Posts about interactivity

Huffing-and-puffing Post

There’s been rather another dustup over at HuffingtonPost. The Guardian tells the tale: Apparently, HuffPost blogger Dr. Peter Rost alleges that he unmasked a troll attacking him as none other than the HuffPost’s own technology manager. He says he discovered this because a comment attacking the good doctor became exalted as a top comment before a server could count to zero. He says he was then banned from HuffPost. So he told his tale on his own blog. But now he’s back up on HuffPost and kissing and hugging:

…I think HuffPo just made a brave move. After all, what makes this site so great is that it is open to all kinds of opinions, in a way most newsmedia would never dare to operate.

The internet age brings the quantum scandal, over in no time.

: LATER: Rost says in the comments that he’s not back; he’s still blocked. Where’s my scorecard?

: LATER AND LATER STILL: Here’s a message from Arianna:

Here’s the bottom line on the issues raised by Peter Rost: We disabled his password for one reason and one reason only — his refusal to act as part of our online community.

A little background: Peter Rost was initially invited to post about issues related to the pharmaceutical industry, his area of expertise — but his posts increasingly became about his personal grudges and beefs or long, self-referential, diary-like entries about finding an injured bird in his front yard (complete with photos) or a blog post about his friend having an extramarital affair.

We suggested that this type of material might be better suited for a personal, individual blog — a suggestion that Dr. Rost followed, creating this site.

However, his penchant for airing personal grudges on HuffPost continued, becoming problematic when he devoted another long post to a personal attack on one of the commenters to his posts (one who happened to work for the Huffington Post), claiming that there was a vendetta against him, and that this employee was somehow gaming the system to give his comments greater prominence — something that did not happen. (By the way, the employee, Andy Yaco-Mink, HuffPost’s technology manager, wasn’t an “anonymous heckler” as Rost claims — he signed his comments “yacomink.”)

Why did I go down this road? Where’s the exit ramp?

Bloggy and Clyde

The WSJ’s Lee Gomes, who needs some schooling in the ways of the customer-controlled internet, goes to the wrong teacher: Jakob Nielsen, the self-declared usability guru who has the ugliest, least-usable homepage I’ve seen since 1996 and who hasn’t advanced his shtick since about then. In their Q&A, Nielsen sticks to his guns pushing email newsletters (I haven’t subscribed to once since about 2002, myself and not being able to get rid of half of them that I no longer read I now mark them as spam and never open them) over these newfangled RSS feeds and blogs:

Q: Can’t blogs do the same thing [as email newsletters]?

A: Certainly you can have blogs that function as newsletters, updated on a regular basis. But they don’t tend to do that. They don’t tend to have that same sort of publishing discipline: having a publication schedule and surveying this week’s or this day’s events. They could, of course, but they don’t tend to.

Yes, it’s too bad you can’t rely on them to be updated.

Q:
What you are saying is heresy to some bloggers, who insist it’s very important to use blogs to have a “conversation” with customers.

A: That will work only for the people who are most fanatic, who are engaged so much that they will go and check out these blogs all the time. There are definitely some people who do that — they are a small fraction. A much larger part of the population is not into that so much. The Internet is not that important to them. It’s a support tool for them. Bloggers tend to be all one extreme edge. It’s really dangerous to design for a technical elite. We have to design for a broad majority of users.

Fanatics? Extreme? Dangerous? Makes us sound like outlaws. Blogs are just web pages (better designed and more usable than Nielsen’s own) and the tens of millions who write and read them are no longer the fanatic edge.

: LATER: In the comments, Nielsen responds:

You are making exactly the mistake I warned against in this interview: You are extrapolating from your personal experience. This is invalid. You are not an average user. The only way to get insights into these issues is to conduct user research with a broader set of people who have a range of backgrounds and levels of experience.

Also note that the interview is an ultra-short summary of a 544-page research report with 165 design guidelines for email newsletters, so there is much more depth to this research than those short quotes.

And I respond, in turn:

Jakob,

Thanks for the response.

I think you are extrapolating from your past. This, too, is invalid.

The media world is changing rabidly and I think it is a dangerous mistake to discourage media from changing, too. Who would have thought even a year ago that the BBC, The Guardian, CNN, CBS, and other major media would need to run to catch up with this wacky thing called the podcast — and that once they did catch up, they’d serve them to large and devoted audiences.

And who says we need to create for the average anymore? Who the hell is average? No one is. The beauty of this new world is that we can create and serve in many ways for many people and needs and interests.

