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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

P.S. to Patterico

Glenn Greenwald... down in flames.

THE WORD. I followed the links today (h/t Malkin, Reynolds) to Patterico's takedown of Glenn Greenwald. For any InstaPunk readers who don't know what I'm talking about, here's the background. A blogger at the Huffington Post reported that an attempt to "assassinate" Dick Cheney in Afghanistan failed. Then a veritable flood of Huffington commenters exclaimed their anger that the attempt had not succeeded. Some conservative bloggers then inferred that such comments reflected a sizeable constituency of leftist opinion in this country. Glenn Greenwald, a fairly famous liberal blogger, wrote a column at Salon arguing that rightwing bloggers always blame the lefty blogs themselves for nasty comments by isolated crackpot readers, who are representative of nothing and should never be cited as such.

Patterico replied with a thoroughly documented post (read the whole thing) that quotes the heart of Greenwald's piece and observes:

These comments are staggeringly hypocritical, viewed in the light of Greenwald’s extensive history of spotlighting anonymous comments at conservative blogs to reach broad-brush conclusions about the entire conservative movement. Greenwald is a prime practitioner of this “transparently flimsy and misleading method” of tarring the other side. And, in marked contrast to Greenwald’s tender concern today for whether ugly leftist comments “are representative of the blog itself,” Greenwald is famous in conservative circles for highlighting extreme comments on conservative blogs — comments that in no way represent the views of the posts to which they are responding, or of the bloggers generally.

He proceeds to quote at length numerous examples of Greenwald's own behavior and provides links to multiple others. He concludes by referencing a Huffington Post blog entry not mentioned by Greenwald which did, in fact, call directly for Cheney's death by heart attack, a positioned echoed by countless commenters who heartily endorsed the sentiment.

Patterico's piece was so devastating that I was curious to see whether or not Greenwald had responded, so I looked at the Salon column, which featured four updates but no mention of Patterico. I did, however, find these juicy morsels of liberal cant:

It is also worth nothing [sic], as several commenters did, that most of the largest right-wing blogs do not allow comments at all precisely because they know the monstrous sentiments that would spew forth...

Ann Coulter previously expressed sorrow that Timothy McVeigh did not bomb The New York Times building, and she also called for the murder of Supreme Court Justices. As Blue Texan notes, she is one of the featured speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference next week, along with Vice President Cheney and three separate GOP presidential candidates -- as well as Michelle Malkin, who is very, very upset by the remarks from the anonymous HuffPost commenters today.

Patterico's argument is powerful enough not to need to deal with these details, but I think they are worth speaking to as a sort of mop-up operation after the slaughter.

The statement that "most of the largest right-wing blogs do not allow comments" is as disingenuous as everything else in Greenwald's post. By "most," he means Michelle Malkin and InstaPundit (as one of his first commenters immediately specified), because there are dozens of popular rightwing blogs with very active comment sections, including such biggies as Hugh Hewitt, Little Green Footballs, Protein Wisdom, Ace of Spades, LaShawn Barber, The Anchoress, et al. Greenwald fails to mention that Michelle Malkin was compelled to disable her comments section because of the many obscene, disgusting, and frightening attacks on her from the left, which have been abundantly documented. And InstaPundit has explained more than once that the tendency of the liberal MSM and lefty blogs to attribute commenters' remarks to the blog author without clear differentiation is the reason he doesn't allow comments. I might add that in InstaPundit's case, he is more linker than thinker in terms of his format, which seriously diminishes the value of comments -- these undoubtedly accrue to the benefit of the posts he is linking to. In a word, Glenn Reynolds's "no comments" policy is actually quite generous to his fellow bloggers.

The Ann Coulter reference is hilarious because it's the first thing all the lefties cite when someone calls them on their constant over-the-top rhetoric about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the truly vile debasements lefties spew at them every day. "But look at what Ann Coulter says," they shriek. "She wanted McVeigh to blow up the New York Times! And you think we're violent?"

Coulter's the first outrage the lefties cite because they don't have that many other examples to cite. If she didn't exist, they'd have to invent her. Who else? Pat Buchanan? At any given time, a majority of conservative bloggers object more strenuously to his excessive rhetoric than liberals ever do. Protein Wisdom and Ace of Spades? They're comedians, and you can see that because they're actually funny. Michelle Malkin? She may take extreme positions, but her vocabulary is a very far cry from the intensely obscene and scatological screeds you can read every single day at Firedoglake, the DailyKos, Democratic Underground, Atrios, and the babes John Edwards hired to run his blog. You can actually hear Michelle blushing when for the sake of accuracy she quotes such language from a lefty post. She may be an iron lady in terms of politics, but she is most definitely a lady. Oh, and yes, she does make fun of people she disagrees with. How awful.

