. Cohen got inundated with emails, a significant number of which apparently came from utter jerks.

In a follow-up column, he wrote how the rank hatred from the idiots would likely poison the Democrats’ chances of regaining power. Possibly true.

But he lashed out at the attackers with some fairly striking language of his own:

It seemed that most of my correspondents had been egged on to write me by various blogs. In response, they smartly assembled into a digital lynch mob and went roaring after me.

Does Cohen really want to compare some digital bits with the murders of the innocent men and women? It’s just as wrong as what he fairly criticizes.

9 Comments on “Language Abuse”

  1. #1 Ahmed Nasri
    on May 9th, 2006 at 7:16 am

    I thought Stephen Colbert was great. And I didn’t entirely agree with Cohen’s critique of Colberet’s performance. But I have been reading Richard Cohen’s columns since high school (over 8 years). And I have to say that he has a sound mind. He always argues rationally, and over the years I couldn’t help but agree with him atleast 100% of the time. Cohen is a smart guy. And as much as we dispese Bush, and as much as we loved how he got roasted by Colbert, I think we all should atleast consider what Cohen was trying to say, instead of bashing him. Cohen really is a smart guy.

    on May 9th, 2006 at 10:47 am

    Once again, Richard “Waa! Waa!” Cohen avoids the whole point of Colbert’s speech and those who defend Colbert, and instead embarks on another rant of illogical ad hominems, this time against Colbert’s defenders.

    Boo! Hoo! Nobody likes Richard “Waa! Waa!” Cohen because he doesn’t know how to write a civil and logical editorial. Everybody is so mean to him for emanating raw hatred towards Stephen Colbert in his past editorial. Richard “Waa! Waa!” Cohen’s cry baby rant is simply pathetic and an embarrassment for him and the Washington Post.

    This is just more proof that Richard “Waa! Waa!” Cohen is irrelevant. Besides Richard “Waa! Waa!” Cohen, the Washington Post, by allowing such nonsense to again be published on its editorial pages, is irrelevant as well.

    Richard “Waa! Waa!” Cohen, why are you such a Waa! Waa!???

  3. #3 Seth Finkelstein
    on May 9th, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    Reasonable point. But I think this part of what he said is most relevant here:

    “econd, it marks the end of a silly pretense about interactive media: We give you our e-mail addresses and then, in theory, we have this nice chat. Forget about it. Not only is e-mail too often a kind of epistolary spitball, but there’s no way I can even read the 3,506 e-mails now backed up in my queue — seven more since I started writing this column.”

  4. #4 Dan Gillmor
    on May 10th, 2006 at 9:29 am

    I’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of things. I didn’t just give up and denounce interactive media as a result.

    Cohen is nostalgic for the days when he and his colleagues were the ultimate gatekeepers. I don’t blame him, but the world has changed.

  5. #5 Seth Finkelstein
    on May 10th, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    That’s a way of dismissing an accurate part of his observation. Demogaguery is hardly new, and the impulse to attribute people’s dislike if it to some sort nostalgia is very troublesome.

  6. #6 Dan Gillmor
    on May 10th, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    Separate the parts of what he said. He proclaims “the end of a silly pretense about interactive media…” and turns a single incident, which I agree is unfortunate, into a general meme.

  7. #7 Seth Finkelstein
    on May 10th, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    It’s tautological to define a positive statement to be true by excluding all negative aspects. A statement like “Crows are white”, is not reasonably proven by then declaring each black crow to be an unfortunate single incident which should not reflect badly on the general case.

    But I think the main point is being missed there, which is mathematics. When there’s too many people trying to “interact”, *many* (though not all) who are noise, then that’s an impossible situation – it leads to gatekeepers. Which then refutes much (though not every statement) evangelism regarding “interactive media”.

    Pre-emptive rebuttal: “Nobody ever said it was all positive”. True, but there’s a lot of denial about how much negative, and critically, how that generates a power-structure of gatekeepers.

  8. #8 Dan Gillmor
    on May 11th, 2006 at 5:54 am

    I can’t accept that. An occasional deluge occurs doesn’t refute the overall positive value of the interaction. If it did I’d have quit a long time ago, because I’ve been the target of a few of these (though not as many emails, not that it matters once you get above a few hundred), but didn’t pronounce the entire experiment flawed as a result.

    You say it leads to gatekeepers. I think it leads to shutting off a mother lode of valuable input and conversation.

    Are we better off with the old system of gatekeeping? Not in my view.

  9. #9 Seth Finkelstein
    on May 11th, 2006 at 9:47 am

    The question is whether the overall situation is more accurately described as an occasional positive value interaction which doesn’t refute the overwhelming negative deluge. If you have been successful in data-mining the few positive gems from the negative mass, that’s to your credit. But it’s not proof that your experience can – or *should* be taken as typical. Or prescriptive. Nor proof that people who don’t like wading through manure to find the rumored pony, are in the wrong.

    There’s no way to have a “conversation” with thousands of angry flamers, that’s a language abuse itself. And whether or not the new gatekeepers are better than the old gatekeepers, it should be inarguable that they *are* gatekeepers.