You want to keep sending out email newsletters (though I’d challenge their effectiveness in a spammed technology where the open vs. send rates I’ve seen keep getting worse)? Absolutely. But why not also offer RSS? Why not also blog? Why tell people not to do these things and not to offer their public these options when they can so easily do it? That, I think, is dangerous advice.

And when are you going to take advantage of advances in web technology and aesthetics to at least update your homepage?

I’m not sure why I’d pay someone $398 for 165 design guidelines when this is his sense of design and usability.

As Kirk also points out in the comments, RSS is going mainstream in IE7 and lots of other technologies. Just as many people reading blogs don’t know or need to care whether they are reading blogs, so will many people use RSS and not know they’re using it. Don’t want to call it RSS? I’ll let you battle that one with Dave Winer. Call it what you will, it is a useful technology that spreading rapidly.

Lock up the kids

Howie Kurtz calls bullshit on all the scare stories coming out about MySpace et al. If the kids aren’t getting attacked by scary guys from horror movies, they’re embarrassing themselves for life:

I’m getting a little tired of reading all these “exposes” of Facebook and MySpace.

Hardly a week goes by without some newscast or newspaper discovering that it can be hazardous to the college or professional careers of young people to post pictures of themselves engaged in drinking, drugging, loving or other racy activity that might be frowned upon by some adult in a position of authority.

Okay, we get it. Hasn’t dumb judgment always been hazardous to your professional health?

It’s a legitimate story, but I detect a faint whiff of Old Media getting all exercised about the terrible dangers of New Media–why are all those kids wasting their time blabbing on these social sites?–rather than figuring out how to appeal to their young fans.

He goes on to talk about Wonkette’s exposes of politicians’ kids acting drunk and dumb. And, yes, those indiscretions of youth that, in my case, are lost in the ether of bad memory are now recorded forever by Brewster Kahle.

In the future, your past is your future. But the good thing is, everybody’s embarrassing moments will now be recorded for posterity. We’re even.

Preemptive interactivity

In today’s Observer, foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont delivers a wonderfully barbed review of Noam Chomsky‘s latest attack on America. Then, knowing the storm this would set off in certain circles, Beaumont writes a separate piece answering his attackers before they even attack (and attack, they did).

First, let me savor Beaumont’s review of Chomsky’s “Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.”

I will admit one thing from the start. When I read Noam Chomsky, the voice I hear is that of Chloe, the terrier-like computer geek in 24. This is not without reason. I met Chomsky once at a New Statesman lunch and that nagging, bullying, wheedling voice has stuck with me since. It is a voice that brooks no dissent from his dissident view . . . .

What is most troubling about all this is that there is much that Chomsky and I should agree on. Like him, I was opposed to what I believed was an illegal war in Iraq. In my travels in that country, I, too, have been troubled by the consequences of occupation. Where I differ from him, however, is that I reject Chomsky’s view that American misdeeds are printed through history like the lettering in a stick of rock. . . .

Reading Failed States, I had an epiphany: that by applying a Chomskian analysis to his own writing, you discover exactly the same subtle textual biases, evasions and elisions of meaning as used by those he calls ‘the doctrinal managers’ of the ‘powerful elites’. The mighty Chomsky, the world’s greatest public intellectual, is prone to playing fast and loose.

It is important to recognise this fact because the Chomskian analysis has become the defining dissident voice of the blogosphere and a certain kind of far-left academia. So a sense of its integrity is crucial. It is obsessively well-read, but rather famished in original research, except when it is counting how often the liberal media say this or that in their search for hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden, bias. Crucially, it is not interested in debate, because balance is a ruse of the liberal media elites used to con the dumb masses. Chomsky is essential to save you, dear reader, from the lies we peddle. . . .

Failed States posits, tendentiously, that the US has become the ultimate ‘failed state’, a term usually reserved for places like Somalia. It is a terrorist state and a rogue state, a country that has brought us to the brink of annihilating darkness. These big claims are bolstered by his familiar arsenal of exaggeration, sarcasm and allusion. . . .

These are all serious matters, but Chomsky chooses to deal with America’s growing democratic deficit not by putting it under a microscope, but by reaching for hyperbole. He suggests an America in the grip of a ‘demonic messianism’ comparable to that of Hitler’s National Socialism. Except that it isn’t. Conveniently missing from Chomsky’s account is the fact that the failure and overreach of George W Bush’s policies, both on the domestic and the international front, has had serious consequences for his brand of neo-conservatism: disastrously collapsing public-approval ratings. . . .

