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Wednesday, 06 June 2007

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Tomemos

Your description of the context makes perfect sense. Of course, one could ask another question: is what Gilbert's blog did a useful idea, at all? To put it another way, is there something valuable about compiling all the opinions in or about Nashville, or any other geographic location? And another question after that: wasn't it inevitable that Gilbert would eventually be compelled, by the rules of her blog, to link to something awful? I would say the answer to those questions are no and yes, respectively: not only was this not an interesting idea for a blog, it was also a bad one.

I think it's also very questionable whether you can "link without comment." If the New York Times publishes an article, I presume it's newsworthy; if a blog (particularly one affiliated with a media outlet) links to a web page, the implicit message is, "This is something you should read"; it implicitly gives it value. "This was an opinion expressed on a computer in Nashville, or about a Nashville resident," doesn't cut it as a reason.

I don't think it's unreasonable to say that, when you link to something deeply offensive, it is actually not valuable to be "neutral" about it. On the contrary, it seems important to clearly state, "This opinion is execrable and I and my station aren't endorsing it." I'm not saying she should have been fired, but saying that she was just doing her job is not much of a defense when her job was to do something really pointless and potentially inflammatory.

As for your title, well, the context is right there in the post. One should be expected to read the entry before judging it; one shouldn't be expected to read a blog's archive, or manifesto, before judging one of its entry.

Tomemos

Er, entries, not entry. And I even clicked "preview" this time...

Sisyphus

I don't know; I was going to say that a consistent FAQ or sidebar manifesto can do a lot towards how people read each new individual post, heading off the kinds of misreadings Jesus' General and others did, rather than explicitly framing each and every link or comment with one's blogging ethos, but then I got to mention of this post's title and was confused; I didn't have enough context. (I don't usually click outside links.)

So I'd agree with Tomemos, _except_ for that last point! :)

Luther Blissett

Oh, I thought Scott was breaking into Chris-Rock-style stand-up: "White people are all like, 'Snookums, let us have intercourse,' but black people are all like, 'Baby, lemme smack that ass.' But seriously, folks, seriously, I love black people . . . I just hate niggers with all my heart. Man, that's like Philosophy 101. But Philosophy 102 -- that's ladies only. Heh heh. Seriously, you've been a great audience. I'll be here all week -"

flawedplan

You have to be receptive to context.
If the only context that counts is that which is self-generated it's not about gathering data but control, and warding off.

When I don't know what's going on, which is frequently, I have to ask. That's a reality check, and I may not
like it, since to ask is to assume a submissive posture.

That's what I see in this play of events, sheer dick-swinging. What else can they do? It seems manufacturing outrage is how our progressive brethren perpetuate their image. They define themselves by taking down enemies. But they've been caught and exposed, and efforts toward image-tending are naturally redoubled.

This is the only blog I'm commenting at, so will bring it to closure by acknowledging I am fond of a lot of these men and even look up to them, but am overwhelmed by their performance right now.

Everyone is grieving too, who can say how that comes out. But for this clusterfuck to resolve the people fighting have to keep talking, not just to their audience but to each other, no matter what, and the prospects for that happening appear to be dim, but the alternative is just unending resentment. Welp.
Thanks for the opportunity to vent.

Rich Puchalsky

I don't think that I agree with your analysis in this case, Scott. You write: "So when one of its authors posted a disgustingly racist obituary for the liberal blogger Steve Gilliard, she linked to it ... just as she earlier linked to other local reactions to his death. Such is the nature of reportage." But if you look at the link to a set of other local reactions, all of them share two characteristics: the title of each is the actual title of the blog post, and none of the text of the post was quoted. For the racist obituary, the title was changed (to "Teaching Libs a Lesson", which doesn't appear in the original, rather than its original offensive title), and a large block of text is quoted. So she both sanitized and drew special attention to the post.

And is the norm of the NiT blog really a hard-news link without added opinion? Sometimes yes, sometimes no -- try here and here for two examples just from their current front page.

