So I wandered by Andrew's office yesterday and somehow we got on the subject of blogosphere etiquette, which is not our usual subject: our usual subject is Hillary Clinton. I argue that Hillary Clinton is a complicated, imperfect person who nevertheless has an interesting brain and some very worthwhile ideas. Andrew argues that this subject is, in fact, not complicated at all.
In any case, I was telling Andrew about an on-line mugging I experienced at the hands of a person named Matt Haber, who is associated with the New York Observer, about which I have generally warm feelings, in part because it gave my book a great review, and we all know what such a review does for a person's self-esteem, if not for a book's actual sales. Andrew wasn't impressed by my complaint. "Calling you an asshole is just the blogosphere's way of saying hello," he said.
But I was unappeased. What bothered me about Mr. Haber's post was not its insults (a couple of which were funny) but that he repeated a discredited accusation made by an ethically-challenged journalist about my reporting without having sought my comment. I called Haber to complain. He said: "I just wanted to promote your new blog." I didn't quite understand this argument. He went on to explain that he "assumed" that I had already "had it out" with the journalist in question. Then he said that, while the Observer "does reporting," the blog for which he writes "is a looser, more fun kind of way of writing things." Fun, in Haber's view, includes slander.
I called up Jack Shafer, the dean of global journalism and the future director of the Newseum, because I needed someone to listen to me bitch, and Andrew certainly wasn't going to. I complained to Shafer about Haber's dishonesty, but Shafer noted that his dishonesty was not relevant; what mattered was his mediocrity. "What these bloggers don't understand is that if you call the target of your post to get a comment, the target's going to say something really interesting," he said.
It seems to me to be a basic point. Haber's post on my blog would have been more interesting if he actually got me to talk about my reporting. I might have even inadvertently offered him ammunition.
It's one of the mysteries of the blogosphere, why more people don't simply pick up the phone once in a while.
To be continued, I'm sure.
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