Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Oversimplification all around

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post writes that his column declaring Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House correspondents' dinner 'unfunny' generated more than 3,500 emails, mostly negative. I agree with him that the email writers (if he is characterizing them accurately) oversimplify the story if they think that finding Colbert unfunny means that Cohen is 'Bush's lap dog,' and that the emailers may well have been egged on by various blogs.

But Cohen is guilty over oversimplification as well. To wit:

"What to make of all this? First, it's not about Colbert. His show has an audience of about 1 million -- not exactly 'American Idol' numbers. Second, it marks the end of a silly pretense about interactive media: We give you our e-mail addresses and then, in theory, we have this nice chat. Forget about it. Not only is e-mail too often a kind of epistolary spitball, but there's no way I can even read the 3,506 e-mails now backed up in my queue -- seven more since I started writing this column." (emphasis added)

If Cohen wants to attribute the flood of emails to a 'digital lynch mob,' that's fine with me. Flame wars certainly can get very ugly. But if he believes that the shift away from MSM-style lecturing to new media-style conversations is a 'silly pretense,' he might want to take a look at the latest newspaper circulation numbers.

Furthermore, by choosing to focus on the emails, Cohen buried his column's real lead:

"The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred. This spells trouble -- not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before -- back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated."

It's disappointing that Cohen, a 'professional journalist', allowed a (relatively) small number of 'idiots' (his word) and their 'raw, untreated and disease-laden verbal sewage' to drag his focus away from the far more important matters at hand: are the administration's domestic and foreign policies good for the country, and will the current level of anger at the administration result in success or failure for its opponents in the 2006 and 2008 elections?