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Flame wars singe Politico

No one online is safe from the flame wars.

It's a problem facing every media outlet: you want a vigorous debate about your stories and postings, but you don't want to be overwhelmed by obscene and libelous attacks. And who has the time and resources to set up a commentary police?

Some have simply thrown up their hands and disallowed comments. And a handful of newspapers have taken the sensible step of requiring that commenters use their real names, as if they were submitting a letter to the editor.

There are certain writers, because of their ideological opinions or inflammatory style, who you'd expect to draw plenty of nasty criticism. It sort of comes with the territory.

But Ben Smith is not one of them. The Politico blogger is a mainstream guy who talks to both sides and isn't pushing a point of view. The Daily Beast says he's getting hammered just the same:

"My blog was at first given over to Obama-backers attacking me ... as a racist and a Clinton tool," Smith says. "Then to Clinton die-hards, attacking me and others as Obama minions; then mostly back to the Obama supporters attacking me as a neocon. And now that the energy is on the right, to conservatives attacking me as a pawn of the White House."

Smith has been called a "weasel," a "flaming liberal," a "Journolister," a "liberal hack," an "establishment politico" who will be eaten by Sarah Palin for lunch, a "first grader," "a basketball player with no jump shot," a "piece of snot," a "3 year old transexual, wanker," and a "commie."

When Smith recently published a bland, one-paragraph post, highlighting an ABC News report about GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, the first comment was "Shut the [expletive] up ben, and take your journOlist buddies to cuba."...

Longtime political blogger Andrew Sullivan has never incorporated a commenting section on The Daily Dish, a decision he says was originally a way to avoid getting sued for libel. Instead, comments are curated, a model Sullivan says he is "quite proud of." He never actually edits the contents of the contributions but instead serves up only those he and his co-editors deem worth sharing. ...

Last year, Gawker Media introduced a tiered system on and other sites, in which trusted commenters would be given a gold star for their thoughtful contributions and, with it, free reign to post; unapproved commenters would see their comments hidden behind a "Show all comments on this post" link, effectively combining commenting software with the watchful eye of a human moderator wielding the banhammer against nastiness and thread-jacking.

What do you think? And hey, go easy on me.

By Howard Kurtz  |  September 13, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Latest stories  
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If you don't want comments, don't have comments. If you do have comments, though, don't "curate" them. I am sure that the Washington Post considers itself to be 100% middle-of-the road. To most Americans, though, it would seem left-of-center. My experience at other left-of- center sites is that, when "curating" is done, conservative comments are held to a different standard than are left-wing comments. The Left is indulged its traditional puerile rhetorical exuberance - including defamatory comments, etc. Conservatives are expected to act like stogy adults. While you may not see yourself as doing this, (the attitude being - after all they really ARE "f**king NASCAR retards" so what is wrong in saying it?) certainly most conservative posters will perceive you to have applied different standards, and eventually you will get nothing but the most casual and facile of conservative comments. The comments section will become an echo chamber of Ackerman-ish rants.

Posted by: dante99654 | September 13, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Kurtz, you facist for promoting censorship tools on the internet! You're a tool of Obama and his browncoats...or Bush...ummm, yeah.

I've chuckled a lot at various blogs, including ones like The Fix here at the Washington Post, that get these kinds of comments lobbed from people on both extremes. One day a person can be a liberal commie, and then the next the same person is a right-wing neocon, depending on the commenter. Basically, the anonymous commenters demand that journalists transform themselves into partisan hacks for one side or the other. Try to be objective, and all sides hammer the person. Considering that the accusation is often that the person is a hack for one party or the other, the implicit demands placed upon the person are fairly ironic--become a partisan hack for our side instead!

There's really no winning in this war, except to do as others have done and restrict comments in some way or another. Even this probably won't completely stop the trolls and flamers. Many of them are simply narcissistic fools who want to hear themselves talk, and they will often keep trying to post, even if their comments remain hidden.

Posted by: blert | September 14, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

What was inaccurate about "Journolister"....?
Things are just not going very well for the lib/dem media...