But what I find most noxious about Chomsky’s argument is his desire to create a moral – or rather immoral – equivalence between the US and the greatest criminals in history. Thus on page 129, comparing a somewhat belated US conversion to the case for democracy in Iraq after the failure to find WMD, Chomsky claims: ‘Professions of benign intent by leaders should be dismissed by any rational observer. They are near universal and predictable, and hence carry virtually no information. The worst monsters – Hitler, Stalin, Japanese fascists, Suharto, Saddam Hussein and many others – have produced moving flights of rhetoric about their nobility of purpose.’

Which leads to a question: is that really what you see, Mr Chomsky, from the window of your library at MIT? Is it the stench of the gulag wafting over the Charles River? Do you walk in fear of persecution and murder for expressing your dissident views? Or do you make a damn good living out of it? The faults of the Bush administration will not be changed by books such as Failed States. They will be swept away by ordinary, decent Americans in the world’s greatest – if flawed and selfish – democracy going to the polls.

Go get ‘im, mate! I enjoyed that (go read the rest) but then came the real punchline: Baumont’s preemptive strike against the snark mongers who go after him.

So, this time I’m going to get my dibs in first before the usual suspects start hyper-ventilating about ‘smears’ and ‘hatchet jobs’, ‘hidden mainstream corporate media agendas’ and all the usual nonsense.

Let’s get one thing straight from the very start – yes, there are problems with the media. We are not – most of us – unbiased. I’m very bloody biased about all sorts of things, at least half of which drive my editor nuts. Because he supported the war in Iraq and I did not. But here’s the thing about the ‘biased liberal elites’: I might have had shouting matches with the Boss about the war, and he’s certainly condemned me as a ‘bloody Maoist’, but he has never tried to censor what I write.

Instead, The Observer is a conversation. It is not a commune, so some voices are louder than others, but it remains a conversation.

Which is more than can be said for groups such as Medialens with their endless email campaigns. Because there is no conversation between them and their victims. . . .

Which leads to the question, what is the aim of these self-appointed media watchdogs? At first, I thought there was some use in them. The media too often has a tendency to be arrogant and insular and, yes, is sometimes too close to power. There is a tremendous value in a debate between media workers and concerned readers.

But that is not what this is all about. In truth these groups – and Medialens is a good example – have discovered that, through the increasing presence of print and broadcast media on the internet, they can exploit their ‘critical relationship’ with the media to create a virtual soap box for their views. For journalists like myself, the voice of the disgruntled left we hear is not that of the silent hundreds of thousands I marched with against the war in 2003, but the small, shrill, squeaky voice of an extreme.

He then goes a bit far, saying his finger is poised over the ‘delete’ button for the emails he’ll be sure to get. The Observer will be more of a conversation when the discussion can occur there as well as it occurs elsewhere.

In any case, that was a stick poked into the hornets’ nest, though they tried to keep the buzzing to a controlled pitch. From a few posts in the bulletin board:

If journalists like Beaumont weren’t smearing Medialnes I’d strongly suspect we were all doing something very wrong. Keep up the good work guys. . . .

The point is that Media Lens is not a wicked, rabble-rousing bunch of fanatics deluding otherwise happy media consumers into bombarding journalists with critical comments. It’s no good the media blaming us! The reality is that we are a tiny drop in an ocean of people who have at last found a quick and easy way of letting journalists know what they really think. It is just that journalists like Beaumont were always protected from this in the past.

They also loved the publicity, the argument being the point, after all. From another post:

A professional journalist for a ‘quality’ paper using it to print that kind of personalised name calling and drivel is a great way to draw attention to the kind of things we’re concerned about. Love this idea that we’re a cohesive group out to get people. What did he say … a leftie politburo. Great stuff.

Indeed.

The right of response

Being in planes and trains and meetings all day, I haven’t been able to join in the discussion that I’m sure is raging about Tom Friedman’s shock & awe against GM and their jihad back. After he attacked GM, GM couldn’t get a full response as a letter to the editor (what a silly name for it, by the way… isn’t it a letter to the public… but only if it gets published by that editor). So GM Letters to the editor: Return to sender“>retaliated on their blog. And now Friedman fires back from The Times (though some of his bullets hit that pay wall now). It shows what an inadequate medium for debate and discussion a newspaper is. Whichever team you’re rooting for here, there’s no debating that it would be better to hold a fair and equal discussion. That’s happening online. But note that GM links to Friedman but Friedman doesn’t link to GM. In our new etiquette of online discussion, that’s just rude — to the other side and the people some still call the audience.

