The strategy of deploying charged and hyper-aggressive language is now evident: First intimidate one’s targets, then coerce them–into conformity or silence. And do it always under the banner of free speech and democracy. ~Daniel Henninger
Quite unintentionally, Mr. Henninger has just described the editorial policy of The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and National Review. It is amazing to me that someone at a newspaper whose editors and contributors have engaged in plenty of destructive and often false commentary about their political enemies would have the gall to lecture bloggers on intimidation, coercion and the silencing of opponents. Sometimes I think that half the reason the WSJ op-ed page exists is to try to intimidate and silence opponents, particularly those on the right with whom they disagree; the same goes for the others, only more so. Bloggers may speak harshly to their interlocutors and targets and call it democratic activism, but at least we do not launch invasions and cheer on organised slaughter in the name of freedom and democracy–that dubious honour belongs to Mr. Henninger and his ilk.
Speaking of “doublespeak” and general two-facedness, nothing captures it better than a columnist at an establishment rag such as the Journal pretending that bloggers have the monopoly on aggressive hostility towards political opponents. If I write in a bitter, withering tone in many posts, I learned it from reading the Journal’s editorials as a boy–these were always laced with irony and also quite frequently with contempt for their subjects. Yes, the blogosphere is far less restrained, and particularly in comment sections this becomes quite dreadful at some sites, and I am certainly strongly in favour of restraint, but any attempt to dictate a “code” to bloggers is an attempt to control them and limit their influence. That would almost have to be the point of inventing such a thing, and the only beneficiaries of limiting their influence are the establishment media, the political class and the administration. Looking at it that way, it seems to be a very bad idea.
Bloggers are notoriously combative and often seem unusually “angry” to the refined, calm columnists and media watchers, because many of us, unlike them, actually have opinions that do not resemble weak tea. Having gagged on years and years of their spoon-fed pablum, we spit it back in their face and they discover that they don’t like it at all. Sometimes we’re angry, and sometimes we’re simply calling establishment pundits and media outlets on their flaws in a particularly pointed and critical way that these people can only interpret as a “screed” or an expression of crazed rage. What I despise is the pretense put forward by establishment figures and institutions that they hold the keys to the definitions of moderation and reasonableness. Their insipid policy views are half the reason so many of us are so agitated about the state of affairs today.
I run what I am proud to say is a pretty clean and respectful house here at Eunomia, so I know it is possible to create a healthy atmosphere of combative back and forth that does not have to degenerate into mudslinging and insults. If other bloggers fail to do that, that is their mistake, but I find the idea of a general code for bloggers (especially one sanctioned by the king of verbal abuse and intimidation, O’Reilly) to be ridiculous. There is a lot of invective and criticism and obvious hostility to various hacks, villains and tyrants who deserve that hostility here at my blog. If I were to subscribe to this bizarre code, I would basically have to stop writing 85% of what I write because of rule #2 alone:
We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.
I find such a restriction completely unrealistic and inappropriate. In person, I actually try to be diplomatic and seek to avoid harsh exchanges of words or even intense disagreements. I do this for the sake of civility, and because I am not inclined as a matter of temperament to getting into shouting matches with people face to face. FoxNews, which has perfected the medium of the shout-fest that is supposedly a “news” or “opinion” show, would not want to have someone like me on.
I have read that Jefferson was much the same way: he could write vituperative polemics against his political foes, but would be the image of civility in person. As it should be. The early satirists of the Opposition wrote things about Walpole and the Robinarchy, albeit they often had to write about them indirectly, that they would probably never have said in person to Walpole and his fellows. Written invective will be the outlet for a society choking under the imposed constraints of political correctness and thought crimes. The more consolidated major corporate media become, and the more autocratic the government becomes, the greater the demand will be for increasingly unfettered expression to rebel against these things. To take away that outlet, or to try to say that there is something deeply wrong with that written invective will be to ensure that there are explosions of outrage elsewhere in society.