Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Times Blogger Defends Approval of Comments Hoping Tony Snow Suffered

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 11:17 am

A L.A. Times blogger has responded to my post below about the L.A. Times‘s decision to green-light over 20 comments containing sentiments like this:


Each of these comments had to be personally approved by someone at the L.A. Times. A note at the blog says: “Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they’ve been approved.” It’s true; I tried leaving a comment there myself, and it did not immediately appear.

In a comment to my post, blogger Andrew Malcolm decried these comments as “vile and despicable.” But he defended the decision to approve these hateful comments, saying: “we do moderate the Comments, most often for crude language. Never for whether we agree with them.”

Malcolm says the comments I quoted are “a very tiny minority of the some 52,000 comments left on The Ticket in recent months” — but does not mention that they are about 1/4 of the comments to the post about Snow’s death.

As Malcolm points out, there are also a good number of other comments that are kind to Snow, including several that remonstrate the ghouls for their ugly comments. I reproduced the ugly ones because those are the ones that I’m shocked were approved, without any disapproving commentary from the blog proprietors.

As I said below, if Malcolm thinks the comments were “vile and despicable,” why not say that in his own comments section?!?! Maybe that would have discouraged this slime.

Meanwhile, is it the case that profanity is considered offensive — but hoping that someone suffered when they died is not?

I updated the post below to note Malcolm’s comment and my reaction, but I thought it might be worth a new post, to make sure you saw it.


  1. “most often for crude language.”

    So, if a commenter who uses profanity in their daily conversations in the public square made this comment, it would be banned?

    Tony Snow was a f****ing awsome man. Rest in Peace

    But if a commenter who was not one to use profanity in the public square, made this comment, it would be acceptable?

    Tony Snow was a freaking moron who deserved to a long and painful death. Good riddance to a scoundrel.

    Just checking.

    Comment by Dana (aec96d) — 7/13/2008 @ 11:28 am

  2. The next step will be to assign “false flag” posting by GOP operatives, because Democrats are never mean, and never lie.

    Comment by cboldt (3d73dd) — 7/13/2008 @ 11:30 am

  3. There is one good thing about the LA Times publishing these vile comments. I soon may have my own blog on my newspaper’s Web site. The LAT has shown me exactly what to avoid.

    Comment by Bradley J Fikes (0ea407) — 7/13/2008 @ 11:51 am

  4. Bradley, I thought you already knew how to remain classy in comment moderation. :)

    Comment by Paul (ae2fbe) — 7/13/2008 @ 11:54 am

  5. Bradley,

    Good luck on new blog. I hope you will post a link here.

    Comment by DRJ (ec597e) — 7/13/2008 @ 11:59 am

  6. Well, I guess I’m the lone voice of dissent. I understand screening for profanity — it’s a courtesy to readers and people know what words are considered profane. However, I don’t want internet comments moderated for content because it makes it too easy for comments to be over-scrutinized, sanitized, or deleted.

    If the LA Times wants to do something about situations like this, it can institute a policy of closed comments for Obituaries. It can leave comments open for news articles about the deaths of public persons. It’s not a perfect solution but I think it’s appropriate.

    Comment by DRJ (ec597e) — 7/13/2008 @ 12:09 pm

  7. DRJ,

    Even those of us who have been doing this for 5 years can be surprised, thinking that people will be classier than they will.

    I recently posted on Ted Kennedy’s illness and closed comments because I didn’t want to deal with nastiness.

    When it was revealed he had a tumor, I did a new post. I saw comments on Hot Air and Michelle Malkin that were (at the time) 100% decent, and thought: hey, maybe I can open up comments.

    I should have known that someone would start talking about Chappaquiddick and karma, and sho ‘nuf, someone did. (Only 1-2 people, hardly 1/4 of the comments, but even one is embarrassing.) Now, I will often institute a rule like I did with Tony Snow yesterday, or just close comments.

    Oh — MM and Hot Air ended up getting a few nasty comments too. And Michelle’s ended up in Howard Kurtz’s column! I’m sure he’ll be all over these! Right?!?!

