Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Internet Free Speech: Morons Run Amuck

By Paul Levine

We love the democracy of the Internet.

We love its free speech.

We love saying what we want on our own blogs. Or posting pithy comments on someone else's.

With newspapers (you remember those, right?), there's a problem. Readers can comment on stories right on the papers' websites. Unlike letters to the editor, there's no selection process. At least not initially. Case in point.

I'd missed the score of last Saturday night's Miami/Virginia football game, so around midnight I went on the website of The Miami Herald to learn that the winded Hurricanes had lost 48-0. Within minutes, the weasels -- cloaked in anonymity -- came crawling out of their holes. A few examples:

"The Negroes Miami recruits are lazy. That's why they suck. End of story."
Posted by: Smoke dope everyday

"I be ebonics majer at una'diversity ob mi'ami. i thinks my daddy be benni blades, faymiss hurri'cane footzbal playa."
Posted by: Quantavian Blades

"God doesn't like Miami because there are too many queers."
Posted by: Queer hating nation
"[University President] Donna Shalala has destroyed UM Football. This sawed off runt has single handedly ruined what was once a powerhouse. Her hand picked affirmative action coach is a disaster. He doesn't know which end is up, but hey...he's black and that makes you look good, right Donna? Enjoy the skybox with your snobby communist friends at Dolphin Stadium."
Posted by: FRED FREEP

"South Florida is a turd world country; Miami is Castro's toilet!"
Posted by: Che Guevara, Havana
"Donna E. Shalala must be getting Mandingo action from Shannon. It's the only plausible explanation for keep that no talent excuse for a coach at the helm."
Posted by: J. Moss

By yesterday morning, the comments had been removed by Herald personnel. But I wonder. Is that good enough? What can (or should) be done about racist, misogynist, homophobic and other crude, rude and lewd postings? With a traditional letter to the editor, you must give your name and a phone number for verification. What about the Internet? Any thoughts?


Here's the lead on today's column by Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times.

As the strike enters its second week with the two sides as far apart as ever, it's hard not to take the writers' side. I'm not sure I'd go as far as Paul Haggis, who called the dispute "another example of massive corporate greed." But he's on the right track. When Tom Freston was fired from Viacom in 2006 he received $60 million in severance pay, more than all of the DVD residuals paid to WGA members that year.


Regular readers of the Naked Scribblers know that Steve Solomon is the co-protagonist of my "Solomon vs. Lord" series of legal thrillers.

But did you know there's a real Steve Solomon who writes non-fiction, and that we've been friends since our days at Penn State? That's right. I stole a pal's name, and he hasn't sued me, even though he's a lawyer and his fictional namesake lives by a somewhat unconventional legal code: "When the law doesn't work...work the law."

Professor Stephen D. Solomon teaches at NYU and has just written "Ellery's Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle over School Prayer."

It's the story of 16-year-old Ellery Schempp, who protested his high school's compulsory Bible-reading period. Schempp, a Unitarian, was tossed from class for reading from the Koran. The A.C.L.U. took up the cause, and in 1963, the Supreme Court ruled, 8-1, that requiring prayers and Bible reading in public schools was unconstitutional.

I agree with the decision but regret that it(along with Roe v. Wade a decade later) helped spark a conservative backlash that allowed right-wingers to take over the Republican party, the country, the world, and several solar systems.

Even if apocryphal, here's s a great anecdote from Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, and I say this even though the conservative columnist used it to pillory Hilary as a crybaby who plays the gender card:

The story as I was told it is that in the early years of her prime ministership, Margaret Thatcher held a meeting with her aides and staff, all of whom were dominated by her, even awed. When it was over she invited her cabinet chiefs to join her at dinner in a nearby restaurant. They went, arrayed themselves around the table, jockeyed for her attention. A young waiter came and asked if they'd like to hear the specials. Mrs. Thatcher said, "I will have beef."

Yes, said the waiter. "And the vegetables?"

"They will have beef too."


This comes from "The King of Ring-a-Ding-Ding," James Kaplan's profile of songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen ("Swinging on a Star," "Come Fly with Me,") in "Movies Rock" magazine. Van Heusen and Sinatra were drinking and womanizing buddies who both lived in Palm Springs.

At 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon, Sinatra would call Jimmy up and simply turn on a blender full of ice next to the phone. Not a word was spoken; none needed to be. Margaritas were in process, the fun was starting.



  1. Paul,
    I agree that the internet offers too many opportunities for cowards to voice opinions. If you really bellieve what you're saying stand up and take responsibility for it.


  2. Just kidding, That was me.


  3. I think it's the stupidity not the anonymity that's the real issue. Would it help to know that it was John Smith of Hogtussle that wrote some inane piece of vitriolic bigotry? Do we even know if John Smith is who he says he is? Why care? Perhaps those who write those types of "letters to the Editor" should remember the adage: Better to be quiet and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.


  4. You're all friggin' pinko idiots.

    A true patriot,

    John Smith
    Hogtussle, PA

  5. Thank you Mr Smith....hope you forwarded all this to Rush Limbaugh's web site.

    Estelle Hertz
    Beaverdale, PA

  6. Shut your pie hole, Estelle.

    Ain't nothing raises my hackles like a bunch of navel-gazing, Latvian-loving, pointy-headed sue-doe intellectuals.

    Gonna watch Fox News now.

    John Smith
    Hogtussle, PA

  7. Okay,
    I'm going to be serious here . . .

    I think the internet, like email, has encouraged the decline of civility. Even with the id of emails, their content often escalates from rationality to nastiness in less time than it would take to lick a stamp.

    There are few reasons I can imagine where anonymity is justified in any "comments" section.

  8. What can (or should) be done about racist, misogynist, homophobic and other crude, rude and lewd postings?

    Nothing. They're called "trolls" as in "trolling for attention." The best way to make a troll go away is not to feed it.

    Unfortunately, no one ever seems to take this advice.

  9. I just love that O'Reilly hunk, he's my hero.
    Mr Smith goes to Washington?

    Barb E Dahl
    Burning Well, PA

  10. I read this yesterday and wish I'd said it.

    Some people use a keyboard the way they use alcohol - for courage.

    What's sad is not that these people have a place to post their lunacy, it's that there are so many of them and they're so fucking crazy it makes my head all wobbly.

  11. I like the Margaret Thatcher story. It reminds me vaguely of Lee Goldberg (Ha! I'm comparing Lee Goldberg to Margaret Thatcher! How often does that opportunity come along? Huh? Huh?) and his story about the TV producer not wanting to offend all the morons in the audience.

  12. Mark,
    Lee has excellent coverage of the writers' strike on his blog at http://leegoldberg.typepad.com/

  13. "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

    Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California