The Great Blogosphere Brawl

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

By Wendy McElroy


Weblogs or blogs reveal the emotions churning beneath the surface of hard news. For example, journalists may report which legislation passed the House by what margin, but bloggers will lay bare the ideological brawls that underlie the news item.

Over the last two weeks, the blogosphere has buzzed about a bare-knuckled incident that provides a glimpse at how relations between left and right have deteriorated in some circles.

Right-wing blogger Jeff Goldstein maintains a well-respected site entitled Protein Wisdom. Left-wing Deborah Frisch maintains the south(west)paw blog. She prides herself on attacking 'right-wing nuts' -- or 'wingnuts' in blogspeak -- by posting insults on their websites. (Left-wingers are referred to as 'moonbats'.)

An exchange on Protein Wisdom between Goldstein and Frisch turned so nasty that it landed in the mainstream media. On July 12, Brit Hume of FOX News reported, "Deborah Frisch escalated a foreign policy argument with blogger Jeff Goldstein last week, writing that if 'someone shot you and your 'tyke' it wouldn't slow me down one iota.' She also wrote that she hopes 'no one Jon-Benets' the child -- a reference to the brutal murder of a young Colorado girl ten years ago -- and made disturbing sexual remarks about the boy."

How did a blog exchange escalate into a mainstream news item?

Goldstein and Frisch had been exchanging barbs on his web site for some time, but by July 6, Goldstein had become alarmed by Frisch's continuing and bizarre comments about both his son and wife. At one point, Frisch commented, "I reiterate: If some nutcase kidnapped your child tomorrow and did to her what was done to…Jon-Benet Ramsey, I wouldn't give a damn."

Goldstein established a separate thread on his site in which he collected the comments made under the penname " southwestpaw"; he also revealed the author's real identity.

On July 8, the columnist Michelle Malkin reposted some of Frisch's comments on her own blog. Other conservative sites linked to Malkin and the matter snowballed.

Malkin also nominated Frisch as "Unhinged Academic of the Year." That's because Frisch is an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. Or, rather, she was. In backlash against her gleeful and graphic speculation about sexual contact with a 2-year-old, emails poured into the University. On July 8, Frisch 'resigned' her $32,861-a-year part-time position.

(Those amazed by a Professor of Psychologist behaving in such a manner might be interested in another item on Frisch's resume. A few years ago, she was also a director of a risk management program at the National Science Foundation and consulted with the FBI on the psychological underpinnings of criminal violence. See pg. 14).

At this point, Frisch could have publicly apologized, accepted her knocks and exited with some grace. Instead, she reacted in a manner that sad experience makes me view as typical of the far-left. (The behavior of right-wing zealots is no less destructive but different in style.)

First, there was the non-apologetic apology that amounted to a denial of wrongdoing. Frisch denied that her Jon Benet comments were threatening; they were merely a 'sick joke'. She also denied making a graphic sexual suggestion regarding the 2-year-old, claiming the post was changed and attributed to her.

Fortunately, Goldstein publicly documented the post as well as information identifying Frisch as its source: her IP address.

Then Frisch played the victim card. "Some blogs have posted comments that I perceive to be physically threatening. I have contacted the FBI…" Criticizing Frisch is a definite crowd-pleaser on conservative blogs where the practice is called 'shooting Frisch in a barrel'. But it is not credible to complain of being treated in the same manner you treat others.

Next, Frisch tried to elevate the incident into political significance, sending readers of her blog to a newspaper article in which her case was discussed as part of the larger issue of the public nature of private Internet activity. "For those interested in…the larger issues raised by the Goldstein incident (e.g., censorship, self-censorship, academic freedom, freedom of speech, blogging & professoring, etc.), here's a link to an article by Josh Brodesky in today's Arizona Daily Star." [punctuation corrected]

Finally, she converted the entire matter into a left-against-right struggle thus removing personal responsibility. "It is unbelievable that a comment saying I would not care if harm came to your child is such a crime to the rightwingnuts when they've been happy as clams to send American dupes to murder, maim, rape and torture…Iraqi children for four years."

To their credit, some left-wing bloggers have denounced Frisch's behavior as inexcusable. To their discredit, some have rallied around her. For example, a blogger at the influential Daily Kos site entitled his entry, "I will repudiate Deborah Frisch when anonymous conservative cowards stop harassing her."

Meanwhile, the drama plays out. Both the Goldstein and Frisch blogs seem to become inaccessible from one moment to the next. Goldstein's inaccessibility is no mystery. Since July 6, the blog has been repeatedly targeted by 'denial of service attacks' -- that is, an attack aimed at preventing access to a site by flooding it with requests. The blog has just moved to another server; presumably, it can block future attacks.

The failure of Frisch's blog was widely ascribed to similar malice until she explained "SWP is back up and running after a 36 hour erasure due to my using a fake phone number (555 1212) when I registered my domain name."

The sad episode has one happy consequence. It has enriched the English language with a new verb. To quote an innovative blogger, "to frisch" means to write "something on the internet so creepy and offensive that you are forced to quit your job before getting canned."

The blogger used it in a sentence: "Deb really frisched herself…"

So what, beyond bad jokes, can be gleaned from the Great Blogosphere Brawl?

I return to the opening sentence of this column, "[B]logs reveal the emotions churning beneath the surface of hard news." It is not possible to understand the headlines without appreciating what drives this issue into prominence and that attitude into disrepect. The motor is often a raw unrepentant rage that takes no ideological prisoners on either side of the left-right divide.

The rabid them-or-us attitude must not be allowed to guide mainstream advocacy. It should be exposed for what it is: ugly and destructive to everyone.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, "Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century" (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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