Center for Citizen Media Rotating Header Image

Tarring the Blog with Others' Vile Comments


Howard Kurtz, in his online Media Notes Extra column at the Washington Post, fulminates about some disgusting comments posted on a well-known blog site. He writes:

I know we’re living in a polarized time. I know there are people who absolutely detest George Bush and Dick Cheney. I know they like to vent their spleen online, sometimes in vulgar terms, and hey, that’s life in a democracy.

But some of the comments posted after a suicide bomber blew himself up at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base, while Cheney was there–killing as many as 23 people–are nothing short of vile.

The comments appeared on the Huffington Post, which, to its credit, took them down. But some were preserved by Michelle Malkin, and I reproduce them here:

The comments he then reproduces are indeed vile. But what exactly is his point? That some speech is disgusting? We knew that already.

No, this is a slam that implicitly ties the commenter to a specific news operation. Despite the sanctimonious “to its credit” qualifier — and posting of an on-point response from Huffington — this ends up being, in part, about the Huffington Post. Why?

It takes about 30 seconds to find equivalent examples of beyond-the-pale comments on conservative blogs — precisely the same sort of hateful stuff with which Kurtz and Malkin (and others on the political right who made this an “issue”) tar the Huffington Post. I won’t flag those here, because it would be unfair to those sites. Perhaps Kurtz has launched a similar tirade against such speech, but I can’t find an example.

If Kurtz wanted to look at some genuine issues related to those comments, he could have. Such as:

  • Is it reasonable to tar bloggers (or other publishers), even tangentially, with the sins of the bozos who make abusive comments? Of course it isn’t. Yet it happens all the time, as often as not a political tactic that unfortunately seems to work.
  • Should popular political blogs should be more proactive in checking out and deleting hateful comments from the anonymous nutcases who post them? Maybe. But online communities do a pretty good job of flagging this crap; certainly the Huffington Post, like the Washington Post, has a link on every comment for people to report abusive behavior.
  • Should readers ever take seriously what people post under pseudonyms? In general, no: People who refuse to stand behind their own words deserve little if any credibility, with very rare exceptions. A reader should approach a pseudonymous comment with the assumption that it’s false or without substance.

Too bad Kurtz doesn’t use his influential position to shine more light on things. Instead he impugns the people who merely offer a platform for others to speak. This is not just lazy, but mean.

Update: Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly created Kevin’s Law last year: “If you’re forced to rely on random blog commenters to make a point about the prevalence of some form or another of disagreeable behavior, you’ve pretty much made exactly the opposite point.”

Comments are closed.