Ordinarily Public Eye has better things to do than to evaluate insulting comments that are hurled through the Internet by anonymous cranks on computers. Sometimes I envision these pathetic souls tucked away in their dreary cubicles, awash in fluorescent light and reconstituted air, shooting off articulate messages like the one I received this week:
"I just read your story on the media and Jessica Lynch. In a word, you are truly a moron."
I usually just hit the delete button, much as I would for the unending spam that promises me a bigger penis and more Viagra for my submissive Russian mail-order bride.
But then I got another message; subject: "Moron!"
"Better go and iron that brown shirt."
The next e-mail, unsigned, asked "Are you stupid?"
And then there was the note from "Jack Rogers," who started off a little more politely; he even called me "Madame" -- though given the text of what followed, I grew doubtful as to the meaning of my new commission:
"Have you ever been a serving member of the Armed Forces? Were you in Iraq while the shooting was going on? Have you ever made any contribution to the public weal at all? (strike that ... you're not even a real reporter are you?)
"Since the answer to all these questions is NO, perhaps you should confine yourself to discussing something your [sic] qualified to hold an opinion on ... such as "Wearing White after Labor Day, Tacky or Tres Chic?"
Finally, something of import to share with my readers. The word "weal," according to Webster's II, is defined as "the welfare of the community."
The kicker came from a man named Devon Hill, from Calgary, Canada.
"Why would I or any other person take anything you say seriously? Your [sic] simply another liberal moral relativist who probably thinks the Jews were behind 9-11!"
Holy mackerel. Finally, a friend tuned me in to the source of this hogwash. James Taranto, who gets paid by the Wall Street Journal to collect and disseminate his interpretations of the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy in an online column, had gotten hold of last week's Public Eye column and had offered a snippet of criticism to get his readers' attention.
In a nutshell, the column in question (which can be read at www.csindy.com) cited the Jessica Lynch episode as an example of how journalism is disintegrating in an age of monopoly-controlled media. Specifically, we highlighted how Viacom-owned CBS had offered the recovering soldier a bag of lucrative goodies -- book, movie and MTV deals, etc. -- to try to land an "exclusive" news interview.
We also pointed out that as much as we Americans all love a story about a hero, the initial story we were fed about Jessica Lynch has since been debunked as inaccurate. And we thought it was interesting that the same media monopolies that had aired Lynch's Pentagon-propagated dramatic rescue story, now proven bogus, are still competing for exclusive interviews.
And, we pointed out that this whole embarrassing display is just an example of life before additional media deregulation and monopoly ownership, recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
Taranto wasn't convinced. He thought that connecting the Lynch example and the FCC's relaxed restrictions on media ownership was "a stretch, to say the least."
Perhaps Taranto believes that he and the angry army of e-mailers that he sicced on me represent the evolution of "journalism" as they'd like it to be. However, in recent weeks, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have begun revolting against the FCC's relaxation of media ownership rules. That should give us all hope.
But I admit, after these personal attacks on my integrity and my patriotism and sense of style, I was in a bit of a funk. Luckily, as I was headed down the hall to the water cooler, I encountered one of my favorite people, Robert Berdais, a businessman who is well read, conservative, always nattily dressed, and a real person. Unlike Taranto and his e-mail bulldogs, Berdais always has something of substance to share. Coincidentally, he said, he was just thinking of my column of last week.
"You nailed it," he said. "I was just reading about how Vladimir Putin just shut down the last independently owned newspaper in Russia."
He went on: "You know as well as I that private concentration of power can be just as dangerous as public concentration of power."
I hadn't heard about this development, and asked Berdais his source of information: "I read it in the Wall Street Journal," he said.