Toy company breaks little girls’ hearts

Companies don’t realize that starting a community is a commitment. You can’t get people to move in and hand over their time and attention and then just one day decide to close.

Mattel is shutting down its American Girl Club and our daughter is rightfully upset. She joined the community and made friends there and now Mattel is pulling up and leaving town. Because of the anonymity features of the community, this means that thousands of friendships are suddenly cut off; they communicate only through the club. It’s like putting up a Berlin Wall around third grades the world around. That’s the worst of it. Mattel also took parents’ money to set up this club. They are offering prorated refunds or issues of their magazines. But in the land of communities, that’s like taking away homes and mortgages, for it’s not the company’s community but the members’ community. This is a case of online eminent domain. Of course, business happens; obviously, it wasn’t paying to keep the club open. But I’ll bet that Mattel — like other companies — didn’t know the obligation it took on when it started this community and the damage it does to its brand shutting it down.

Toy companies should not be in the business of making children sad.

: LATER: Rex Hammock goes meta on Mattel.

An Oxford debate

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, gave a speech at Oxford promising to question some of the assumptions of the blogosphere and of online interactivity — based on their Comment is Free experience — and to salute the value of journalism, whether in print or online. The text isn’t is up online here and here, but here are some of the juicier bits and my comment on his comments on online comments (do you hear an echo?). [Full disclosure: I write and occasionally consult for The Guardian.] First, on the fate of newspapers:

On commercial grounds alone it’s easy to see why some people are predicting that newspapers will not be able to carry on in their present form. This is not to be over-gloomy. I’m one of those who utterly believes that there may even now be emerging an economic basis for what we do which will replace some, if not all, of the revenues we are bound to lose. On the Guardian we ignored all those who told us that we should be charging people to access our content online because we believed there was a greater prize to be won – both in influence and reach – if we built the best digital version of the paper we possibly could. …

The next few years are going to be formidably expensive for us all, as we try to sustain our print editions while simultaneously investing in the new world. It’s not clear that everyone is going to make it.

More on this in a later post. Now onto blogs:

The first thing I want say about blogging is that I’m overwhelmingly in the party of enthusiasts rather than the party of sceptics. The second thing is that it’s dangerous to make sweeping generalisations about the blogosphere. Every weblog has both a national context and an international presence. The national context is perhaps underplayed and underexplored in the sense that many weblogs seem to me to compensate for whatever is missing in their own domestic media and political cultures.

In countries with a restricted or unfree press that extends to breaking stories which otherwise would remain untold or be suppressed. In America there’s a free press – though one, it’s possible to argue, with a particular tradition of reporting and attachment to notions of objectivity which – to put it at its most modest – leave room for other forms of reporting. Similarly, the relatively narrow range of opinions found on many mainstream American papers – coupled with the decision of some major players to hide their commentary behind subscription-based firewalls – also creates a space which bloggers have been only to happy to occupy.

In Britain the press – while certainly suffering from weaknesses which many bloggers are keen to highlight and compensate for – has always been more polemical and argumentative. In America, France and Germany there is famously a much less dominant national press than in Britain. So my sense is that the blogosphere, while infinite in its reach, is inevitably influenced and shaped by a wide variety of local and national media contexts.

But, despite my overall fascination and enthusiasm for this exploding new and democratic medium I share the reservations many people have about some aspects of this emerging culture. What are these problems? Well there are the predictable ones of bad language, racism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, misogyny and other forms of hate or hateful speech. Those are troubling, but comparatively easy to deal with in the sense you just take them down the moment you become aware of them.

He is conflating the blogosphere — that is, posts written by bloggers — with comments on forums and blogs. I don’t mean to split hairs, but there is a difference: One is influenced by the pride of authorship, the other by the cloak of anonymity.

A more difficult area is the quality and tone of debate. In starting CiF we wanted to create an extension of the paper – where serious matters could be discussed in a reasonably serious way by intelligent people around the world. By and large that’s what we’ve achieved. If you doubt it, follow the discussions on the Enlightenment which Madeleine Bunting started. It’s difficult to think of another area of public debate where you could have so many startlingly well-informed people arguing in such an engaged and civilised way about such an important subject. One American web expert, familiar with the general tone of blogging in his own country said: “Believe me, your site is like the Oxford Union.” But it would be foolish to pretend that there isn’t a significant proportion of contributions which are dull, rambling, repetitive or plain silly… and a further proportion which are vitriolic, highly personal, offensive and needlessly aggressive.