    Now, I don’t approve all comments here by hand. (Can you imagine?) Would I have approved the karma comment? Hmm. Without a rule in advance, maybe — but I would certainly have immediately done what I did do when I saw that appear: criticize it. Tell readers that sort of comment is inappropriate, regardless of politics. I’d do it for a sick or dead liberal or conservative.

    Now, do you have a problem with that? With doing what I suggest in this post (read it again!) — namely, criticizing such commentary and making it clear that it is disapproved?

    Comment by Patterico (cb443b) — 7/13/2008 @ 12:23 pm

  8. Yet the LAT refused to allow a comment of mine because I assume it mentioned their fake Iraq soldier photo.

    Comment by Patricia (f56a97) — 7/13/2008 @ 12:44 pm

  9. I have three questions:

    Why do people read anything the L. A. Tass Times publishes?

    Why do people read anything that is attributed to or suspected of coming from the Associated Press?

    Why does anybody read Andrew Sullivan?

    Comment by Larry Sheldon (86b2e1) — 7/13/2008 @ 12:50 pm

  10. It’s their paper – they can make their own rules.

    But they shouldn’t then turn around and claim to “moderate” their posts. That’s not a rule they’re enforcing.

    Or they could say “We do our best to eliminate profanity, ‘cuz that hurts our delicate ears, but if someone wants to p*** on the grave of someone recently departed, why, that’s just free speech. Why it’s offensive to say offensive words but it’s not offensive to be offensive is not for us to figure out. We’re too busy spinning on our moral axes.”

    I wouldn’t wish Ted Kennedy ill. I don’t like his politics or life choices – but he’s still a human being who deserves respect as anyone else on this planet.

    I don’t understand the need for leftists to dance on the graves of their enemies. And I don’t understand how someone who merely disagrees with them is their enemy.

    Comment by steve miller (0fb51f) — 7/13/2008 @ 12:56 pm

  11. People are still reading Andy Sullivan? Who knew‽

    Comment by steve miller (0fb51f) — 7/13/2008 @ 12:57 pm

  12. I think any blogger has the right to arbitrarily determine which, if any, comments are posted. I may not like it, but I think each blogger has that right when it comes to his, her or its blog. On the other hand, I would prefer that, other than screening for merely gratuitous profanity and, if possible, for false flag postings, that comments not be blocked at all. Assuming for the sake of argument that comments wishing a political opponent suffered pain are not false flag postings, such postings certainly tell us something about the poster. In my decades of adult life (all of which I have registered to vote as an independent), I’ve noticed that Republicans tend to be much more objective than Democrats.

    Comment by Ira (28a423) — 7/13/2008 @ 1:03 pm

  13. Hi Paul and DRJ,

    The trouble is knowing where to draw the line. In the past, I have been too lax, and lost a good member on the Swamp because of it. And the comments on our stories at the North County Times are bewailed by reporters because so much hateful nonsense gets added in the comments. What I learned from that is you have to establish control, and it is best done by one person, not a committee.

    That is a lesson I’m going to bring to the other reporters, who are squeamish about allowing their nascent blogs to be turned into sewers. They are going to have to take ownership of the comments section, even at the risk of being accused of “censorship”. (I put that in quotes because only the government can censor).

    Comment by Bradley J Fikes (0ea407) — 7/13/2008 @ 1:22 pm

  14. I also think that people that post with their own names tend to be less crazy than people that post with pseudonyms. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but it seems to be (therefore, fact!) that posting with a pseudonym gives you freedom to say nasty things you’d be ashamed to say if people knew who you were.

    Comment by steve miller (0fb51f) — 7/13/2008 @ 1:27 pm

  15. Patterico,

    I don’t have a problem in theory with your point and you’ve obviously thought about this more than I have, but I’m still iffy on this in practice. How do you write a standard that one (or more) employee-moderators will interpret in a consistent manner as they decide which comments deserve a cautionary comment and which ones pass muster? And won’t that process significantly slow down moderation, reducing the interactive nature of the debate?

    The flaw in my logic may be that I’m thinking of this by analogy: To me, blogs are like someone’s home where bloggers invite people in for discussion. Any discussion is subject to the rules of the house and those can vary significantly among blogs.

