Guilt By Association

It seems to me simply wrong to ascribe the bile of flocks of angry commenters that appear on any site that tackles contentious topics to the blogger himself. You can criticize him or her for not deleting them and providing a platform to hate (Ann Althouse's readers routinely mock me for having HIV, for example, and she does nothing) but you can't criticize someone for attracting such creatures on the internet - let alone convict him of the same views. To further convict him on the basis of anti-Semitic emails sent entirely independently of him to a third party - and to describe them as "Stephen Walt's Mailbag" when in fact, it's Jeffrey Goldberg's in-tray - strikes me as deeply unfair. But that's what my colleague Jeffrey Goldberg has done with Stephen Walt in his latest post. He has every right to lambaste Walt for things he writes and has written (although I think "Jew-baiter" is an ugly and absurd excess) - but this guilt-by-association is perverse. As Walt notes,

If we judge bloggers not by what they write but by what some of their readers write in response, we would be giving opponents of those bloggers an easy way to discredit them. If you don't like what a particular blogger says, write an anonymous comment praising him or her, add some bigoted statements of your own, and then send Smith an anonymous email and tell him to check out the comments thread. Voila!

It also violates a core Internet etiquette - and seems remarkably defensive - not to link to a post you criticize.

And if raising questions about Israel's policies inflames anti-Semitism (and how can it not among the fever swamps of hate out there?), should that therefore prevent us from airing such questions? The chilling implications of this kind of argument are profound - and inimical to free discourse. Look: I know it's awful to read bigoted emails. And relatively new bloggers may be unused to the routine bile. But you need to accept it as part of a new media with no filters.