There has been a recent rash of pieces by journalists bemoaning the nasty tone of the letters they’ve been receiving from their readers. Personally, I think the real issue here is not that the tone of discourse of people who have traditionally written to journalists has taken a turn for the worse, but rather the convergence of two issues:
- The Internet makes it very easy to send feedback to journalists.
- The issues of the day have made many more people than usual take an interest in public affairs.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that telling Adam Nagourney that you hope his son gets killed in a Republican war is a pretty nasty thing to say, although I would counter that Adam is a semi-public figure who gets to go on the Charlie Rose Show, and the unfortunate downside of being a semi-public figure is that people might write you really nasty e-mails. But I really have to take issue with today’s piece in the New York Times on the same topic:
“Most of us now realize that this is a constant conversation, and I think that largely that part of it is good,” said Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek. “Some of the stuff includes very personal and nasty things about people – they go after people’s physical characteristics, they’ll say somebody’s ugly – and you just have to ignore that.”
Still, he said, “I would be lying if I didn’t say it could be hurtful.”
Bob Somerby, a comedian who runs a Web site called The Daily Howler that often accuses the news media of being shallow, lazy, bullied by Republicans and unfairly critical of Democrats, said a more genteel approach would not be effective. (He has referred to this reporter on his Web site as “dumb” and in “over his head” for being blind or turning a blind eye to Republican spin.)
It’s certainly infantile to call people ugly and dumb when you disagree with their reportage, but I think it’s equally (if not more) infantile to use your privileged position in the paper of record to whine about it. How thin-skinned are these people? Do they go to their mamas and cry whenever the mean bloggers call them names?
‘Cause we’ve heard a few things about their mamas, too.