    On the other end of the spectrum are newspaper and forum websites like MyDD and Free Republic, places that could be likened to convention centers and other public gathering places. I think the rules at these sites are typically more open and freewheeling, subject only to clearly defined rules such as a ban on profanity. But I freely admit I could be completely wrong on this.

    Comment by DRJ (ec597e) — 7/13/2008 @ 1:34 pm

  16. As usual with MSM outlets like the LAT, as long as the commenters generally agree with the editor’s opinions, then no problem. But if they don’t, or heaven forbid there’s any actual criticism of the outlet itself, no dice. The old axiom of “free speech for me, but not for thee” would seem to apply here.

    Comment by Dmac (416471) — 7/13/2008 @ 1:35 pm

  17. Bradley,

    I understand your point. One of the lead newspapers on the FLDS/Texas story was the San Angelo Standard Times. The Standard Times did a good job covering that story and diligently posted stories on its website. But it’s a small newspaper in a small town and the traffic on its website took a huge leap, including many hateful comments on both sides of the issue. Ultimately the Standard Times took down all comments for a 30-day “cooling off” period. As you note, the lesson learned was that it couldn’t have comments without control.

    I guess I’m wary of control, especially given the attitudes of most big city newspaper employees. The only way to fairly control comments would be either (A) write lengthy rules that end up reading like the Tax Code or (B) falling back on the Supreme Court obscenity standard of “I know it when I see it.” I prefer option (C) almost anything goes, but I’m happy to let each blog and website decide it’s own rules. Then consumers can pick the forum that suits them.

    Comment by DRJ (ec597e) — 7/13/2008 @ 1:46 pm

  18. Let’s test the Los Angeles Times’ resolve.

    A few years ago, their biased media critic died of cancer. Let’s post on their Tony Snow stories that the world is better with one less biased journalist polluting it. You know, with a “hope David Shaw suffered greatly” thrown in for good measure.

    I’ll bet everyone a bottle of whatever that …

    1) The Times deletes them, but not before …
    2) Howie Kurtz writes about them.

    Comment by The Hound (eee299) — 7/13/2008 @ 1:53 pm

  19. I dislike the rationalizations used to excuse hatred upon one’s death. Really, why even have a Comment section for obits?

    However, if the paper feels the need to let readers comment, then perhaps they can make a courageous stand for decency and instead of a Comments section identify it as a Tribute section with a helpful hint for those slow on the uptake:

    Out of respect for the family, if you have nothing nice to say, then please refrain from posting.

    One sentence, short, sweet, to the point.

    Comment by Dana (aec96d) — 7/13/2008 @ 2:44 pm

  20. There is an interesting thread that runs through all this: the idea that free expression is paramount. But I don’t consider the right to snark cruelly at the death of someone—regardless of politics—to be “free expression.”

    To me, liberty is not license.

    True blue/red/purple Libertartians will disagree with this. I respect that point of view for consistency. The folks at FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: have taught me that the solution to “bad speech” is more speech.

    But the real issue in comments sections is allowing people to bully one another (or insult the families of those who have lost loved ones).

    Maybe the right solution is a uniquely Libertarian one: the folks who run the blog get to make the rules. Period. If they want to provide a no-holds-barred Fight Club, fine. Posters will learn that, and post or not post as they please. If the blogmeisters want to restrict or regulated posted speech in any way, that is their right. Mr. Frey’s model (and Bradley Fikes’) are good ones.

    But too often, commenters act out Mr/Ms. Tough Guy acts over the Internet. Maybe a walk through the ocean of their souls would not get your feet wet, or maybe they are just shooting their mouths off.

    Freedom of choice.

    As for the LA TIMES, their position on this is not respectable, since they played fast and loose with statistics to support their z actions. And they are a company, not an individual blog.

    All politics is local. Most people would be loathe to make nasty remarks about the death of a political opponent…if they knew that person well. The Internet allows anonymity. It is good in some ways, but bad in others.

    All that being said, I was disgusted by many of the posts about Tony Snow. And when/if rightwingers do similar sorts of things about Ted Kennedy, why, that is/would be equally disgusting.

    Sorry for the speech.

