O'Reilly Last Night

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Feb 28, 2008 11:28 AM
I was on, talking about the Internets as usual, when Bill went and compared vile commenters at HuffPo, and by extension Arianna Huffington herself, to the Klan and Nazis.

I said, "uh, what?" and made it clear that I disagreed with him on that one. As much as I dislike Huffington's politics and some of the site's practices, the idea that she and her commenters are morally equivalent to Klansmen or Nazis is just ludicrous. And, if we claim they are, we're as bad as the Bush Derangement suffers constantly calling the president a Nazi.

Is there a disproportionate and unfortunate amount of death-wishing for conservatives on Left blogs? Yes. Every time a conservative gets hurt or dies, there's inevitably a celebration comment thread at a prominent Left blog. It happened when Tony Snow's cancer came back and when William F. Buckley died yesterday (the Democratic Underground thread was a gem). These threads often feature a few brave souls who discourage the trash-talk, but they're usually greatly outnumbered by haters. Does Arianna Huffington need to take personal responsibility for the comments in those threads when they get out of hand on a site with her name on it? Yes, and she has to some extent, already. There is a moderation policy in place, and threads are often shut down when the they're likely to get dicey. The thread about William F. Buckley's death, for instance, was never open for comments yesterday as far as I could tell.

As always, I'm on the free-speech side of this issue. Each site's proprietor has a responsibility to not allow his comment sections to become racist, sexist, violent cesspools, and some sites are better at fostering a decent comment culture than others. But just because some sites become nasty is not a reason to demand regulation of the Internet, as Bill sometimes suggests, or to suggest that because some people in a comment section are juvenile jerks, that a site is Nazi-like in any way. The best way to deal with coarse commentary on the Internet is to point it out, shine a little sunlight, and push site proprietors to foster cultures of decency on their own sites.

Comments sections can be nasty places, and there are very few sites that can claim theirs are totally and completely clean (including this one), no matter what moderation policies are in place. Things will always get through, but the important thing is to make sure the nasty comments are the exception, not the rule. The Left blogs could do a much better job of curbing the culture of conserva-hatred in their comments sometimes, but I'll stay on the right side of Godwin's Law on this one, thanks.

Here's a Left blog's take on the segment last night.