« Do you have him in brown? | Main | Jane and Finch blues »

November 22, 2005

Wrong again

I've asked it before, and I'll ask it again: why the hell does the "independent voice of the new west", employer of many fine and respectable journalists, allow people like RightGirl to post on its blog? Nestruck's objection led me to this rotten onion of a post. It's not this that bothers me so much: "Black or white, young or old — if you live like an a**hole, you die like an a** hole. Don't go looking to the rest of us for pity." That's a little rough, but it's fair play, given that the vast majority of the victims of Toronto's gun violence — if you confine victimhood to those who absorb bullets, that is — are indeed unsavoury characters.

What makes it wholly inappropriate for a serious magazine's blog is the fun-loving tone:

Like something out of Six Feet Under, there was a shooting death at a gangland funeral in north Toronto on Friday. I can't help but giggle at the platitudes spewing forth from the media and the city officials. It's hilarious!

Yeah, um, no it isn't.

In the comments to the post, RightGirl offers the following bizarre defense: "I find it sad, not good. Sorry if that didn't come across." Sad giggles, were they? Sad, exclamatory hilarity? I find it amazing that she had the energy to mount such an absurd argument, considering that 24 hours later she still hasn't managed to go back and correctly identify the scene of the murder as a Seventh Day Adventist church, rather than a Baptist church. (But then, this is a woman who told Shotgun readers all about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints endorses polygamy, so she clearly has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to religion.)

And I'm not even going to get into the comments to the Shotgun thread in question, where apparently unironic use of "niggers" is just sitting there, noisily suctioning credibility out of the Western Standard brand like that little tube at the dentist. I fail to see what good this sort of nonsense does anyone, let alone this entirely worthwhile magazine's bottom line and future prospects.

[UPDATE November 22. In the comments, Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant offers his take, as follows:

I visit Tart Cider regularly and link to it occasionally. I read the above post and thought I would share my theory on the editorial strategy of The Shotgun blog.

I believe that our blog should have less editorial control than our printed magazine or our radio shows. That is a fact of the immediate, diffuse nature of the Internet, but it is also one of its appeals. It is free-wheeling. Opening up the comments, as we have done (almost uniquely in Canada; even Antonia Zerbisias audits hers before posting them) makes it even more so. In that way, I believe we are keeping true to the character of the blogosphere, and not merely grafting an appearance of a blog onto a staid, old media product.

Not only is our pool of commenters unlimited, but our roster of authorized bloggers is quite large, approaching fifty people. Clearly not all of our bloggers would make the cut in our print magazine, which is limited by space, budget and is a more careful, official expression of our magazine's editorial view.

What we do achieve on our blog is a larger marketplace of ideas, and one with low barriers to entry, and no transactional costs. Simply put, there is a minimal central controlling authority; editorial decisions are enforced by what libertarian economists would call "spontaneous order" -- the wisdom of the intellectual marketplace. Let me explain:

Many of our posts are too liberal or too conservative for me, or they use language that is too impolite. Sometimes they are even factually wrong. Not unfrequently, I am asked to delete a comment or even a blog post itself. Some of these requests come from loyal readers, or even other bloggers. Mark Steyn himself even criticized one of our bloggers quite vigorously.

My response in almost every case is the same: Let the market of ideas correct itself, without central planning by me or our editor, Kevin Libin. Let other Shotgun bloggers make rebuttal posts (as was done in the case of the Right Girl post by another blogger, CharLeBois). If a blogger doesn't, our commenters will.

That is how public debates should happen; not from central censorship, but through the negotiations of public debate. I myself have been corrected on some of my posts by commenters, as recently as last week. I take my lumps on the blog. I even welcome personal insults (such as those from Robert McClelland) as they are often rebutted by others but in any event speak volumes about the insulter's own intellectual strength.

Over the course of a year and a half, we have deleted less than a dozen comments, and perhaps only a single blog post, and generally only when the laws of defamation are grossly violated.

I do not agree with everything on our blog. And that is why it is so interesting, and generates such comments and responses, and 600,000 unique visits a month.

The contents of the Western Standard magazine meet the editorial standards of our editor, Kevin Libin. The Shotgun blog is a house of debate, where a wide spectrum of bloggers are invited to speak, and everyone is invited to heckle. The editorial standards are enforced through the market of ideas. In fact, this debate on Tart Cider is part of that intellectual iteration, which is why I welcome it.

I am not proud of every utterance on The Shotgun. I don't have to be; they are to the credit or shame of their own authors. But I am deeply proud of hosting Canada's largest and only free-wheeling group blog, with an open comments thread and a feather-light editorial touch. Maybe I ought to offer Chris Selley blogging authorization, too -- I certainly read his stuff enough, and think others should, too.

That's all fair enough, though I find it difficult to square Ezra's "marketplace of ideas" model with much of the unabashed idiocy one finds in some of the Shotgun's comment threads, which have added more misrepresentation and outright b-s to a hundred posts for every one they've clarified, and I still think it's remarkable that of all the weblogs out there, one run by a reputable news magazine has managed to become the go-to destination for (in Coyne's words) "western separatists, Bilderberg conspiracy theorists and various other cranks," to say nothing of liars, abuse-hurlers and unapologetic racists and bigots. It's certainly not what I'd aim for were I in their position, but hey, I'm not. I find the phenomenon more surprising than I do offensive.]

