Blogging and blurting
Jeffrey Goldberg quotes a rabbi friend of his who worries that "the Internet puts a premium on speed. To blog is to blurt. Quick, you got an email, so respond. If you were responding in a letter, you might take time to think and think again. Speed is the friend of reaction and the enemy of thought."
I actually think this isn't such a problem so long as people are fairly generous about what they read. Writers make mistakes and, more often even than that, express themselves unclearly. But that's not much of a problem when it's on your blog as you can clarify and correct. When it travels to other blogs in order to advance their agenda, however, the follow-ups rarely, well, follow.
Which is why I was amused to read this particular concern on Goldberg's blog. A couple of days ago, Goldberg piled on with an ungenerous read of my post noting that Faisal Shahzad's home was in foreclosure. Goldberg's interpretation was that I'd argued "that the country's financial crisis, and not, say, jihadist ideology, is at the root of Shahzad's desire to commit murder in Times Square," which was odd given that I hadn't made any mention of the relative weight of jihadist ideology in Shahzad's motivations.
Actually, as I explained in a clarifying post that did not appear on Goldberg's blog (even as he posted another follow-up calling me "silly" for an argument I'd now publicly and clearly said I wasn't making), my point was that Shahzad's mental disturbances and personal problems will get a lot of attention, but there's this terrible economic tragedy that's wrecking lives all across the country even as the economy seems to be slowly recovering, and the unlikely connection between a radical Pakistani terrorist suspect and the foreclosure crisis is a reminder of how many people are caught up in it.
Instead, of course, I got caught up in Goldberg's agenda, and because a particular reading of a particular post fit a particular ideological hobbyhorse of his, that's how it was presented on his blog. Goldberg didn't write to ask me if I'd really meant to say what he thought I said, and he didn't check back to see if I'd said anything further.
And that's fine. It's all in the game, as they say. In fact, I'm sure I've done it myself. But the problem with blogging isn't that you blurt things out or write them incorrectly. A willingness to explain yourself and a decent relationship with your readers will always protect you against such slips. It's that other writers -- like, well, Jeffrey Goldberg -- will trumpet those slips when it serves their agenda. And so long as that's the norm, blurting really is dangerous. Though Goldberg might want to think harder about why.
Postscript: The argument I didn't mean to make later appeared in a New York Times story. "People who knew [Shahzad], both in Connecticut and in Pakistan, said he had changed in the past year or so, becoming more reserved and more religious as he faced what someone who knows the family well called 'their financial troubles.'"
But the issue with foreclosure-as-explanation isn't that money troubles can't drive someone to murder. It's that they're not sufficient to drive someone to murder. If the only way to stop terrorism is to stop bankruptcy, then you can't stop terrorism, as I'd think would be obvious.)
May 7, 2010; 3:27 PM ET
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