Mad media

Mad media

: Some more thoughts on the Okrent/Schwenk exchange I chronicle reluctantly below:

Folks fire off angry emails … blog posts … columns … talk-show calls … talk-show rants … movies … ads … billboards … forum posts … or whatever….

It’s mad media.

And for a minute, mad media may feel good, like a sniper shot in an arcade game: Got ‘im!

But when and if civility returns, mad media feels disgusting and dirty.

For you forget that you are dealing with a human being.

Whether that human being — your target — is a reporter or a politician or a columnist or a blogger or a someone you see on TV or hear on radio or read online…. it’s still a fellow human being. When you try to inflict pain, you usually will.

You forget that at the peril of your own civility.

That is why I’ve been obsessing on the mud of this campaign: because mud begets mud, it oozes and spreads and dirties everything and everyone around it; it splatters where you don’t expect. It’s hard to contain mud.

In this campaign, far too many people have trafficked in mud: the candidates, their campaigns, newspaper columnists, news executives, news stars, bloggers, commenters, moviemakers, “special-interest groups”….

And what have we all gotten from it? Dirtier and dirtier, that’s all.

In this little Okrent/Nagourney/Schwenk melodrama, we see a story that has gone too far. Schwenk should not have said what he said; it is impardonable to wish ill upon another man’s child — impardonable — and Schwenk, sadly, then got a taste of his own bile when his own children got scared, something that also should not have happened. Nagourney and Okrent also would have had a far better moral to their story if they had indeed confronted Schwenk before the column was printed; I’ll bet he would have seen the error of his words then — when confronted at a human level — and they could have used this to remind us all of our duty to act civilly to each other. Instead, they shot back. So now that’s happening in public. Fine. Let it be a lesson to all:

Mud gets you dirty.

And in this time when the uncivilized of the world are attacking us, it is more important than ever that we preserve civilization and that we behave civilly to each other.

As I said below, the real potential of this new medium is that it can cause conversation — rather than shouting matches. With the immediacy and intimacy and urgency of this medium, we can and should talk and air our issues and we and democracy will be better off for it. I’ve seen it happen online (and I’ve seen it not happen); take your pick. You want to wallow in mud media or do you want to get somewhere? The choice is yours every time you hit the “send” button.

Behave, boys and girls. Please, behave.