    Comment by Eric Blair (e8a68b) — 7/13/2008 @ 3:01 pm

  21. If the collective historical collection of SCOTUS Justices cannot describe pornography, how on earth would anyone propose to describe “inappropriate” reactions to anything?

    I’m with DRJ on this one. We need fewer gatekeepers. Let the public decide what it wishes to read. Let the vile and/or evil writers be exposed with the cleansing light of the sun.

    BUT…if Pat wants to impose any restrictions whatsoever on his forum, he gets to.

    Comment by Ed (d17ceb) — 7/13/2008 @ 3:03 pm

  22. I don’t understand the need for leftists to dance on the graves of their enemies. And I don’t understand how someone who merely disagrees with them is their enemy.

    This is the dilemma that makes liberals heads explode. They ridiculed GWB for his “You’re either with us or against us” stance on something deadly serious (i.e., the GWOT), but that’s the stance these dirtbags take when it comes to something less serious – political disagreement.

    Comment by Dr. K (5139b5) — 7/13/2008 @ 3:23 pm

  23. If the collective historical collection of SCOTUS Justices cannot describe pornography, how on earth would anyone propose to describe “inappropriate” reactions to anything?

    How about: “If you would not say that to the target’s face (or his relatives if deceased) as you would likely get your ass kicked, then don’t post it”.


    “Consider how you would feel if someone said the same about your loved one.”

    Simple tests, really.

    All it takes is a little self-control.

    But we know how difficult that is for your typical liberal.

    Comment by Dr. K (5139b5) — 7/13/2008 @ 3:30 pm

  24. “…when it comes to something less serious – political disagreement.”

    This is the fundamental problem I see with those on the far Left lunatic fringe – they’re stuck on their mantras of the 70′s, aka “The political IS the personal.” All vernacular was designed for the special interests groups that began the fight for the soul of the Dem party – and won. They cannot disagree with anyone who opposes them politically without resorting to the demonization of their character, instead of engaging them on the validity of their ideas. A thin intellectual gruel, indeed.

    Comment by Dmac (416471) — 7/13/2008 @ 3:43 pm

  25. I guess I’m wary of control, especially given the attitudes of most big city newspaper employees. . . I prefer option (C) almost anything goes, but I’m happy to let each blog and website decide it’s own rules. Then consumers can pick the forum that suits them.

    You’re right that a subjective standard is easy to abuse. But I speak from bitter experience that the trouble with option (C) is it gives bullies an advantage over those kinder souls who don’t like to quarrel, but who have worthwhile things to say. Gresham’s Law applied to conversation. That experience has caused me to change my mind and look more sympathetically on carefully moderated comments.

    Perhaps the most practical answer is to have different standards for different blogs at the same newspaper. Some can be free-for-all, while others can be more controlled. Then we can see which ones thrive.

    On any blog with my name, I want the power to delete abusive comments, especially against other commenters, and to ban offenders. The control mechanism against me abusing this power is simple: If I am too restrictive or don’t abide by my standards, readers will complain, prompting criticism from other blogs. Or worst of all, people will stop participating. If I hit the right balance, I will attract readers who will make the comments self-policing and keep the TQ (troll quotient) low.

    Comment by Bradley J Fikes (0ea407) — 7/13/2008 @ 3:58 pm

  26. Dr. K. makes a good case:

    How about: “If you would not say that to the target’s face (or his relatives if deceased) as you would likely get your ass kicked, then don’t post it”.

    I am reminded of a time, a long, long while ago, when someone cut me off for a parking space in a mall at Christmas time. Windshields are magical, as we all know, so I cussed the guy out with great creativity through the glass as he watched me.

    I ran into him in the mal, and he asked me if we were going to fight or not. He was a big guy, in fact. I had said some pretty nasty things, after all, and the fellow could lip read.

    I allowed that my mouth was being obnoxious, and the fellow was actually pretty cool with it. He told me that the season could bring out the best or worst in anyone. He even urged me to have a Merry Christmas.

    My point is that—I hope—most of these nasty and insulting posters would never in a million years say such things to anyone in person.

    So Dr. K.’s suggestion—act like your words are not anonymous and are directed toward someone who can defend themselves—might be a good guide.

    Yeah, it’ll never happen. But it is still the right idea.

