Where are you more likely to find bigoted views--the wild fringes of the Internet, or talk radio? A surprisingly fierce debate sprang up between two Washington Post writers over this question. Michael Gerson and Ezra Klein duked it out, with a last minute interloper, Spencer Ackerman, also joining the fray.
On the Extent of Internet Bigotry
- Gerson: Gerson kicked it off with a column arguing that there's so much slime online that Facebook and YouTube should consider policing their content.
The Nazis would have found much to admire in the adaptation of their message on neo-Nazi, white supremacist and Holocaust-denial Web sites. But the challenge of this technology is not merely an isolated subculture of hatred ... User-driven content on the Internet often consists of bullying, conspiracy theories and racial prejudice ... The least responsible contributors see their darkest tendencies legitimated and reinforced, while serious voices are driven away by the general ugliness.
- Klein: "That doesn't describe the Internet I know," responded Klein, who argued that "hateful voices remain on the fringe" on the Internet.
But there is a major medium where the hateful voices sit firmly in control of the content ... : 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.
On Staying Vigilant Against Anti-Semitism
- Gerson: Gerson took exception to this argument, beginning by calling Klein a member of "Barack Obama's unpaid policy staff":
He finds it amusing to belittle the threat of a hypothetical someone he calls "jewhater429, the 97th entrant in a comment thread" -- just a few months after an Internet-based Jew hater entered the Holocaust Museum with a gun and killed an African-American guard ... I have little patience for the hyper-partisan rants of Glenn Beck or Arianna Huffington. But they are not Nazis because I disagree with them ... Klein wades into the ethical shallows and manages to drown. In the future, it might be less embarrassing to avoid the water entirely.
- Ackerman: But nothing prepared the debate for the enraged entrance of Spencer Ackerman.
Michael Gerson needs to shut his fucking mouth before he ever even thinks accusing a Jew of insufficient vigilance against antisemitism. I don't know what lack of self-awareness convinces right-wing evangelicals that they're the true guardians of the Jews, but that condescending and parochial nonsense is its own form of antisemitism ... Gerson downplays the worst excesses of right-wing hatred, which displays itself through a more prominent and influential platform than does online hatred of any political coloration; and then he hijacks someone else's religion on a laughably flimsy pretext to defend his blind spots. Good to see, at least, that a Bush administration veteran is at least nondenominational in that approach.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.