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February 21, 2005

Anatomy Of A Mugging

There's something about zealots. They have the worst manners.

I've run across this two or three times in the three years I've been running this blog. Twice, I ran afoul of Atrios and Oliver Willis; small packs of their readers came over and befouled my comment section with a bunch of half-reasoned, but fully inflammatory, drivel. And once, a local activist obsessive self-promoter publicized my email address to a batch of gay email discussion forums, bombarding my comment section with inflammatory tripe, and clogging my inbox not only with what I'd have to call "hate mail", but also putting me on every spam mailing list in the western world; my daily spam count jumped from about five a day to between 300-500 spam emails a day over the course of two weeks. I had to change email addresses; not a technical probem - I administer my own email - but a pain in the ass notifying my dozens of family and friend contacts.

And all for what? So a bunch of mental/emotional midgets can get their fairly feeble rhetorical rocks off doing the intellectual equivalent of monkeys flinging poo in their zoo cages.

It goes with having a blog, even a mid-sized one like mine, I guess.

Powerline, Daily Kos and Minnesota Politics are not mid-sized blogs.

Powerline is, of course, the biggest overtly-conservative blog in the business. I know the guys involved; we're all part of the Northern Alliance of Blogs, and we all co-host the Northern Alliance Radio Network. I'm not going to say they're bosom buddies of mine - but I've spent some time with them. John, Scott and Paul are among the genuinely best guys I've met in the past few years. Naturally, being the biggest stars in the right-wing blogosphere, they're also the biggest lighting rods.

I have not met Markos "Kos" Moulitsas Zuniga, although I did write for "Political State Report", a spinoff project of his, two years ago. Gapingly obvious point: I disagree with him. No biggie. But the part I find interesting is that there is no way to compare Kos (or the other "heavyweight" leftybloggers, Duncan "Atrios" Black, Oliver Willis or the giggly fratboys at Pandagon) with Powerline in terms of writing skill, research ability, intellectual firepower, or the breadth and comprehensiveness of their network of contacts. Kos recites talking points...no, that's unfair, he's big enough that he dictates the talking points to a fair chunk of the Mad How wing of the party. Atrios specializes in terse, smug snarks wrapped around links, sort of like Glenn Reynolds via Maxine Waters.

What Kos and Atrios (and to a lesser extent Willis and the giggly fratboys) bring to the table, though, is their vast hordes of commenters; generally half-literate intellectual droogs whose reasoning stops at reciting harping points delivered wrapped in scatological packages. But oy, are they dedicated.

On the other hand, Minnesota Politics, a one-man blog run by the anonymous "Minnesota Politics Guru", is unknown. Before last weekend, judging by his sitemeter, MP averaged under 100 visitors a day, probably much less.

Until Sunday.

Kos and Atrios ran a piece last week, essentially yelling "And your dog, too!" at the Powerguys, sending the hordes of flying monkeys to their keyboards to inundate the Powerguys' inboxes with...well, garbage.

What kind of garbage? I talked with John earlier today - and he summed up most of the points that he brings up in this posting today.

In addition to emailing us at our feedback address with every manner of invective, they called my office. My secretary stopped answering my telephone because callers swore at her. The telephone campaign reached a new low this morning, when someone purporting to be a reporter at a gay newspaper in Los Angeles called my office and asked me to comment on a "rumor" to the effect that there are photos floating around of me in a "tryst" with Jeff Gannon. Suffice it to say that these people are beyond unpleasant.
John, like any human, has his limits:
So that's the context in which I was reading emails a couple of days ago. I read about ten in a row that were vulgar and abusive in varying degrees; most were unprintable. At that point I snapped and lost my temper. I sent irate and intemperate replies to the last couple of emails I read--unfortunately, not the most abusive ones, but the ones I read after losing my temper.
One of them, of course, was the email from Mr. Guru, which I cited earlier today. The message was full of chuzzlewitted twaddle, not merely debunked but laughed out of rational conversation - but, as John admits in his mea culpa, by no means the worst he received. Mr. Guru was in the wrong place with the wrong email at the wrong time - or, given that his traffic spiked from the dozens into the thousands over the weekend, maybe the right box, message and time.

