We've just passed that time of year when many among us atone for their misdeeds of the past year. Old habits die hard, and I was going back over the last twelve months to see where I had been out of line. Maybe I have been too harsh from time to time, but if bloggers like me want a model for 'civil discourse' they won't get it from journalists like Charles Lane or Scott Pelley.
Lane, a member of the Washington Post's editorial board, adopts the personal slash-and-burn style of blogs in his nasty personal attack on Dan Rather. Too bad he wasn't concise and witty, like the best of the sharp-tongued bloggers. (I'm not particularly sharp-tongued, and I'm certainly not concise, so there's no ego in that remark.)
David Niewert in Firedoglake finds the most absurd untruth in Lane's piece, and it's a whopper. But the style of Lane's piece is telling enough. He starts off with a ham-handed parody letter from Rather, whose behavior he calls "unbecoming," "ridiculous," and loaded with "firing offenses." The "letter" ends, "Thank you, CBS, for saving me from myself." Lane concludes that "no sensible person," "no sane individual," "no one in his right mind" would do what Rather has done in filing his lawsuit.
Lane is a member of the same editorial board that printed a Michael Kinsley commentary called "Cybercreeps Run Amok: Internet Libertarians Should Learn Civil Discourse."
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"Why is the tone of conversation on the Internet, especially about politics, so much lower than in the material world?" asks Kinsley. "And nasty? Oh my goodness." There you have it: The Editorial Board approved this piece, then ran with Lane's mugging of a distinguished fellow journalist.
Oh, my goodness.
Then there's the Ahmadinejad interview conducted by Scott Polley on CBS. I'm not going to defend Ahmadinejad's policies — especially since I found myself in the same hotel he and his people were using this weekend, along with a number of other Middle Eastern leaders. Their security measures took out big chunks of my time, and a part of me wanted to say "How about we withdraw this security and let you take your chances like any other tourist?"
Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker. But the man is a foreign head of state. We are obligated to protect him, and we should allow him to speak at our universities so that his opinions can be heard, debated, and challenged. That's what civilized countries do. And haven't people — especially journalists — learned to question it when one of many unpleasant figures is suddenly singled out for demonization?
As for the Polley interview, Glenn Greenwald and Ezra Klein have covered it, but here's some food for thought. First, note the difference between the treatment Ahmadinejad gets and the way we've handled Moammar Qaddafi. We have proof that Qaddafi sponsored terrorism, including the destruction of the Lockerbie flight, yet the Administration couldn't wait to use the results of negotiations with him to demonstrate that "the War On Terror is working." (Actually, Blair's government simply took advantage of an offer Qaddafi had made years before.)
So why is it acceptable to negotiate with Qaddafi and not with Ahmadinejad? You know the answer to that. But Scott Polley is content to beat the drums for a new war, unrepentant about his profession's role in starting the last one.
Polley's badgering — and his repetition of unproven Administration talking points as if they were established fact — made him look like a Pravda journalist circa 1959. Ahmadinejad, playing to the hometown crowd, took pains to point that out. Recall that over a million Iranians marched in support of the U.S. after 9/11 and you'll realize how much Polley's behavior can set back the cause of progressive reform in Iran.
Polley's performance makes the U.S. look weak and doctrinaire throughout the world, especially in the Middle East — where we should be convincing the public that we're a democracy, not an authoritarian dictatorship.
It's actually fair to say that Polley harmed American national security, by hurting our image among the Arab populations we need to draw to our side. His thuggish, unprofessional performance played right into Ahmadinejad's hands.
Oh, my goodness.
""Cyberspace communities and the cyberspace community at large," wrote Kinsley, "often seem to be more energized by rejecting heathens than by embracing soulmates." Polley's heathen-rejecting performance shows that this phenomenon isn't limited to "cyberspace," much to the detriment of out national well-being.
As for my sins, they're mostly confined to saying harsh things about journalists. I'm sorry about that - although my words don't seem all that bad, now that I see what they consider "civil discourse."
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