Monday, May 18, 2009

Asshole Of The Month Award

One of the great things about writing online is that there is instant response to stories from readers--both those who agree with a story, and, more often, those who don't. Many emails are angry, and I have no problem with that. I like discussing stories with folks who disagree with me. Often people who start out by insulting me turn out to be willing to engage on the issues. I find myself sympathetic to many of them: what they're often really asking for is more transparency, and they're right to do so.

But this post isn't about those readers. It's about the folks climb out of their miserable little caves to send repeated barrages of insults in an effort to prove ... well, God knows what. Every journalist gets emails from these people, whose vitriol tends to be slathered in proportion to the triviality of their points. This weekend I got a bunch of missives from one of these cave dwellers, a guy named Robert Howard who seems to write some sort of stock newsletter called Positive Patterns. Bob read my story about the involvement of the vice president's son, Hunter Biden, and brother, James Biden, with a hedge fund called Paradigm Global Advisors . The story was about a sleazy plan in which Paradigm would solicit investments from public employees' pension funds, and James Biden would get pension fees.

Bob Howard seemed to think that by, as he put it, "bending over backwards to give the Bidens the benefit of the doubt," I was auditioning for a job in the Obama administration. Well, there are a couple of reasons why the story makes an effort to give the Bidens the benefit of the doubt on some issues. One is that it's a complicated story: the plan to get public pension fund money wasn't actually put into action. Another is that a compelling investigative story is precisely one that gives its subject the benefit of the doubt. You don't convince readers by hammering them over the head and ignoring any objections.

None of this matters to Bob, and folks like him. And it certainly doesn't matter to him that if indeed I was auditioning for that Obama administration job, a much better strategy for me would be not to have done that story at all. Logic, however, doesn't really matter much to the Bobs of the world. What's matters is that you agree with every bit of their Looney Tunes worldview. The weirdest thing about Bob's emails is that his objections weren't to the points I made about Jim Biden's shady plans. It was just that, after digging through court records, I came up with a story that was just a little bit less prosecutorial in tone than the one that Bob imagines is out there. For this reason, I am "a good little soldier" who's "in the tank" for the current administration.

Eventually I gave up on Bob and told him the truth: that he seems to get his ideas from an off-price rack where they come cheapest (yes, I also told him he can go tip a cow and do whatever the hell he might want to do late at night with his Richard Nixon portrait). Bob tried to set me straight on this point, too: "I make plenty of money," Bob's next email clarified. Yes, Bob, but that thing about getting your ideas where they come cheap? It's a figure of speech. People don't really have to spend money to buy ideas. Though, heck, maybe Bob's found a way to do that. In that case, Bob's getting ripped off. But I'm afraid I can't really do anything about that.

There's one thing Bob mentioned, though, that really is worth noting. Bob wrote that he knows that "you writers always fantasize that their dissenters [sic] live in the basement with their moms." I'll skip the comments on Bob's writing style and just jump to the heart of this: No, Bob, we don't. We know that morons who like sending out insults to anyone who seems like an available target mostly don't live in their moms' basement. They have homes and cars and families and publish stock newletters just like other folks. They look just like anybody else. You really can't tell how creepy they are inside until they sit down at their computers and start spitting out bile.