Rocket Man's email was out of order - he admits as much - but understandable; the droogs of the left are doing more than flirting with Nick Coleman's petty defamations, they're getting into some serious business, with their rumors and their verbal assaults on Hinderaker's secretary. I'm hoping somebody goes to jail or gets sued back to the Stone Age, honestly. I've been on the wrong end of a petit mal droog attack; I can't imagine what the entire, barking, scratching, poo-flinging Legion of the Invincibly Ignorant must be like. By the way, I've gotten a few comments and emails saying "if you can't stand the heat...", yadda yadda. I'd be interested in hearing if Nick Coleman covers this story (although not interested enough to listen to his show again), considering the, er, interesting phone and email responses I got from him earlier in the winter, answering my thoroughtly professional request for an interview. So to answer the commenters - do we all need thick skin? Sure. But having read, seen and heard the rants of the likes of everyone from Dan Rather (walking off camera) to Al Franken (his little tantrum at the convention) to Kos' downright dishonest, dishonorable reaction to the uproar over his his "screw 'em" comment, it's fairly clear that thick skin is rarer than one might think, and even after decades in the public eye (or months of one-sided adoration by legions of poo-flinging monkeys) develops some gaps.

By the way, Mr. Guru; your big "break" in the blogosphere came about due to a serious ethical indiscretion of your own. You published an email which, however intemperate, was intended as private communication, sent with a presumption of confidentiality. Publishing it is the sort of violation of confidence should earn you a solid non grata label, whoever you are. It won't matter to the lefty blogswarm, of course - to them, ethics is a four letter word.

But among the non-aligned and among those with whom you disagree, what you did should earn you a sound shunning.

Although at a couple dozen visits a day, that'd probably be overkill.

Mistakes happen. Yes, even if you're an unaccountable, unknown, anonymous leftyblogger.

Posted by Mitch at February 21, 2005 05:57 PM | TrackBack
Comments

"Monkeys flinging poo in zoo cages" is a good blog name.

Posted by: Doug at February 21, 2005 06:34 PM

Mitch writes:

And once, a local activist obsessive self-promoter publicized my email address to a batch of gay email discussion forums, bombarding my comment section with inflammatory tripe, and clogging my inbox not only with what I'd have to call "hate mail", but also putting me on every spam mailing list in the western world; my daily spam count jumped from about five a day to between 300-500 spam emails a day over the course of two weeks.

EY: I forwarded an email you sent to a public forum to some gay email forums. I also commented on your site.... It was because you had posted innaccurate and inflamatory statistics about lesbians. This was after several lesbians at Lucy's bar were roughed up by an off duty St Paul cop. I can go back and find the post if you'd like. It's still lurking over the the Log Cabin Republicans of Minnesota archives, if you want to bring this thread back again.

I don't send "hate mail". So rather than whining about it, I challenge you to produce any "hate mail" I sent you - either publically or privately.

There's a big difference between criticising someone's views and hate mail.

If someone impersonated a gay reporter, and asked Hindrocket to comment on the rumour that there were pictures floating about of Hindrocket and Jeff Gannon in compromising positions, that tactic was appalling. I've been the victim of someone in the gay community calling me at work, and pretending to do an article about Log Cabin Republicans (so I bit and talked), then used the information I gave to bash me on a gay list. So I know how nasty some people can get. This particular person justified this by saying this was standard journalistic practice.

I'd like to know exactly what I do that makes me a "self promoter". If you want to call me names, that's fine. I'd just like to know the specifics that make you give me characterization.

Eva

Posted by: Eva Young at February 21, 2005 10:53 PM

I didn't mention your name, Eva.

I'm not exhuming this thread, Eva.

Read again, by the way; I never said *you* sent hate mail. A number of the people on the eight or ten listserves you indiscriminately forwarded my private email address to, however, did. What you did was unethical, however you rationalize it to yourself. You set a precedent; "Disagree with Eva, and she'll sic all her batshit-crazy friends on your inbox". It, to say nothing of they, are not worth the time.

You are a self-promoter, Eva. So am I. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the term. It's not pejorative, but it is accurate; whatever the regional controversy, if the "G" or "L" words are heard anywhere in discussion, you are there.