What to do? Well, the old media response is easy: you edit it, stupid. That’s what newspapers do. You wouldn’t dream of publishing every letter you received. Why create a totally untended space where you have to wade through sometimes hundreds of comments to find the few gems? Who’s got the time?

The idea has certain attractions. But you know what the response would be from many, if not most, of the people who are currently coming to the space: they would say ‘that’s a typically old media solution. Face it, you want to stay in control. You can’t bear to let go. The web is not about top-down, it’s about bottom up. If you can’t bear the rules, don’t play.” We’d call it editing: they’d call it censorship – and many of them would decamp to what they’d consider a truly free space. You’d risk losing a community you value.

Those are the current conventions of this new world, I can see that. But it does lead me to wonder whether all the conventions which seem to have emerged among the early-adopters of this new medium will all survive, or whether they deserve to.

It’s a fair question: How will the blogosphere and the commentsphere around it evolve? How can selectivity, trust, and relevance enter in? And what is the fate of anonymous commenting? Rusbridger attacks that next:

Take anonymity – or, more accurately, pseudonymity – which is, on many sites, a sine qua non of participation.

Now, I can see the need for the use of pseudonyms in many parts of the world. If I was posting in China or Tibet or Zimbabwe or Iraq or Russia I might well feel comfortable about speaking openly only if I could hide my true identity behind a fictitious name – though it’s not clear that even that would protect me from the attempts of a resourceful totalitarian regime to hunt me down, perhaps aided by a craven internet service provider or two.

But why should most people posting perfectly legal – and, in most cases, unexceptional views – in Britain, or America, or most Western democracies, feel they have to have – or maybe even have a right to have – anonymity?
Again, it’s one of the first lessons of working on a local paper: no-one gets their letter published unless they’re prepared to put their name to it or unless they can persuade the editor there’s a really good reason for anonymity. Indeed, it’s difficult to think of an area of public discourse in this country where people demand the right to take part in public debate anonymously.

Does it matter? I think so: for two reasons. The first is to do with transparency and accountability – two qualities, ironically, which the usually anonymous bloggers endlessly accuse old mainstream media of lacking. The one occasion when we published something anonymously on the Guardian website – something not terribly flattering about bloggers, as it happened – the bloggers reacted furiously – apparently deaf to the irony that most of their own fury was expressed anonymously. . . .

Overwhelmingly, old media journalists and columnists put their own name to what they say, and the same is true of 99.9 per cent of letters published. Knowing who said what is the first step to assessing what they said.

I do agree with him here. I have said often on this blog that I trust and respect comments made under the names of their authors — and I have inevitably been attacked for that view by people commenting behind a nom de snark. I think it is a very good point to argue that we cannot demand of transparency of professional media without matching it with our own.

But next, Rusbridger defends those who don’t want to interact and there, I disagree with him. As he says at the end of this bit, the bullies tend to back off when face-to-face with the people they criticize. I will defend some of the snarky because they have felt for years that they have shouted at brick walls. When they are not heard, no matter how loud they shout, they will tend to pick up the spray-paint can and do some mischief. We have to understand that perspective. But once we come out from behind the wall to actually interact — not just allow people to leave comments but to talk with them — the level of discourse improves (except for those folks who are missing their meds).

I have some sympathy with my colleagues who are reluctant to take part in debates with external critics nearly all of whom – whether out of shyness, cowardice or convention – won’t themselves break cover.
And that leads onto the second reason it matters: that, often, anonymity encourages people to write or speak in a different way then if they knew they would be held accountable for what they said. The quality of debate can become cruder, more aggressive and more personal than it would if the world knew the writer’s real identity. The reverse is also true. Quite often, if a journalist does respond personally and reasonably to these anonymous flame throwers they will melt into much more moderate language and discussion.

The lesson: interactivity is the responsibility of both sides.