    Comment by Eric Blair (e8a68b) — 7/13/2008 @ 4:14 pm

  27. Bradley,

    Let me start by saying I’m happy to let blogs and websites handle comments in different ways. If some want to exert more control, good for them. I also agree it’s true that unmoderated comments often let the bullies win, but I want to hear commenters say what they would never say to my face. Sometimes that’s the only way to know what they really think.

    Comment by DRJ (ec597e) — 7/13/2008 @ 4:55 pm

  28. OK, but sometimes it’s better that we don’t know what they really think – lack of any id control for some folks brings out the kind of stuff that’s quite disturbing. IOW, I know what the dark side of the human soul can be composed of, and I don’t necessarily wish to see more examples of same.

    Comment by Dmac (416471) — 7/13/2008 @ 5:11 pm

  29. However, if the paper feels the need to let readers comment, then perhaps they can make a courageous stand for decency and instead of a Comments section identify it as a Tribute section with a helpful hint for those slow on the uptake:

    Out of respect for the family, if you have nothing nice to say, then please refrain from posting.

    Doesn’t work.

    Comment by Jim Treacher (592cb4) — 7/13/2008 @ 6:23 pm

  30. Dmac,

    I know the feeling!

    Seriously, though, if you don’t want to risk reading something disturbing on the internet … I suggest a good book.

    Comment by DRJ (ec597e) — 7/13/2008 @ 6:29 pm

  31. We have to stuff the idiots back into the basement… this site isn’t bound by the First Amendment and I think the attitude of “do what you like, you just can’t do it here” works real well. Particularly if nearly everyone gets onboard. I’d like to see conservative blogs lead the way on civilty and honorable behavior.

    Comment by SteveG (71dc6f) — 7/13/2008 @ 6:30 pm

  32. Good advice, DRJ – and sometimes I do just that.

    Comment by Dmac (416471) — 7/13/2008 @ 6:40 pm

  33. SteveG,

    I agree that having a host like Patterico who will act decisively is an important part of maintaining civility. However, what typically keeps us in line is the knowledge that, if we say something rude or distasteful, we will be *figuratively* smacked by other commenters. That’s no fun, especially when they are right. IMO the road to personal responsibility doesn’t come from being censored, it comes from self-censorship.

    Comment by DRJ (ec597e) — 7/13/2008 @ 6:45 pm

  34. Dmac,

    Sorry, I sounded preachy. And FWIW I’m working my way through Steve Coll’s The Bin Ladens. It’s a fascinating book.

    Comment by DRJ (ec597e) — 7/13/2008 @ 6:46 pm

  35. The anonymity avilable with the internet has provided a new forum for bullies and blustering bigmouths who envision themselves as real badasses and get ugly and vile without consequence. The web removes the line of decorum. The funny thing is most of these same people would most likely never have the guts to spew at their target when looking them dead in the eye.

    If these commenters were standing before Mrs. Snow and her three children, do you believe they would spew their bile?

    Wussies and wimps, emboldened only because of their anonymity.

    Comment by Dana (aec96d) — 7/13/2008 @ 6:47 pm

  36. Dmac, Eric, Bradley,

    Thanks so much. You know what I refer to. Its appreciated.

    Comment by Dana (aec96d) — 7/13/2008 @ 6:48 pm

  37. yeah

    I know that sometimes I get a little bent out of shape and I do depend a bit on the group to help reset the tone.
    It helps the internal filter stay clean.

    That said, I accept personal responsibility… just saying I’ve needed a correction here and there and at the time it didn’t feel good, but after some reflection it’s worked out for the better

    Comment by SteveG (71dc6f) — 7/13/2008 @ 8:35 pm

  38. What does it say about our society that people are more concerned that some crude language might offend someone’s “delicate” ears but think that dancing on someone’s grave is an exercise in “free speech?”

    Comment by Jane Riehl (7918f5) — 7/15/2008 @ 6:48 am

  39. Hi all,

    I’m currently researching various weight loss programs and courses.

    So, if you don’t mind please answer in this topic: What’s your single most important question about weight loss?

    Cheers, JD

    Comment by jdpolson (fd3a7c) — 8/21/2008 @ 3:50 pm

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