Posted by Chris Selley at November 22, 2005 12:15 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.tartcider.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/155

Comments

Your question's a noodle-scratcher, alright. I'm nine-tenths right-whinger, and I can't go there more than once a month--and that's to check on how much it's degenerated.

Ezra Levant obviously reads the Shotgun, since he posts there on occasion. What are his thoughts, I wonder, on how the Shotgun improves his brand? I'm a subscriber, but I'm not that far prepaid. The answers and action on this issue will make a difference to whether I renew or resubscribe.

Permit me to suggest a ghostwriter for Mr. Levant, I believe they're acquainted:

"...The comments have frankly gone to seed, overrun with western separatists, Bilderberg conspiracy theorists and various other cranks.

[...]low-brow, insult-filled, intolerant of opposing views, and unspeakably tedious. I have no desire for this site to serve as a clubhouse for hard-right wackos, usually anonymous, with way too much time on their hands.

Posted by: Matt at November 22, 2005 01:31 AM

I saw that too, as it was linked to by paved.ca and I had the same reaction, it's an entirely uninformed, offensive, self-discrediting comment and has no place on a legit site. Her argument doesn't hold water as it also assumes that the most recent victim is an evil criminal, that's not something she can speak about with any authority.

Posted by: just at November 22, 2005 09:17 AM

And I'm not even going to get into the comments to the Shotgun thread in question, where apparently unironic use of "niggers" is just sitting there, noisily suctioning credibility out of the Western Standard brand like that little tube at the dentist.

In all fairness, the commenters not the site should be held responsible for the content of the comments.

Posted by: Robert McClelland at November 22, 2005 11:59 AM

The commenters can write whatever they choose, but I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that *maybe* the site has administrative control over what stays in the comments thread.

Posted by: matthew at November 22, 2005 12:38 PM

I visit Tart Cider regularly and link to it occasionally. I read the above post and thought I would share my theory on the editorial strategy of The Shotgun blog.

I believe that our blog should have less editorial control than our printed magazine or our radio shows. That is a fact of the immediate, diffuse nature of the Internet, but it is also one of its appeals. It is free-wheeling. Opening up the comments, as we have done (almost uniquely in Canada; even Antonia Zerbisias audits hers before posting them) makes it even more so. In that way, I believe we are keeping true to the character of the blogosphere, and not merely grafting an appearance of a blog onto a staid, old media product.

Not only is our pool of commenters unlimited, but our roster of authorized bloggers is quite large, approaching fifty people. Clearly not all of our bloggers would make the cut in our print magazine, which is limited by space, budget and is a more careful, official expression of our magazine's editorial view.

What we do achieve on our blog is a larger marketplace of ideas, and one with low barriers to entry, and no transactional costs. Simply put, there is a minimal central controlling authority; editorial decisions are enforced by what libertarian economists would call "spontaneous order" -- the wisdom of the intellectual marketplace. Let me explain:

Many of our posts are too liberal or too conservative for me, or they use language that is too impolite. Sometimes they are even factually wrong. Not unfrequently, I am asked to delete a comment or even a blog post itself. Some of these requests come from loyal readers, or even other bloggers. Mark Steyn himself even criticized one of our bloggers quite vigorously.

My response in almost every case is the same: Let the market of ideas correct itself, without central planning by me or our editor, Kevin Libin. Let other Shotgun bloggers make rebuttal posts (as was done in the case of the Right Girl post by another blogger, CharLeBois). If a blogger doesn't, our commenters will.

That is how public debates should happen; not from central censorship, but through the negotiations of public debate. I myself have been corrected on some of my posts by commenters, as recently as last week. I take my lumps on the blog. I even welcome personal insults (such as those from Robert McClelland) as they are often rebutted by others but in any event speak volumes about the insulter's own intellectual strength.

Over the course of a year and a half, we have deleted less than a dozen comments, and perhaps only a single blog post, and generally only when the laws of defamation are grossly violated.

I do not agree with everything on our blog. And that is why it is so interesting, and generates such comments and responses, and 600,000 unique visits a month.

The contents of the Western Standard magazine meet the editorial standards of our editor, Kevin Libin. The Shotgun blog is a house of debate, where a wide spectrum of bloggers are invited to speak, and everyone is invited to heckle. The editorial standards are enforced through the market of ideas. In fact, this debate on Tart Cider is part of that intellectual iteration, which is why I welcome it.

I am not proud of every utterance on The Shotgun. I don't have to be; they are to the credit or shame of their own authors. But I am deeply proud of hosting Canada's largest and only free-wheeling group blog, with an open comments thread and a feather-light editorial touch. Maybe I ought to offer Chris Selley blogging authorization, too -- I certainly read his stuff enough, and think others should, too.

Posted by: Ezra Levant at November 22, 2005 12:59 PM

Alas, Ezra's justification doesn't cut it for me.

