Friday, January 27, 2006

When Partisans Attack: The Joel Stein Story

First, a confession: I like Joel Stein. I have laughed-out-loud at more than one of his columns. He’s kind of a Dave Barry meets South Park, although not nearly as brilliant as either. But when we wrote columns for Time I read them regularly and enjoyed them quite a lot.

So I was surprised earlier this week when Stein became the subject of a conservative cyber-lynching. What could Joel Stein have done to piss off the hordes of conservative bloggers and their acolytes?

He wrote this piece for the LA Times. In a nut shell, he said he thinks the Iraq war is immoral and the soldiers fighting the war shouldn’t be absolved from that immorality and, thus, he doesn’t support the troops.

He very clearly pointed out he was in no way advocating spitting on soldiers, he just doesn’t believes it’s silly to pretend like you support the troops when you think the war is terribly wrong.

For his honesty, Stein was hammered by the right wing blogosphere (for examples, see here and here and here and here … and many, many other places). For the record, I think what he had to say was flat-out wrong and I found his glib, snarky tone to be completely inappropriate and quite disrespectful to the men and women serving in this war and to the families of soldiers who’ve given their lives.

All in all, it was an uninformed, lazily written column. But Joel Stein is a humorist. I don’t expect him to be informed. And I certainly wouldn’t consider him influential. Yet the conservative blogosphere acted like someone of great importance had made those remarks. Why?

I think it’s because the Internet has facilitated a pack-like mentality among partisans. It used to be that the really hardcore ideologues were spread out across the nation and generally disconnected. Now, thanks to the Internet, they can come together and form packs capable of hunting down those who refuse to conform to their worldview. Both sides do it with equal viciousness.

It’s all well within free speech rights. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for our country. Having such spite for your fellow countrymen is not conducive to a healthy democracy. And verbally assaulting those you disagree with is not going to change minds but rather only lead to more militancy.

Joel Stein wrote a stupid column. But the uproar against him was equally as stupid. Aren’t their any adults in this country?


Blogger gljunket said...

Such is the "handicap" of free speach in a democracy. I agree both sides were "stupid," but as you also said, the internet enables "packs" of bloggers to be "opinion leaders" and therefore influence "important results." So in that context I'm not sure how to characterize a "healthy democracy." Then the global media frenzy generates a "who do you believe?" scenario manipulated by a Bush-basher here, and a bin Ladin tape's no wonder militancy is on the rise. What a challege for oppressed people tasting the fruits of democracy. Hopefully our political extremism has again reached the point that Centrist sanity will emerge to provide some real leadership as it has in the past.

8:48 AM  
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