February 22, 2008
“I will show you nonsense, in a handful of comments” – AW
I remember with longing a simpler time at opednews. I was just starting out back then as a writer and Bush was just starting out as the worst president we would ever see. My work had been on a handful of sites, but nothing big. Opednews was just starting out back then and I cannot even remember how I found it but soon I had submitted an article to Rob Kall and his upstart website on political dialogue. I was eager to see an article of mine actually gain traction and maybe get networked. Then Rob emailed me and rejected it. He was kind enough to call me and explain that the title, while a cute play on words, was not specific enough to generate the readership we desired. He explained that titles need to convey what the piece is really about, so that people can make their usual quick decisions on whether to read it or not. He asked me to redo the title before he would run it. I got to tell you people, I disagreed with Rob that day. I liked my cute title which played on words. I thought it was better than the article itself; and therein lay the problem.
Never once though did I consider that what Rob was doing was censoring my work. In the end, I changed the title. Why? Because it is his website folks. It did not matter that I disagreed with his editorial decision. I could have taken my ball (article) and went home but without the court to play on (opednews), what good was having the ball to begin with? That article which I resubmitted, with what I thought was a really bland and boring title, was then picked up by two other websites with greater traffic then opednews. It took a little bit of time to crack through my literary ego but soon I realized, “hey maybe the editor was right.” Rob would go on to run close to 200 more articles of mine. I would represent opednews at national conferences and I had done several talk radio spots. My articles ran consistently on multiple websites and publications all because I chose to listen to the editor of the website that agreed to host my work. It really is that simple.
Now we fast forward to today and see that opednews has grown beyond our wildest dreams. It has grown because of the efforts of Rob Kall to stick to what works. It has grown because of a growing list of people willing to volunteer their time to be editors, such as Amanda Lang, who was also there at the beginning. It has grown because it became one of the only places on the Internet where political discourse was allowed from all sides with virtually no restriction. You think I’m kidding? Take a walk over to dailykos and try to say something against any mainstream democrat. You will be tarred and feathered. Go over to one of the conservative sites and try to say something against any mainstream republican and see what happens. Opinion is not only controlled on most other sites but it is done with a ferocity that undermines the very principles of freedom they claim to protect. But not opednews.
I remember awhile back there was the flap Rob created when he considered banning words such as zio-nist. I will be honest with you, I disagreed with Rob substantively on the issue but at the end of the day I had two choices. One is to accept the policies of my editor and two was to take my ball and go home. I said my peace to him and backed him up in the thread when people viciously attacked him screaming “censorship!” Shut up already with the big “C” word. If you do not have the intelligence to understand the difference between trying to manage a huge website, instill editorial policy and respect people’s opinions do not use words like censorship. They are too big for you to use if you do not understand their meanings. Just because you disagree with an editorial policy it does not mean you have been censored.
But we have this element now at opednews. We have these people who think you should be allowed to yell fire in a crowded theater. That is the equivalent. These people think that any incursion upon their ability to say whatever floats through their semi-consciousness is an incursion upon liberty and freedom itself! Nonsense! Absolute and pure nonsense. That is not what freedom is. Freedom has limitations folks and it always has. The absence of limitation is not freedom but rather, anarchy. I have seen websites that thought they did not need limitations and allowed anarchy to reign. I speak in the past tense because they did not make it. They were failed social experiments. Freedom of speech has always has limitations on it. I do not mean that ridiculous “freedom zones” forced upon us by the Bush administration but rather the previously mentioned shouting fire in a crowded theater. Likewise, the press has always had its limitations as well. They are needed to prevent anarchy. Remember, these limitations are not on the freedoms, but rather they are on the abuses of those freedoms.
I find it somewhat comical to see all of these opinionated folks coming into article threads with the only goal of wreaking as much havoc as they can. The first thing I check is how much they are in the game. Usually it is the same modus operandi. Zero to two articles and a smattering of comments. Nonsense in a handful of comments. People who are quick to disparage other people’s work but not put their own butt on the line. Clearly if you have that much opinion in you, then you need to be more invested. I did an article last week merely suggesting that we approach impeachment in an intelligent manner and I was lectured ad nauseam by people who apparently were still in grade school while I was writing about impeachment in 2003. People who take grand stands on the constitution but have nothing to back it up but nonsense in a handful of comments. As I wrote that day, disagreement and debate are healthy but not what these folks engage in. They stroll into threads of people who write on the front lines of the political discourse in this country for years and proceed to be snarky and belittling for only self-serving principles. They do not seek debate; they seek to mock and deride. That would be bad enough but they do it and bring nothing to the table. I have never seen someone with a healthy amount of articles slamming someone in comments. You know why? Because they understand what it is like to expend the energy and time to write. You think it easy writing 200 articles? For free? But I digress.
The point being made here is the same from all those years ago when opednews was just starting out. Rob Kall is the editor. As an editor I have found him to be incredibly helpful and insightful, even if it was on re-examination; once my literary ego was repressed. As a friend he has been more though. Ultimately, at the end of the day, this is still his website and I owe more to opednews then it owes me. You all have the same choice I had when I asked Rob to run my first article and he asked me to rethink the title. You can listen to your editor or you can pack up your article and go home. Remember, you are the one asking for the pulpit from which to preach. You have no right to that pulpit, you have to ask.
But please, hold off on the ridiculous censorship talk. Instilling editorial guidelines is not censorship, period. Asking someone to rethink a title is not censorship. Asking people to have some sense of civility is not censorship. You can stand on that soapbox all you like and claim that one man’s editing is another man’s censorship but in the end you are simply wrong. Making grand speeches in the comments section but not having the cajones to back it up with articles of your own doesn’t really impress me. It shows me that you do not mind the opinion business but you don’t want to be the one on the front lines taking the shrapnel. You would rather stand behind the scenes and toss literary grenades all over people’s work and somehow feel like you have done your patriotic duty in doing so. Nonsense in a handful of comments is all you are. You have confused freedoms with anarchy and fairness with censorship. What is worse though is you bite the hand that feeds. You are provided the platform to voice these confused opinions and then debase the very man who provides you the platform. In other words, you are not even grateful. You think that somehow you have a right to the platform. Well, this may come as a shock to you; but you do not.
I do not fear editing. I do not fear being asked to rethink a title. Heck, if Rob had not taught me years ago, I would have named this article, “nonsense in a handful of comments” and no one would have read it because it would have been so vague. A cute play on word from TS Eliot’s famous line but vague nonetheless. What I do fear is the ruining of opednews. I fear the day when people who like to comment drive off the people who like to write. It is not about thick skin or any other silly comment you might want to make. It is about having some modicum of respect. It is about having some civility in our discourse. It is realizing that while debate is healthy being snarky is just not acceptable. If you think that asking for some level of civility and respect is censorship then I suggest you pick up your two articles and your handful of comments and go home. I am sure there is someone there willing to listen to how right you are.