Which, come to think of it, is the real distinguishing characteristic between the firebrands of the left and the firebrands of the right. There are plenty of verbal attacks launched by both right and left in the war of words that constitutes political discourse. You couldn't have a free political system without them. What matters is the quality and tenor of those attacks. Political passion is fueled by emotion, and emotion in an adversary situation results quite often in extreme analogies, ridicule, unfairness, and even cruelty. Yet there is a vast difference between employing verbal wit as a weapon of ridicule and employing the foulest lowest-common-denominator cusswords available to describe one's political foes and to wish for their physical destruction. The latter is not wit, which it resembles only insofar as word choices have the power to shock. When endless repetition makes them a thudding refrain used again an again and again without any attempt at irony or illuminating juxtapositions, it's merely gutter-mouthed drivel. Its only intent is to injure, not to educate, persuade, or delineate. A simple test: is there an actual punchline anywhere in sight? Or is there only an irrational need to scrawl the ugliest possible graffiti on the biggest possible wall?

Ann Coulter, for example, is a political satirist and at her best a political humorist. She can be mean, indeed, but there is always a punchline, an actual definable point she is making that pertains specifically to the topic she is addressing. You can easily prove this to yourself because she almost never uses dirty words of any kind. People are offended by her point of view, not the graphically violent nature of her imagery. Therefore, the substance of her inflammatory effect is ideas, not lists of the repulsive consequences she's wishing on her enemies. When she made her crack about the terrorists not targeting the New York Times building -- and she did use the word 'building' -- she was inviting everyone to imagine what tack the lords of the NYT would have taken in the War on Terror if they'd had their own landmark headquarters destroyed. It's irreverent, yes, and perhaps in dubious taste, but it's an exercise in wit, not a prayer for the violent death of all NYT journalists.

Compare this to the comments Patterico cites in response to Tony Hendra's "prayer" for the death of Dick Cheney. There's no actual learning point in the post itself. Its whole purpose is the shock it's supposed to induce, and the affirmative recognition the writer expects -- correctly -- to receive from his audience. It's a form of masturbation, as are the comments, quite a few of which are confined to the word "Amen."

This is exactly the same sentiment we have seen countless times from the left. From those who attempted verbal rape on Michelle Malkin as a "filipino whore," repeating ancient schoolboy speculations about the shape of her private parts, to those who wished Laura Ingraham to die from her recent experience of cancer. Qualitatively, these kinds of abominations are no different from the sentiments of those who openly advocate the assassination of the President and Vice-President or, more sneakily, defend the appropriateness of media vehicles which advocate the same thing.

Disagree? Well, I propose an exercise to be perfomed by those who have the software and expertise to carry it out. The exercise is this: Search six months' worth of content, posts and comments, of the 20 most popular blogs on the right and the left. The search criteria are George Carlin's infamous "7 Dirty Words."

I am absolutely certain that the left will far exceed the right in the number of usages of all these words, which will go a long way toward proving that it's the right which is still concerned with ideas while it's the left that's obsessed with the lowest kind of hateful invective.

Anyone care to take up the challenge?

UPDATE. For those who already knew something about Greenwald and his own history as a nonrepresentative "sock-puppet" commenter on behalf of his blog, you'll get a huge kick out of Wuzzadem's treatment of today's contretemps.

UPDATE 2. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link (& for correcting my attribution error), and thanks for all the early interest in the challenge. But we do need to pool our resources here a bit. Some of you know how to go about searching in a systematic way. (Is it really best to do this through Google, or to identify the target sites first and process their copy individually? You tell me) Others know which sites track blog traffic in order of popularity. I'm fairly sure that Malkin, Reynolds, and Hewitt are in the top 20 list on the conservative side, and I'm also fairly sure that DailyKos, Atrios (Eschaton), Democratic Underground, Moveon.org, and Firedoglake are in the top 20 on the left. But my intuition is no substitute for an actual ranking by a site that does this as its mission. People who know something, please put in your two (or five or ten) cents. You can also feel free to argue about who is left, right, or otherwise, although I'll pretty much insist that Andrew Sullivan is neither and shouldn't be included in this experiment.

As to the commenter who pointed out that there will be leftist offenders on righty sites and vice versa, I think we have to live with that. The lefties are notorious for outright banning of righty commenters who disagree, and the righty commenters seem to gang up on lefty trolls until they go away of their own accord. Either way, it seems safe to assume that most commenters at a given site are more likely to agree with the blogger than oppose him. Rest assured, there will be offenders on both sides of the divide; I'm merely confident that there will be a very significant difference in the totals.

Whatever you can offer, however slight, will be appreciated. Thank you.

UPDATE 3. The internet is indeed a miraculous thing. The results are in, thanks to the News Buckit. We have no idea how much work and sheer intellectual firepower was involved, but we're grateful nonetheless. Our analysis of the results and what they actually signify is here. Thanks again to Glenn Reynolds for making an idle question into a fascinating real-world experiment. Oh. We almost forgot. Those of you who are here because of Alicublog's post, do read the latest post. You'll find it a special treat if you can somehow make it to the last paragraph.







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