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Hate in the Media


“In the course of a few years," writes Michael Gerson, "a fringe party was able to define a national community by scapegoating internal enemies; elevate a single, messianic leader; and keep the public docile with hatred while the state committed unprecedented crimes. The adaptive use of new technology was central to this achievement."

That party? The Nazis. That technology? Talk radio. But Gerson's subject is not talk radio or the Nazis, but the vast expanses of the Internet. "User-driven content on the Internet often consists of bullying, conspiracy theories and racial prejudice," writes Gerson, which is interesting, as I thought it consisted of porn and teenagers holding party cups. "The absolute freedom of the medium paradoxically encourages authoritarian impulses to intimidate and silence others," he continues. "The least responsible contributors see their darkest tendencies legitimated and reinforced, while serious voices are driven away by the general ugliness."

That doesn't describe the Internet I know (unless, for some reason, you don't think Autotune the News is a serious voice), but the Internet is big, and Gerson might visit parts I miss. "The exploitation of technology by hatred will never be eliminated," he concludes. "But hatred must be confined to the fringes of our culture -- as the hatred of other times should have been."

What's striking is that this doesn't really describe the Internet. Hateful voices remain on the fringe. And they stay on the fringe. The beauty of the Internet is that it's pretty much all fringe. Controlling a Web site or a blogspot domain is not like controlling a radio station or a television network.

Gerson's examples, in fact, come from comment threads, which virtually disproves his thesis. But there is a major medium where the hateful voices sit firmly in control of the content, and it's the same medium that begins Gerson's remarks: talk radio. And, to a lesser extent, cable news. That's where society's most hateful conspiracy theories sit and fester, where its most explosive lies are recounted and amplified, where its least responsible elites have control of the means of production. I don't worry about jewhater429, the 97th entrant in a comment thread. I worry about Beck and Limbaugh and Savage.

Photo credit: By Ron Edmonds – The Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  September 25, 2009; 2:59 PM ET
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I disprove Gerson thusly:

lksjdlgkjas;iga yabba dabba doo!

No one else who wants to comment, constructively or disruptively, need take any notice of the gibberish I just wrote.

One comparison I will draw. Talk radio is sheepdogs driving sheep. Internet stuff is Thursday night in the crazy cat lady's living room.

Posted by: bdballard | September 25, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Wow, a comment thread is about as close as you can get to literally being on the fringe.

Posted by: you-dont | September 25, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

"I don't worry about jewhater429, the 97th entrant in a comment thread. I worry about Beck and Limbaugh and Savage."

And what's more, prominent conservative politicians adopt some of the language that oozes out of those hate radio shows. So now you've got GOPers arguing equivalence in vitriol between the parties by comparing internet commenters to elected officials and unelected broadcast demagogues. With those standards I could convince any reasonable person that my car is, in fact, a Brontosaurus.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | September 25, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

"I worry about Beck and Limbaugh and Savage."

Do you also worry about Olbermann, Maddow, and Matthews?

Posted by: kingstu01 | September 25, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Micheal Gerson bravely taking on anonymous commentors while letting sitting Conressmen upbraid the President for not showing "humility".

Posted by: endaround | September 25, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

"I don't worry about jewhater429.." You don't worry? You were hosting them, you were toasting them, you were egging them on in your former blog!?!?! There simply was no more anti-Israel site to be found than yours, West of the Gaza strip.

Posted by: truck1 | September 25, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Do you also worry about Olbermann, Maddow, and Matthews?

No, because in no way are they equivalent. They don't make up stuff like death panels, they don't praise the 14th amendment's slave language. They don't sing Barrack the magic negro. They don't make up lies about birth certificates, etc...
They don't behave like Beck and Limbaugh and Savage.

Posted by: ibemsw | September 25, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

I've read Klein from before the Prospect hosted his blog; truck1's claim that Ezra is anti-Israel is absurd. And many sane bloggers are far more critical of Israel - not counting biased, insane sites.

Posted by: WarrenTerra | September 25, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

"The absolute freedom of the medium paradoxically encourages authoritarian impulses to intimidate and silence others"

I guess what Mr. Gerson means to say is that Freedom is Slavery.
To avoid thoughtcrimes it is much safer to rely on talk radio and other fair and balanced sources.

Posted by: justthefacts3 | September 26, 2009 1:14 AM | Report abuse

The claim that he is anti Israel is far from absurd. Did you read the old blog? There was a hair trigger reaction blaming Israel moments after anything occurred in the middle east. The scope of this new blog is just more limited, or you would see it, and his amen corner, once more. I never said this point of view was "insane." It was just uniformly and always on the side of the enemies of the Jewish state, that's all.

Posted by: truck1 | September 26, 2009 6:04 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: ibemsw

"No, because in no way are they equivalent."

Keep on bleating like the unthinking sheep you are.

Posted by: bobmoses | September 28, 2009 6:42 AM | Report abuse

"The belligerence would not be tolerated if the perpetrators' identities were known "

The above statement in Mr. Gerson's column needs to be refuted. What would happen is that the Glen Beck's and Rush Limpbaugh's of the internet would then be able to identify anyone who disagrees with their slime and take it out personally. Identifying commenters would allow the right wing to attack them in more than just words, not the other way around.

Posted by: dkmjr | September 28, 2009 11:12 PM | Report abuse

Well, the NeoCons shut the fourth estate up during the Bush Administration.

No reporter could speak negatively of decisions made during those years for fear of losing their seat on Air Force One or the White House press room.

It was all just another swipe by the Bush Administration against the Constitution.

And now that the NeoCons are no longer in control, they're looking for new ways of shutting down the freedom of individual speech by calling out the commenter's on these pages by attempting to compare them to Nazis.

And foolishly, I thought our country got past the notion that burning books like Mein Kampf was a positive step in our democracy.

Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | September 28, 2009 11:52 PM | Report abuse

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