Next, Rusbridger takes Dean Esmay to task for taking rusbridger to task for saying in an earlier speech that he hears no bloggers volunteering to go to Iraq. rusbridger said he saw no names. Esmay listed three: Michael Totten, Michael Yon, Steven Vincent. I’ll add Christopher Allbriton. This back-and-forth on the facts would be best served with reciprocal links; that is part of the infrastructure of interactive news that needs work. rusbridger acknowledges the work of Iraqi bloggers but then raises the old saw: Blogs are not a “substitute for the mainstream media if you want a rounded view of Iraq, including the daily atrocities, the geo-politics, the local politics, the military and intelligence aspects of the conflict and the human rights implications.” No one — or next to no one — says they are a substitute. They are complementary (as we discussed at the hyperlinked-society conference last week and at the earlier Museum of Television & Radio Media Center confab — see Jay Rosen in the last paragraph here). It is time to get past the us-v-them red herring and to start working hard to see just how complementary these camps can be. rusbridger concludes:

In a rapidly converged world newspapers will probably have to ask themselves whether they remain a purely text medium. And, as if this weren’t enough, they are going to have to face the fact that younger readers, especially, are questioning previously accepted notions of journalistic authority, that audiences are fragmenting and that many people are increasingly finding non-conventional news sources a valuable addition, if not a ready substitute, for mainstream media. Newspapers have to decide how much they embrace these new forms of discourse and dissemination or whether they stand apart from them.

I think they must do both: embrace the good stuff and stand apart from the bad stuff but don’t make the mistake of excluding any form of expression.

And the bloggers, in turn, must embrace the good stuff from news organizations.

Between them the Guardian, Observer and Guardian Unlimited – our website – employ more than 600 journalists, more than two dozen of them based around the world. There’s no internet start-up on earth which would ever contemplate such an investment in people. The Yahoos and Googles of this world are explicit: they have no interest in creating content. . . .

Millions of websites will aggregate what we do, syndicate it, link it, comment on it, sneer at it, mash it, trash it, monetise it, praise it and attempt to discredit it – in some cases all at once. But no-one will actually go to the risk and the expense of setting up a global network of people whose only aim in their professional lives is to find things out, establish if they’re true, and write about them quickly, accurately and comprehensibly.

Actually, I know of a few efforts around the world to do just that: to bring together journalists and their work in new forms. I have no idea whether they will succeed, but it’s not impossible.

The blogosphere, which is frequently parasitical on the mainstream media it so remorselessly critiques, can’t ever hope to replicate that. It can do lots of things better than we can’t currently do – including fragmentation and connectivity and community. It is wonderfully enabling, intoxicatingly democratic, exhilaratingly anarchic. And – to return to the ironic title of this lecture, we’re in at the birth of blogging rather than the end. But blogging of itself isn’t going bring about the end of newspapers.

No, blogs will not. I agree. If anyone brings about the end of newspapers, it will be the newspapers themselves. Near the end now:

The newspaper of the future may or may not look like a newspaper – it could be printed on paper, on a screen or exist in electronic ink on a sheet of plastic. But it will behave like a newspaper.

And now, it can also do more. That is the real opportunity.

Letters to the editor: Return to sender

Brian Akre of GM PR writes an incredible post detailing the exchange GM had with The New York Times editorial page trying to get in a letter to the editor responding to Tom Friedman’s attack on the company. At the end of the day, they wouldn’t let GM call Friedman’s column “rubbish.” So now they go online with something that, though it doesn’t appear in the august pages of The Times, is far more damaging than one forbidden word. Here’s their email exchange. This is, of course, why it’s such rubbish to say that newspapers have always been conversational because they took letters.

They removed our invitation to Mr. Friedman to come to Detroit to learn the facts about what GM’s doing to reduce our nation’s oil consumption. They removed a sentence in which Steve said falsely accusing GM of “buying votes” in Congress was irresponsible. We didn’t like those edits, but the rest of the letter was left largely intact, with one exception.
Our letter opened with a paragraph that accurately summarized the most bizarre elements of Mr. Friedman’s attack, then reacted with this one-word sentence: “Rubbish.”

That word accurately portrays how we felt about the column. Personally, I felt a stronger word referring to male bovine excrement would have been more appropriate, but my boss tends to express himself more politely than I in these situations.

The Times suggested “rubbish” be changed first to, “We beg to differ.” We objected. The Times then suggested it be changed to, “Not so.” We stood our ground. In the end, the Times refused to let us call the column “rubbish.”

Why? “It’s not the tone we use in Letters,” wrote Mary Drohan, a letters editor.

What rubbish.

How arrogant.

: This via InOpinion, which finds the rubbish on rubbish.