Calvin Freiburger

Hey Daily Beast, Um, Why Is This a Story?

Posted on September 14 2010 9:00 am
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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It must be a slow news day, because the Daily Beast is running with the earth-shattering scoop that people say mean things on the Internet. Brian Ries writes that the comment section of Ben Smith’s Politico blog has “degenerated into a screaming pit”:

At his new online home, he wanted to create a space for meaningful political discourse, and fought to get a comments section.

But somehow that discourse soured.

“My blog was at first given over to Obama-backers attacking me… as a racist and a Clinton tool,” Smith says. “Then to Clinton die-hards, attacking me and others as Obama minions; then mostly back to the Obama supporters attacking me as a neocon. And now that the energy is on the right, to conservatives attacking me as a pawn of the White House.”

Smith has been called a “weasel,” a “flaming liberal,” a “Journolister,” a “liberal hack,” an “establishment politico” who will be eaten by Sarah Palin for lunch, a “first grader,” “a basketball player with no jump shot,” a “piece of snot,” a “3 year old transexual, wanker,” and a “commie.”

No, seriously: why is this a story? All it sounds like is that Smith is “suffering” from the same mix of unkind-but-defensible criticism (I can’t claim to be familiar enough with Smith’s writings to know for sure whether or not he’s a “weasel”), unfair partisan attacks, and indefensible and juvenile filth that the rest of us have been receiving for years.

Most of us who blog figure out about five minutes in that a.) the ease and anonymity of commenting on articles gives people free reign to say all sorts of things they’d never try to get away with in any other venue, and b.) that there are simply a lot of idiots and jerks in the world. The same holds true on right-wing blogs, left-wing blogs, news pages, gossip columns, technology sites, movie reviews, YouTube—if you post it, they will come.

Can it be disheartening to see how much venom and how little thought many of our countrymen are capable of? Sure—it’s hard not to be disgusted at things like the anti-Semitic garbage that gets left on NRB every now and then. But a little perspective is in order, too—there’s good and bad wherever you go, the Internet’s very nature is conducive to those with more spare time than manners, and political junkies like us need to remember that the blogosphere isn’t representative of the general population, who don’t spend their every waking moment freaking out because someone is wrong on the Internet.

Though the ratio of sane-to-insane commenters might occasionally tell us something interesting or useful about the relative character or seriousness about certain factions, complaining about comment section civility is usually an exercise in futility (or worse). As someone who’s been on the receiving end of such impotent, partisan fury for years, I’ve generally found that it’s healthier and more satisfying to simply poke fun at its idiocy and spectacular lack of self-awareness.

Lastly, it’s interesting to contrast Ries’s sob story about incivility and intolerance with an incident in Ries’s own recent past that many people would consider a rather more notable and serious instance of incivility and intolerance. In the post, Ries says:

I first registered an uptick in what we might call “the crazy” when Smith wrote about my Tumblr-based experiment in getting Facebook to remove a note that Sarah Palin had posted on Facebook about the so-called ground zero mosque. And while I had expected some hate from the Palinbots, I was surprised to see the degree to which Smith got it, too.

Earlier this summer, Ries orchestrated a campaign to get people to report the note as “a violation of the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” under the “Racist/Hate Speech” category, resulting in enough reports to get the note automatically (and temporarily) deleted. His excuse was basically: I wanted to see what would happen.

Palin supporters understandably didn’t take kindly to seeing political speech on a controversial issue shut down, nor did they think much of Ries’s excuse. And, in true lefty fashion, Ries subsequently framed the controversy not around his own dabbling in political censorship, but around the “surprise” and “hate” of those who objected.

Whenever leftists are carping about alleged misbehavior, nine times out of ten all they really mean is that they want conservatives to shut up, and they’re equally likely to be simultaneously engaging in misbehavior of their own that they don’t hold to the same standard.


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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