There's an important public interest in making racist statements non-mainstreamed by the media. In this case, the surrounding presentation was not adequate. I'm sure that the blogger in question is progressive, but this was the wrong thing to do; opinion is clearly sometimes permitted on that blog, and bringing special attention to this inflammatory material right after a death requires it. The problem of not checking out the context carefully doesn't really compare.

By the way, there is no suggestion that I saw that the blogger was "forced to resign" instead of choosing to resign.

Walter Benn Michaels

Now, now, gentlemen. All this complaining about racism simply keeps the poor man down. People cannot fight two ills at once; their minds are too small. (All but mine, of course. I can fight for the poor and against Philip Roth and Toni Morrison. Simultaneously and at the same time.)

Don't you realize that this whole "incident" was manufactured to keep attention away from the need to redistribute wealth? (Buy my book to learn more.)

Scott Eric Kaufman

Tom:

is what Gilbert's blog did a useful idea, at all?

Well, it wasn't her blog, and she was hired to write it, but I take your point. I remember when I first read about canned local segments in Rich Media, Poor Democracy, all I could think was "Do we really need 'local news' that does nothing but dub local personalities' voices onto prepackaged segments sent from the home office?" The answer, obviously, is that we don't. Blogs could counter that trend -- issue a genuinely local perspective on local (and national) events. Sure, you take the good with the bad, but that's what happens when you decide to represent a given population.

Another way to look at it: I don't think that the disappearance of racist vocabulary because of political correctness correllates to any real disappearance in racism. What we have now is a less offensive culture with a seamier underbelly. In some respects, this is good. In others -- as when affirmative action is discussed and the response of conservatives is, effectively, "You don't hear good ol' boys yelling 'NIGGER!' anymore, so racism isn't a problem" -- not so much.

if a blog (particularly one affiliated with a media outlet) links to a web page, the implicit message is, "This is something you should read"; it implicitly gives it value.

This is the convention of blogs, certainly, but something I was getting at above is the fact that NIT sold itself as something else -- a barometer of public opinion, call it -- and deserves to be treated on its own terms. I wouldn't criticize a work of experimental fiction for not being a page-turner, even though both are called "novels." Some basic research into generic expectations is warranted -- esp. when calling for someone's dismissal.

I don't think it's unreasonable to say that, when you link to something deeply offensive, it is actually not valuable to be "neutral" about it.

This reminds me of an interesting conversation AWB and I had a few months back -- I remember it being online, but it might've been at the MLA -- about the expectations of a particular blog. Since she'd linked to these asses in the past, she assumed her readership would understand some condemnation implicit in the link (and the sarcastic title, which in context means something like "Teaching Libs a Lesson again").

In other words, if the context is encoded, it need not be stated. Should she preface every link to them with "the excerable so-and-so"? Maybe.

Flawedplan:

That's what I see in this play of events, sheer dick-swinging. What else can they do? It seems manufacturing outrage is how our progressive brethren perpetuate their image. They define themselves by taking down enemies. But they've been caught and exposed, and efforts toward image-tending are naturally redoubled.

First sentence, pure genius. The reluctance of JG and others to apologize for their greivous misreading baffles me ... except in the zero-sum game of image management.

Rich:

In this case, the surrounding presentation was not adequate.

But context is a feature of presentation. Were I to write a post entitled "Lacanian Theory Is Valuable," context would dictate that some heavy sarcasm was to follow. I think the context, enframing but invisible, is important -- if nothing else, the fact that context is regularly ambiguous in blogs means that its consideration should be an incumbent duty instead of an afterthought. Again, this is esp. true when your criticism is not merely criticism, but a call to have someone fired.

As for whether she resigned or was forced to, I think it's obvious that she felt forced to resign, which amounts to the same thing.

Scott Eric Kaufman

I was so wrong about the party responsible for the WBM comment. Good show, I say, good show.

Also, how's this for ironic:

Should I even link to this without comment?! The horror.
JAKE

The title of this entry is very scary.

Is there no way you can change it A. Ceph?

Rich Puchalsky

"As for whether she resigned or was forced to, I think it's obvious that she felt forced to resign, which amounts to the same thing."