Posted by: mitch at February 22, 2005 07:58 AM

Mitch,My mom always said to never let them see you sweat.You let them see you sweat.So what!There is nothing funnier than watching the Left lose the argument and predictably,spinoff into personal invective.That's all they have left in the quiver any more.The art of back and forth exchanges is gone.They're right and they don't want to hear it and I find that sad.

Posted by: Ed Viehman at February 22, 2005 09:22 AM

Honestly, I'm think posting email is fair game. If someone sends you a death threat, they probably do it with the assumption of privacy. However, no promise of privacy is given. Unless Hindrocket had said 'please keep private' it would have been assumed to be fair game. And, given the invective, the request would reasonably be ignored. I know I would have no qualms with posting such a angry, hateful email.

I like the Powerline guys myself, I love their blog. But their slips are no less off the record than Eason Jordan's in my eyes. Everyone loses their cool, the only thing I can say is that the point at which Hindrocket lost his was much higher than Franken or Rather. He took personal attacks personally, rather than questions about his talent, ability, or professionalism. There's no excuse, in my eyes, for that email Hindrocket sent out, but yeah, I understand. I've done it, and I regret it.

But I don't expect my rantings broadcast by email to be kept absolutely private.

Posted by: Aodhan at February 22, 2005 09:37 AM

Call me old-fashioned, I guess. I have pretty much always treated emails like phone messages; private. They give you a basis to write other things, and they can conceivably serve as evidence in court...

I wish I *didn't* see it that way, sometimes. I have a voice mail and a couple of emails from Nick Coleman that are absolute comedy gold.

Posted by: mitch at February 22, 2005 10:03 AM

Even Hinderaker's quasi-appology was superior to this justification for his uncivil behavior. There are sites on both sides that specialize in this mail-bomb attack -- Free Republic, LGF, DU -- and so Mitch's singling out of liberal sites for condemnation is myopic at best.

Posting email is sort of a gray area. From a technical perspective, email is just as public as a post card. A copy of the email you sent is stored for some period of time on every server it uses to find its way from point A to point B. Furthermore, copies exist at both the origin and destination. The message is unencrypted and fairly easy to intercept. You should not assume your email is private. You shouldn't write anything in an email you wouldn't want your mother (or a jury) to read.

The policy I've used on my blogs is that if I get hate mail, I'll publish it. I treat civil mail in a more personal manner.

As an aside, I found Ed's post above unintentionally hilarious: "There is nothing funnier than watching the Left lose the argument and predictably,spinoff into personal invective."

Ed, did you miss what happened? It was the Right that spun off into personal invective here.

Posted by: Luke Francl at February 22, 2005 11:09 AM

There's no myopia, Luke. I singled out lefty sites because they're the ones who've bum-rushed me. I know there are quite a few wacko freepers out there - and their excesses are amply documented, an effort that needs no help from me. However, Free Republic isn't the highest-trafficked blog in the world, and its proprietor isn't a paid consultant to the head of one of the nation's two political parties.

One thing I meant to put in my post, but omitted. Read Atrios or Ollie Willis for a while. "Invective" - the term overdignifies what should be called "facile scatology" and "rage masquerading as juvenile tantrum-throwing" - at the same level as Hinderaker's rash email is *commonplace*, in the form of normal posts!

Posted by: mitch at February 22, 2005 11:26 AM

I'm going off on a tangent: Eason Jordan's playing of the "off the record" card is disengenuous, false and arrogant. Anyone who's been in the info business as long as Jordan has knows that nothing is off the record, particularly not things that said repeatedly in front of large audiences of reporters.

Posted by: MLP at February 22, 2005 01:23 PM

Read again, by the way; I never said *you* sent hate mail. A number of the people on the eight or ten listserves you indiscriminately forwarded my private email address to, however, did. What you did was unethical, however you rationalize it to yourself. You set a precedent; "Disagree with Eva, and she'll sic all her batshit-crazy friends on your inbox". It, to say nothing of they, are not worth the time.

EY: Bull - I posted the email you publicized on your website and blog. The email I forwarded was an email you made to a public list. I do NOT feel that what I did was unethical at all.

Posted by: Eva Young at February 22, 2005 06:51 PM

I wish I *didn't* see it that way, sometimes. I have a voice mail and a couple of emails from Nick Coleman that are absolute comedy gold.

