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Brady's Recap Stirs Up Blogosphere Again

If Washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady was looking to heat up his ongoing feud with the blogosphere, his Sunday Outlook column was a pretty effective way to do so. In his missive, Brady reflects on what he learned from the Deborah Howell episode (see here if you need the background details). Here's a bit of what Brady wrote:
Out in the Web woodshed, a handful of bloggers called me gutless or a puppet; some of them compared me to assorted body parts and characterized me as the worst person to come along since, well, Deborah Howell. And any nasty posts I didn't see myself, my friends gleefully provided to me via e-mail. A few friends said they came close to jumping online to defend me, but chose not to for fear they'd be next in line for a public flogging.

This all raises a question: Why are people so angry? It was a mistake, it was corrected. Part of the explanation may be the extremely partisan times we live in. For all the good things it has brought our society, the Web has also fostered ideological hermits, who only talk to folks who believe exactly what they do. This creates an echo chamber that only further convinces people that they are right, and everyone else is not only wrong, but an idiot or worse. So when an incident like this one arises, it's not enough to point out an error; they must prove that the error had nefarious origins. In some places on the Web, everything happens on a grassy knoll.

Another culprit in Web rage: the Internet's anonymity. It seems to flick off the inhibition switch that stops people from saying certain things in person. During the Howell flap, many of the e-mails I received that called me gutless, a coward or both were unsigned.

Maybe this level of anger has been out there for a long time, waiting to be enabled by technology. Forget about writing a letter, getting a stamp and mailing it in. Anger now has an easy and immediate outlet.

The reaction from those easy and immediate outlets was fairly predictable. Over at Crooks and Liars, John Amato writes to Brady:
I believe you really need some blogger training. Call me up and let's discuss it. There are many journalists that know me including some from the Washington Post, so they'll vouch for C&L. I'll show you exactly how many truly obscene comments I get-what I do about them and how you can better run your own operation without making yourself look foolish.
Matt Stoller at MyDD adds:
With this nasty letter in the Washington Post, online editor Jim Brady shows just how aggressive he is willing to be to avoid accountability at his newspaper. It's quite remarkable, actually. He still does not understand what went wrong.

Howell committed an act of journalistic malpractice. She was caught in an error on a very important story, and her reaction to the readership who commented on it was to stonewall. Then she grudgingly admitted an error four days later, decrying partisanship and namecalling the whole time. It was a pathological incapacity to take responsibility.

And BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis writes:
You'd think that newsmen were tough, but the truth is that as a breed, they're crybabies. They are used to dishing it out but not taking it. Oh, sure, they may be defter at the dishing. But ask any civilian who has ever been criticized or misrepresented in print how it feels. They don't get a page of the Post to wail about it.

When the going gets tough, the reflex of the big-media guys is to retreat behind a roll of paper and whine about those people out there. Those people, otherwise known as the public they supposedly want to serve. Those people, also known as us.

Lost in all this were several positive points that Brady made in the piece, including this most encouraging statement regarding how The Post and the Web site are moving forward with interactivity:
The irony of the backlash to my decision to shut off this comment string last month was that we've taken numerous steps during the past year to open up the Post Web site to its readers. We have 80 to 90 hours of live discussion programming every week, almost half of which involve Post reporters and editors. We've launched more than 30 blogs, which allow for reader comments and which have built vibrant communities. On our article pages, we've added links to related blogs. Just last week, we began hyperlinking all bylines on the site to allow readers to more easily send e-mail to Post reporters and editors. We'll continue to add features that allow us to interact with readers.
That's an encouraging development. Too bad it's gotten all bogged down re-fighting the old fight.