Monday, August 25, 2008

Why is Richard Cohen so Thin Skinned.

Matthew Yglesias asks. I try to answer

So why are they so thin skinned ?

My number 1 hypothesis is that they are used to dealing with people who are afraid of them. Cohen can’t get back at mr anonymous e-mailer or even ms non-anonymous e-mailer. That scares him.

This reminds me of a weird article criticizing the Obama campaign which quoted Adam Nagourney complaining that they criticized his idiotic “Obama hasn’t healed the racial divide yet” article. He was quoted as saying something like”if you have a problem with something I write, tell me, I’m a big boy I can handle it, but don’t attack me on the web”. Just imagine his reaction if Obama had said that to him in response to a critical article. Nagourney thinks that he is the judge and it is contempt of court to treat him as a defendant or even a lawyer. He believes in public accountability for others but not for himself.

I think that the shear volume of criticism made possible by e-mail is overwhelming. Richard Cohen can’t respond reasonably to all of it.

He could pick 5 complaints at random (at least he could if he were able to use a pseudo random number generator) and respond to them.

There is also, in principle, a distinction between criticism and vilification (and don’t I know it. I live in a country where the constitution declares that there is freedom of speach and the criminal code describes the prison sentences for various kinds of vilification (villipendio)).

Now the reasonable thing to do with vilification is to ignore it (and especially not waste precious space in the Washington Post whining). Also it is tempting to ignore criticism because it is mixed with vilification, even if they are only mixed because they are in the same e-mail inbox.

I think I would understand these people better if they reported some vilification they received (after anonymizing the source of course). I’d really really like that. But I can’t remember the last time a complaint of this source was mixed with evidence (might be this one I haven’t read the op-ed). I would guess that the communist-like vilification isn’t reported, because it is a lot more convincing than a claim that, say, Cohen is an objectively pro-McCain right deviationist. My betcha is that he counts quotes of his op-ed on Powell’s testimony as vilification.

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