Are you sure that you know the authorial intention in this case? Here's what she wrote:

"And there you have it, the reason I turned in my resignation this morning. I do not want to be seen as a victim here, I only want to honestly tell you why I will no longer be authoring NIT. Your host is simply not cut from strong enough cloth. This is the internet. People are vicious. They are even more vicious when they fail to make any distinction between you and a feelingless, faceless media company. It’s easier to justify the venom that way. And while some people may get off on feeding those frenzies of hate, I do not. I tried to not let it affect me but it does. Every day. The tears and the stress are just not worth it.

I’ve been thinking about this decision for a long, long time, so don’t go thinking that anyone in particular won here. Nobody specifically pushed me out. This decision is the culmination of lots of long hours of pondering, checking myself, and wondering if I’ve got what it takes. I decided I don’t."

She could have chosen not to write "Nobody specifically pushed me out" if, instead, someone had really pushed her out. But she didn't. Are people supposed to have to decode the posts on what, as you've said, is a local news blog?

Brittney's explanation of the incident was: "It was a lazy post, and it’s my own fault that people misunderstood me. It’s because I’m burned out." OK.

I sure wouldn't apologize if it had been my friend who had died, and if I had gone off on the people publicising the inevitable creeps making fun of it. Brittney really did do something wrong. Something worse than misreading.

Tomemos

"Since she'd linked to these asses in the past, she assumed her readership would understand some condemnation implicit in the link (and the sarcastic title, which in context means something like "Teaching Libs a Lesson again")."

Here especially I think you're putting too much of the responsibility on "the readership," which is not just made up of regulars; it's also made up of drifters and web-searchers, and sometimes they ain't going to read all of your previous entries. Therefore, you had better signal your opposition, rather than counting on everyone to know that you're kidding. In your "Lacanian Theory is Valuable" example, as with the title of this entry, there still would have to be something in the post--even if it was subtle, Onion-style irony--to reveal, to first-time readers, that you were kidding. My fiancee just published a blog entry called "Julian Gough Is Very Intelligent and Original" in which she heavily criticized Gough, so the title was obviously ironic. Without any actual content, it would be impossible to tell that the title wasn't her opinion. So yes, context matters, but so does content, and all that Gilbert had wasn't good.

To put it another way, in the original entry, you wrote that what Gilbert did is "...utterly ordinary in the world of local news, where KKK rallies are covered without anyone thinking the coverage tantamount to an endorsement."

Well, no, of course no one thinks it's an endorsement, because the station puts a reporter there to comment on the rally, clearly separating the station from the KKK's opinions. They also show footage of the anti-KKK counter-protest across the street--not, like, on another night, but right there in the same segment. If a news station, rather than reporting on the KKK rally, simply gave them their own two-minute news segment, without commentary or counter-opinion--and if it titled the segment "Teaching Libs a Lesson," as Gilbert did--then, yes, I think they would get some angry letters.

Rich Puchalsky

That's a good example, Tomemos -- on how news agencies cover KKK rallies while distinguishing themselves from them.

Remember this?

Rich Puchalsky

And, actually, even more this. If you're writing news, then don't write it like a fanzine. If you're writing a fanzine / personal blog, then please keep links to hostile obituaries out of it, or prepare to be flamed.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Jake:

Sooner than later. (Probably.)

Rich:

I don't believe I can read her mind, I just think the timing is no coincidence. She resigns the day after JG posts her employer's contact information? Like I said, that sounds plausible; but is it not far more likely that this was the straw that broke the camel's back?

Brittney really did do something wrong. Something worse than misreading.

You don't actually believe she did something wrong though, do you? If anything, she miscalculated. I don't see how mocking the local troll by linking to him can be considered wrong. piny pretty much nails it, I think:

Say Jessica Valenti passed away and some rightwing asshole posted a nasty obit. Then Amanda linked to it with a title like, “Showing feminists who’s boss.” Then a few people who aren’t well-acquainted with Amanda took the post at face value and threw a fit. Then other people explained who Amanda was in order to put the post in proper context. Then the first group of people responded that Amanda should not have used sarcasm without clearly labeling it first and it was inappropriate, period, for her to link to the writings of a right-wing asshole and how dare she and now let’s try to get her fired.

