Saturday, January 21, 2006

# Posted 2:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONSERVATIVES DEFENDING THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA FROM LIBERAL ATTACKS? I guess anything can happen in the blogosphere. In case you haven't heard, the Washington Post took down the comments section on post.blog because
There are things that we said we would not allow, including personal attacks, the use of profanity and hate speech. Because a significant number of folks who have posted in this blog have refused to follow any of those relatively simple rules, we've decided not to allow comments for the time being. It's a shame that it's come to this.
Unexpectedly, conservatives are lining up to support the Post's decision while liberals are denouncing it as a cover-up of the Post's pandering to Republicans. Come again? Well, let's start with some background.

WaPo ombudsman Deborah Howell provoked an avalanche of comments at post.blog by writing that Jack Abramoff gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans. Howell then corrected herself by saying that Abramoff directed his clients to donate considerable sums to 88 Democrats. Abramoff himself only donated to Republicans.

Is that a good description of the facts? I'm not sure yet. I'm still just ankle-deep in the controversy.

Anyhow, one of the first things I'm trying to figure out is whether post.blog took down the comments section because of profanity and personal attacks, or because it couldn't handle harsh criticism of its reporting.

Although the Post thought it had deleted the offending comments, a number of bloggers on both left and right have recovered the comments and posted them here, here and here.

Out of curiosity, I read around 100 or so of the comments (out of a thousand or so) and found none of the profanity or hate speech the Post had cited to justify its decision. However, Brainster has gone over the comments more carefully and come up with some pretty offensive ones. Which leads me to wonder if the Post could've avoided this whole controversy with selective deletions rather than a total shut-down.

With all of that said, it's time to move on to the debate about whether the Post did the right thing. I'm going to punt on this issue for the moment since I have to run some errands and then clean up my apartment before my girlfriend show up from New York. But here are some links to follow:

WaPo editor Jim Brady defends his decision in interviews with Jay Rosen and Hugh Hewitt. For the left, Steve Gilliard deconstructs Brady's responses to Rosen while Jane Hamsher slams his answers to Hewitt. There's more criticism from Hamsher here, here and here.

Atrios says: Wanker.

Glenn Reynolds briefly defends the Post here. Finally, Jay Rosen rounds up the response on both sides in the "After Matter" section below his interview with Brady [scroll down, no anchor link].

Until later...
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

A good summary of the sorry state of affairs.

Don't you think the Washington Post had some remedy at its disposal other than shutting off all comments? Of course, there will be abuse. But perhaps some rating system like TPMCafe would work. Isn't this more of an opportunity than a problem?

And I do think Howell is that thin skinned.
It seems to me that quite a bit of the slant of political commentary is based on visceral gut reactions about who is hated more, with the "reasoning" as a mere post-hoc rationalization for the side one takes. ("Bush Derangement Syndrome" is one example, but the lack of good reasoning shows up whenever there are strong emotions of hatred toward one person or group.) If you accept that premise, it's quite interesting that this situation pitted the hated conservative demons of the MSM and the liberal blogosphere against each other-- and the hatred for Kos and co. was stronger. The same phenomenon occurs when conservative bloggers get in a dispute with someone... the liberal hatred for Powerline, The Corner, and others is so strong that they have to side against them. Conclusion? That liberal and conservative bloggers (and many of their readers) really, really hate each other. Conservative bloggers might mock the Daily Kos poll asking if Kossacks hated Bush or bin Laden more, but I bet that if Charles Johnson put up a similar poll involving bin Laden and Kos, Kos might make a pretty good showing.
Interesting premise. I would like to see that poll. Personally, I think the readers of Charles Johnson's site would vote much like me. I think the kos folks are not too bright and I dont know that I would want to hang around with them, but they are foiled at the voting booth. bib Laden kills people. Pretty easy choice.
Brady also defended his decision in a live chat on the Post's web site. He indicates that many of the deleted comments were of the "Fire that f***ing b****" variety. He notes that they were attempting selective deletion before being overwhelmed, and the worst of the comments never saw the light of day. This means that the various websites purporting to show the forbidden comments via screen shots or page caches are seriously misleading their readers, since those lists do not include the profane comments that the WaPo people had already deleted. Brady also states that the WaPo will republish a list of comments, once they have completed the task of culling the abusive comments out.

I think there's a bit of a culture clash here. Major newspapers have traditionally aimed at the mass market and thus have shied away from language like "fucking bitch," to an extent that many bloggers do not. Moreover, the Post has to pay people to moderate its comments, whereas bloggers work for free.
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