If it were just about the marketplace of ideas correcting itself it would be fine. And, in fact, this is what the blogosphere as a whole does. Anyone can set up a blog for free to express their views and, as such, the WS blog in no way creates "a larger marketplace of ideas."

Furthermore, the Shotgun moves into a very different marketplace when everytime I purchase a WS magazine I help to subsidize this expression.

Frankly, I have no interest in paying to support a venue for racist, homophobic, conspiracy freaks. Which is a shame, because I'd likely pick up a copy now and then if I knew my money was only going to support quality, well thought-out articles.

Posted by: sacamano at November 22, 2005 02:55 PM

Wow, you kind of just proved his point there didn't you? I mean you go on some comment boards and you cannot even mention competitiors. You basically get on the WS blog and blast the magazine, some of its reraders and its publisher, yet your post is still there. Your arguement is also circular. You say you worry about supporting "racist, homophobic (an expression far to overused)conspiracy freaks. But you also express your opinion here, which I would guess you would feel good about suporting with a WS purchase. Besides which, you support racists everytime you pay taxes to the Feds. The department of Public works got caught passing a memo that said there was a hiring freeze on White Males until at least March 06. Yikes!!!

Posted by: Troy Peterson at November 22, 2005 05:19 PM

Ummmm, Toby. You know that this isn't the Shotgun site, right?

Posted by: Anonymous at November 22, 2005 05:22 PM

Blog Policy Complaints...

Sounds to me like someone is overly sensitive!

This is just the kind of Politically Correct selfrighteousness and whining that is ruining free expression across the world.
We do not owe you anything except the same opportunity to speak your mind that we are availing ourselves of.
Tattles and tell tales all of you who try to make this case to Mr. Levant that he is responsible or remis because you take offence to comments of others. Of all the ill informed and obnoxious comentary we see in the blog I find your Lecturing Tongue Clucking Finger Wagging childish, smacking of perpetual victimhood. Just who in the world do you think your whining is of any benefit to?
I'm willing to listen to anyone who has an honest opinion. So what's your point? Is it that no one should dare to say anything that you might find offensive? If so then you had better be prepared to be offended regularily.
Pathetic little cretins and cry babies shall not have sway in this world.Your cries and bleats are falling more and more on ears that are deaf to the noise. I'm sure your next move will be to go tell mommy!

Posted by: PGP at November 22, 2005 05:45 PM

Twenty years ago and fresh from the flats of Manitoba (where people are friendly - or so the license plates say) I sat, in polite but bemused silence while observing the unfolding spectacle of my first week at Osgoode Hall.

The circus, it seemed, had popped its big-top over the red-brick law school: Fearless extroverts, shameless self-promoters, ego olympians, twitchy ideologues, and bona fide idiots competed for glory and attention - loudly crowing their brilliance and self-importance.

The spectacle lasted all of the better part of only two weeks. Because by that time, a number of us who were interested in receiving value for our education dollars had reached a private agreement.

The following day, when our selected target sought to thrust his views into our forum, one of our number shouted, "You know, if you shut your mouth every now and then, the accident of letting someone else speak might just prove to you that you are actually a moron. You just don't know it yet."

That pretty well settled matters for the balance of the three years of study.

Mr. Levant, let the dogs run. Their leashes get snapped back soon enough by interested parties.

Posted by: MGK at November 22, 2005 07:05 PM

Oh god. Way to completely misunderstand and abuse the concept of a spontaneous order, Ezra. You're applying it to the wrong set -- the blogosphere as a whole is the relevent kosmos, of which The Shotgun is a tiny little part, like a single firm in a vast market. Laissez-faire is generally the right prescription for markets, but you wouldn't run a firm that way.

I value lively and freewheeling debate as much as anyone, but in order for it to be constructive that sometimes requires throwing out a bum or two who does nothing but muddy the water. I'm someone who put their mind to it could get themselves banned from the Shotgun comment boards through sheer force of obnoxiousness, so the only question is where you draw the line. Like it or not, you are responsible for everything that gets published on there, including comments.

Posted by: Matt McIntosh at November 23, 2005 01:05 AM

"...noisily suctioning credibility out of the Western Standard brand like that little tube at the dentist."

That's really good writing.

Posted by: wsam at November 23, 2005 10:02 AM

Guys like Robert M. are unused to free expression. It frightens them. It's too messy and uncontrollable.

It takes all kinds to make an interesting world. Without absolute freedom of expression we will have much less than an interesting world.

I see and hear things daily that I vehemently am opposed to, but would never ban any of it.

I am a big enough guy to take it .... without drugs or therapy.

"Freedom is the only true fight" Duke McGoo

Posted by: Duke at November 23, 2005 11:38 AM

You don't take drugs?

Loser.

Posted by: wsam at November 23, 2005 05:06 PM

"noisily suctioning credibility out of the Western Standard brand " un huh and what credibility is that? The Western Standard has NO creditibilty, in fact it has less credibility than its predecesor the Alberta Report. Well ok maybe it has credibility with those in the dentists office waiting for the pain to come....

Posted by: Eugene Plawiuk at November 24, 2005 05:21 AM