It’s ugly out there. Last week the Huffington Post ran an item about the White House giving reporters yellow wristbands, like the Lance Armstrong ones, except with Tony Snow’s name on them instead of 'Live Strong.'
The item was meant as a jab at the White House — the suggestion seemed to be that they were cozying up to the press by giving them the cancer bracelets, eliminating the “distance” that objectivity requires — and since I adore Tony, I decided to follow up.
It turns out, not surprisingly, that no one was forcing anyone to wear anything. Having made up a batch of such bracelets, which were immediately grabbed up by White House staffers and friends, the press office was making up another batch, and included the people Tony works with every day among those who might want one.
Some of the administration’s toughest critics, starting with Helen Thomas, were reportedly seen with yellow-banded wrists, while one of the reporters whose account I read — who declined the offer — was from The Washington Times.
OK. Big deal. So the Huffington Post is looking for a chance to give the White House a kick, even in the way it deals with one of its most popular members’ public fight with cancer. Dog bites man. No news there. No, what stunned me was not the item itself, nor the little twist that seemed to imply that the White House was coercing the press to support Tony’s battle, but the hundreds and hundreds of messages and entries posted in response to it, one more vicious and ugly than the next.
These are not people who know Tony, or have personally been harmed by him in any way. But they wish him the worst; they take pleasure in his battle; they make ugly jokes about his condition. This is a husband and father who is fighting a scary illness, doing it with grace and dignity, changing people’s minds about living with cancer … and one after another of the messages is from someone who wishes him the worst because their hate is so deep.
I come from the school of politics that says ultimately, we’re all on the same team, that you fight as hard as you can all day, but after the day ends, you drink together, or eat together, or party together. Whatever it is that you do, you do it with people on the other side, as well. It’s a disagreement, not a war. We’re partisans, not enemies. I don’t call this the “old” school but the better one.
The blog commentators represent the other extreme.
Because they see no one — at the end of the day or any other time — they feel freer to say what they think. That is said to be the great advantage of the medium. But is this what they really think? Or is it what the vulgar, lowest common denominator dialect of the Internet demands they say, one more viciously than the next?
Does anonymity encourage truth, or just irresponsibility? My guess is that almost every one of the folks who wrote in wishing him the worst would, if they ran into Tony and Jill and the kids (the oldest is 14) in the Target parking lot, only wish him well.
It is, of course, the hatred of Bush that is seeping into the attacks on Tony. There are many people who hate Bush so much, they literally don’t know what to do about it. So they end up taking it out on Tony.
But that’s not an excuse. And it certainly doesn’t explain the abundance of hate on every side that finds expression on the Internet.
CBSNews.com announced last week that it would no longer allow its readers to comment on Barack Obama. That’s right. They instructed staffers to turn off the system that enables messages to be posted when the subject is one of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination for president — the first black to get to that place — because the comments they’ve been receiving are too racist.
People can’t comment civilly on the most successful black politician in America, and nothing less than closing down the forum, apparently, will stop the hate from flowing. One explanation cites “porch monkey” as an example of the descriptions being used in the online dialogue.
In the short run, closing down a forum is certainly better than turning it over to loudmouthed racists hiding behind clever screen names. But in the long run, we all suffer when the possibility for a new kind of dialogue is being destroyed because of the ugly ranting of a cowardly class of cyber haters.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.
Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.