This is essentially what happened, which is why I find people who find fault with Gilbert a little odd. It was a misunderstanding exacerbated by grief, but a misunderstanding nonetheless.

Tom:

If a news station, rather than reporting on the KKK rally, simply gave them their own two-minute news segment, without commentary or counter-opinion--and if it titled the segment "Teaching Libs a Lesson," as Gilbert did--then, yes, I think they would get some angry letters.

I take your point about content and/or the lack thereof, but isn't the medium part of the issue here? You can't link to a blog from a newspaper article, or on television, so the generic expectations are somewhat different. I realize I introduced this line of thought -- KKK rallies on local television -- but I now officially disown. Bad comparison, my bad. That said, there is no good comparison, because the phenomenon is limited to blogging.

Stanley Fish

Being racist is the only real way of not being racist. So if you're a racist, you won't link to racist blogs. But if you're not a racist, you will link to racist blogs. So the racist isn't racist, but the non-racist is racist. QED.

Meg

Some of you guys are missing the point. Her headline of that post "Teaching Libs a Lesson" was intended as sarcasm. If people would have been smart enough to get that (which, anyone who reads the site on a semi-weekly basis would have been), no disclaimer or manifesto of her thoughts on the linked-to post would have been necessary, or even called for. The sarcasm in the post title should have been enough. Unfortunately, some people just jump right in to an online community they have never been to before and assume they can take everything at face value, and, when they are wrong, blame it on the moderator of such community.

Tomemos

"Her headline of that post "Teaching Libs a Lesson" was intended as sarcasm. If people would have been smart enough to get that (which, anyone who reads the site on a semi-weekly basis would have been), no disclaimer or manifesto of her thoughts on the linked-to post would have been necessary, or even called for."

Meg, I think you're missing a point of your own. Knowing what I know now, yes, I agree that "Teaching Libs a Lesson" is intended to be ironic. However, when I first saw the title, I took it at face value and was pretty stung by it. I don't think I'm dense about these things; I enjoy reading straight-faced left-wing satire, such as Jon Swift (and, in his saner moments, Jesus' General), but the content of the individual piece has to indicate that irony. Otherwise, it's an in-joke, and those who don't "read the site on a semi-weekly basis" won't get it. In this case, the only signal that the title is sarcastic is the previous entries, which is not really a smart way to go about being sarcastic on the internet, especially when addressing such a raw topic. If someone wants to write only for an already-familiar audience, they should probably just have a private LiveJournal.

On the other hand, it should be added that one should absolutely familiarize oneself with context like this before complaining to a blogger's superiors. So no one should have tried to get her fired; it's a simple oversight, not anything capital.

Rich Puchalsky

Meg, this was already addressed, because Scott was having in my opinion another version of the same problem. The NIT blog can't be two things at once, not if you expect people to be able to figure out its context. If it's news, then Tomemos' points about how news organizations cover this kind of material are valid. If it's a sarcastic comment specific to an online community, then a) perhaps she shouldn't be making it as part of what's supposed to be news, b) you can't blame people for reacting outside the standards of that community when they are yanked into it. Steve Gilliard was not part of that community.

Scott writes: "You don't actually believe she did something wrong though, do you? If anything, she miscalculated. I don't see how mocking the local troll by linking to him can be considered wrong."

It's wrong in the context of someone's death to be mocking trolls, yes. That's really what is driving a lot of this, not the racism alone. It's not really newsworthy that there are racists out there who try to cause trouble by seizing on someone's death in order to make inflammatory statements. People don't want that spread around just for the highly inappropriate, in context, activity of troll mockery.

Luther Blissett

You would have thought that the "blogger's superiors" would have mapped out a coherent policy on posting or linking to "controversial" materials. This is what happens when people ignorant of the world of blogging hire bloggers to bedazzle their traditional media formats. (See John Edwards blogging scandal.)

Bottom line is that a charge of racism requires proof of intent, and clearly the intent was not racist. You cannot be unintentionally racist. (See executives criticized for using the word "niggardly" in a conference.) The blogger might have been more careful. But really, fault lies with her superiors, who failed to make clear what her responsibilities were in situations like this.

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