Then post them, Mitch - and let us decide for themselves - and compare the invective with the Powerline invective. Actually - why not call Nick Coleman up on his show and ask him for permission to post those emails..... Thing is, posting the emails takes away their power. It's so easy to describe how awful they are. Maybe when posted they won't be as awful as you claim.

My question is this: Was Hindrocket REALLY angry that so many of the emails he got on the subject were reasonable - and so he only had one really wacky one to post to show an example of "hate mail"?

Posted by: Eva Young at February 22, 2005 06:56 PM

MLP: I'm going off on a tangent: Eason Jordan's playing of the "off the record" card is disengenuous, false and arrogant. Anyone who's been in the info business as long as Jordan has knows that nothing is off the record, particularly not things that said repeatedly in front of large audiences of reporters.

EY: You could say the same about Hindrocket about Powerline about his email. Anyone whose been a lawyer like Rocketman should know not to write anything in an email that you don't expect to get on the front page.

Posted by: Eva Young at February 22, 2005 06:59 PM

"Bull - I posted the email you publicized on your website and blog."

Right. Along with my email address, to a group of email discussion groups to which I was not, and would never be, subscribed.

And, by the way, I have NEVER put *that* email address - at the time, "mitch@mitchberg.com" - on my blog, or ANY place visible to the general public, BECAUSE I didn't want to expose myself to spam or idiots. I used either "comments" or "Feedback@mitchberg.com" at the time, for exactly that reason.

"The email I forwarded was an email you made to a public list."

Wrong. It was a list where the *posts* were publicly readable, but in which the email *addresses* were screened from public view by Yahoo. And had that NOT been the case, I'd have never given an email address, because - ta daa - I didn't want Spam!

One of the reasons that Yahoogroups was chosen by E-Democracy was because of concerns about maing email addresses available to the general public - it was a concern of mine.

You seem to have trouble with several points, here, Eva. One is that the issue isn't the post itself, but the fact that you publicized my *private* email address (used on E-Demcracy ONLY because it was supposed to be closely held) to a bunch of sites populated by wackjobs, and which are regularly harvested by spambots.

"I do NOT feel that what I did was unethical at all."

I'm sure you don't. You're still wrong. Because of that, I will keep all communication with you on a very short leash. To you, the end seems to justify the means, and I suspect it always will.

Posted by: mitch at February 22, 2005 09:42 PM

"Then post them, Mitch - and let us decide for themselves - and compare the invective with the Powerline invective."

Because I am an ethical person. I will not splash something to the world that was sent with an expectation of privacy.

"Actually - why not call Nick Coleman up on his show and ask him for permission to post those emails....."

Er, no.

" Thing is, posting the emails takes away their power. It's so easy to describe how awful they are. Maybe when posted they won't be as awful as you claim."

Didn't say awful. Just gratingly stupid.

We'll see.

Posted by: mitch at February 22, 2005 09:57 PM

Learn from W: Say nothing. Let them poo in their own cage. (Yes this is hard.)

Posted by: Gideon at February 23, 2005 12:37 AM

Mitch, we're just going to have to agree to disagree. The list you posted on was the St Paul list - NOT the E Democracy list.

I also believe at the time, I apologised to you for including your email address in those emails - though not for reposting your post - with my comments.

Posted by: Eva Young at February 23, 2005 04:51 PM

I have no problem with agreeing to disagree. Because this post was about the response you get when hordes of pinheads get exercised.

It's not about you circulating my email - it's about the pinheads who wrote me.

Posted by: mitch at February 24, 2005 05:46 AM

"Mitch, we're just going to have to agree to disagree. "

Let's see if I remember this correctly:

Eva distributes Mitch's posting and private email to a group of gay zealot sites, a move that seems to fit given her apparent desire to be recognized as the official gay pundit of the Twin Cities.

Mitch, after getting hate mail and lots (thousands?) of spam and having to go to unreasonable lengths to remedy the spam, complains.

Eva gains publicity for her efforts and her blog. Mitch is out time, effort and an email account.

Eva says "we'll agree to disagree".

Seems perfecly fair to me.

Posted by: Allison at February 24, 2005 08:09 AM
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