Posted by: d1carter | September 14, 2010 1:06 AM | Report abuse

When I was a kid, my father, one of five brothers, used to take me out to his family's barn in Ontario and point to a hole. "There’s enough p** in that hole to go all the way to China," he’d say. That's how most of the commentary seems, people using the space as their private/public litter box.

Posted by: patr2 | September 14, 2010 2:50 AM | Report abuse

"If you don't want comments, don't have comments.
If you do have comments, though, don't "curate" them.
I am sure that the Washington Post considers itself to be 100% middle-of-the road. To most Americans, though, it would seem left-of-center.
My experience at other left-of-center sites is that, when "curating" is done, conservative comments are held to a different standard than are left-wing comments.
The Left is indulged its traditional puerile rhetorical exuberance -- including defamatory comments, etc.
Conservatives are expected to act like stogy adults."
Posted by: dante99654 | September 13, 2010 5:03PM
Well, "curating comments" is debatable, in my opinion.
The Washington Post allows all comers to post comments.
Some of the comments are loathsome.
At first, back during the campaign in 2007-8, I tried to answer them, but usually that only provoked an even nastier response, so I gave up trying.
The truly "snarky" comments (that's what I call them -- name-calling, labeling, demeaning, etc.) came from all sides.
Nothing is sacred.
Nowadays, I try to stick to the subject of the article, such as the Gulf Oil Spill, for example, and ignore all the snarkiness.
The New York Times "curates" their comments and I appreciate that.
They appear to try to keep comments on subject.
I don’t notice that any partisan comments by nature are held back.
However, I do notice there is an absence of crudity, which I appreciate.
The conversation in the NYT comments sections are intelligent and informative with some derogatory statements, but few that are rank in their offensiveness.
The Houston Chronicle also accepts all comers to post comments.
They get a lot of partisan political snarks, as well; many comments are, in my opinion, crude and discriminatory.
It pays to ignore those types of comments.
I can understand why Ben Smith and other journalists and those who write opinion pieces can get very depressed at the responses at times.
The partisan gulf in this country has become unbelievably deep and wide.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | September 14, 2010 3:42 AM | Report abuse

I only wish the Post would limit the amount of characters allowed in the comment sections. Some people post other articles in the comment section or write lengthy editorials.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | September 14, 2010 7:53 AM | Report abuse

I have said this to Howard Kurtz in discussions and I will say it again. For decades, newspapers would only publish letters to the editor that were signed and had contact information, including a phone number. I had letters published in both the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post back then and I was always phoned and asked (1) if I were really the person who sent the letter and (2) did I agree that the paper could publish it.

I realize that one can't do that with web comments, but I do believe there would be less garbage spewed online, from both the right and the left, if people had to comment under their real names and with a verifiable email address.

I was taught, years ago, that writing anonymously, unless in extraordinary circumstance, was cowardly. That's why I use my real name when I post. It's called standing by your words.

Posted by: jhpurdy | September 14, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Having comments is totally optional, I regularly read sites that both do and don't allow comments. The value of site is not determined by comments.

I'm in an apparent minority that finds comments interesting. Comments provide a quick take on info about readers beliefs and hot buttons.

Posted by: pilsener | September 14, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I'm a reader. As you see, I post anonymously. This is so here and elsewhere, and I have been attacked for some fairly milquetoast thoughts along the way, with few ambitions except the little egoic charge of contributing to the discussion.

But some of the vitriol that gets poured onto these blogs is embarrassing, and I think the author of the main blog piece has the right to exclude anything he or she finds to be patently offensive or just plain off topic.

It's clear that partisans have ganged up on both sides to clog the blogs with their opinions, to move the 'fair and balanced' ledger onto their side of the field, and that it's been going on for quite a while. That's my observation - to some, it's opinion of it's own kind and evidence of bias - no way to prove such things, you see.

If there are loosely edited sections, then unedited sections of comments, and readers have a choice, it will be interested to see where readers will spend their time, over time, and interesting to see which behavior will prove worthy of keeping as meaningful discourse in our coming election season.

I say let the moderator decide...

Posted by: thanksforfish | September 14, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

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