Get into politics, find yourself shredded in public — even if you’re twelve years old. When Graeme Frost delivered the Democrats’ weekly two-minute radio message a few days ago and focused on the Childrens’ Health Insurance Program, I doubt many people expected this kind of vicious reaction online:
Typical of the tone was what Mark Steyn wrote on National Review Online: “Bad things happen to good people, and they cause financial problems and tough choices. But, if this is the face of the ‘needy’ in America, then no one is not needy.” Nameless commenters to conservative blogs were even harsher. “Let ‘em twist in the wind and be eaten by ravens,” wrote one one on Redstate.com, who was quoted in the Baltimore Sun. “Then maybe the bunch of socialist patsies will think twice.”
Karen Tumulty’s Time story, which supplied that quote, also includes a response from the boy’s father. It concludes:
“I find it morally reprehensible, and the act of a true coward, to publicly (world wide) smear a man and his family and not sign one’s own real name to what they have written. I sign my name to what I write.”
Salon’s Joan Walsh tallies the lengths that some noteworthy right-wingers went to: in this case, more than the usual blogger Googling was involved. (Note: if you see Michelle Malkin poking around your yard, start dialing libel attorneys.) Can we all agree that just maybe this kind of personal attack on a random citizen should be off-limits? The anonymity of the ‘net can shield the powerless, but it can also lead people to write things that for good reason would never pass their lips in public. If those unnamed commenters had to walk up and tell that kid in person that he should “twist in the wind,” might they think twice? In a few cases, probably not: some people are just jerks, online or off.