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Tax Evasion and a Self-Proclaimed State

Come on People, Act Like Grownups

This morning, Atrios (Duncan Black) is off on a tear about Danny Okrent's column How Would Jackson Pollock Cover This Campaign?, which discusses the many complaints the New York Times has received about its election coverage. Here is the paragraph that sent Atrios into orbit:

But before I turn over the podium, I do want you to know just how debased the level of discourse has become. When a reporter receives an e-mail message that says, "I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war," a limit has been passed.

That's what a coward named Steve Schw%nk, from San Francisco, wrote to national political correspondent Adam Nagourney several days ago because Nagourney wrote something Schw%nk considered (if such a person is capable of consideration) pro-Bush. Some women reporters regularly receive sexual insults and threats. As nasty as critics on the right can get (plenty nasty), the left seems to be winning the vileness derby this year. Maybe the bloggers who encourage their readers to send this sort of thing to The Times might want to ask them instead to say it in public. I don't think they'd dare.

I really wish Atrios had thought about this for a week before posting his rant in response. It seems to me that bloggers ought to encourage their readers to act like responsible grownups, not like Junior High bullies. I am willing to believe that the NYT is getting more low, vile, hate mail from the left that the right at the moment. I'm sure it varies from news source to news source. I imagine that CBS's inbox looks a little different. The NYT probably has tracking of traffic to their site that is at least as sophisticated as what I use, allowing them to track down blogs that send forth a wave of hate mail. I imagine that Okrent's remark made Atrios feel personally criticized, hence the hasty reaction.

But slow down. Take a careful look at what he's saying. NO ONE should send the kind of mail Okrent describes in that passage. And NO ONE should encourage readers of their blogs to send that kind of mail. We are grownups. We live in a participatory democracy; encouraging passionate participation is all for the good. Encouraging readers to complain about bad reporting is changing the face of journalism for the good even if it does make Okrent tired sometimes. But NO ONE should be encouraging the harassment of journalists.

Perhaps, Atrios's reaction to Okrent naming Steve Schw%nk is a legacy of having written pseudonymously for a long time. But I personally applaud Okrent outing a letter-writer who is harassing a journalist, even a bad journalist. The law in New York State is quite constraining on law enforcement; those on the receiving end of harassment do not have a lot of recourse. Outing is one of our best tools.

Also, I want to amplify Okrent's point about female journalists. Outspoken women of any kind receive are much more likely to receive really vile threats and insults. These tactics are simpleminded intimidation, and will not produce an improvement in journalism. NO ONE should send sexual insults or threats to a journalist. Furthermore, NO ONE should send anything to a journalist suggesting that his or her kids should die. Please, people, act like grownups.

(Note: After discovering though Sitemeter that this page had become one of the top Google and Yahoo hits on the poor fellow's name, I have replaced the "e" in his name with a "%" throughout.)

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