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Friday, August 11, 2006

Postman on Language

Posted by on August 11 at 12:52 PM

I don’t envy David Postman for having to police the language in the comment threads of his Seattle Times blog, Postman on Politics. But by cracking down on cuss-words and uncivil discourse, he’s creating an interesting experiment (in addition creating a lot of work for himself).

First, an example of all the extra work that policing comment threads creates: Yesterday, when a commenter called “skeptic” used the term “bullshitters” in a comment thread, Postman responded:

Watch the language please.

When someone, in the same comment thread, then used the phrase “you idiot,” Postman weighed in:

When we get to the “you idiot” level the comments have slipped beyond what I think readers have come to expect here. Please, all, think about what you’re writing and what it adds to the debate.

And then when the offending commenter protested that “you idiot” was more than justified given the context (and was really a “PG-version of what I should have said”), Postman clarified:

There’s nothing particularly offensive about the word “idiot.” Don’t think that’s on the banned list. I wish I had a good answer to your question, “what am I to do?” It seems this week in particular both sides are hyper-aggressive, as well as defensive, and in many threads the debate has turned like this. I’m open to any suggestions anyone has about how to keep comments civil.

Here’s the question that’s being testing by all this language policing over at Postman on Politics:

Is consistently high-minded and expletive-free discourse possible, or even desirable, on a political blog that’s open to anyone with an internet connection?

After all, political figures from George “Get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit” Bush to Dwight “Investigate those bastards” Pelz have had a hard time keeping coarse language out of their own political discourse. Should the average blog commenter be held to a higher standard? And what happens to political debate when you can’t even use the word bullshit a staple of back room, bar room, and even lunch table discourse for most politically inclined people, from the president on down.

Over here at the Slog, we’re testing the reverse question: What happens when there are no off-limit words? Granted, we’re not politics-only over here, but here’s a sampling, from yesterday’s comment threads:

her mom is bat-shit fucking crazy
I call bullshit on the claim that airlines *always* lose luggage. I have lost luggage exactly once in all my travels, when I took the fucking train.
What a limp-dicked punk - the classic pussy would-be wife beater who feels inadequate around both women and other men.
The art community rejected him because that painting looks like a piece of shit. Seriously, that shit makes Bob Ross look like fucking Raphael.

And finally, from a post on the same topic as the one that sparked all the language angst over on Postman’s blog:

Reichert’s bullshit is insane, I don’t understand how you can get away with that

Coarse, yes. But to-the-point, no?

CommentsRSS icon

It's all just 1's & 0's....

I like The Stranger's Hands-off policy!

I don't know, that way leads to a lot of trolls.

That's some serious messed-up shit, yo.

All republicans are idiotic religious trolls. Trolls are evil and must be abolished. Israel is merely protecting itself against trolls, and we should all get circumcised and drive our Priuses to Whole Foods whenever possible.

Will, please clarify. Do you think Postmans intended decorum leads to a haven for trolls?

It's not just political subject matter that causes the profanity to fly. People get into it no matter what the topic is...we live in a vulgar, coarse society. Which is as it should be.

I've been wondering for a while how long before the Slog's comments threads are so overwhelmed with trolls that some sort of moderated commenting is instituted.

Bush is the most pro-troll president we have ever had. America needs to stand strong with trolls now. The Stranger has gone against conventional Seattle wisdom and been anti-censorship. Bush is the best American president trolls have ever known, and many in the Seattle Jewish community appreciate what Bush has done for trolls.

i wonder the same, flamingbanjo. as long as i get approved, i'd be okay with it. if i'm good enough for gawker, i should be good enough for the stranger.

as to the topic, there are times when swear words are the only appropriate ones to use.

I had my own issues with Postman's blog when I called someone a "douchebag."

no, I meant our way leads to a lot of trolls.

it's his blog, he can prune it, although one would hope he does something like his warning beforehand.

Now, just for that, I'm going to walk home past the Troll tonight and then say hi to Lenin and the upcoming Space in Fremont statue.

Fuck you, Eli, you fucking fuck! I mean that in the nicest possible way, Eli; you're terrific. But please don't take my swear words away, I'll be helpless like a little baby.

There is a place for measured discourse, and there is a place for letting it hang out. It's natural to use different language in a bar than on the floor of the Senate. I rather prefer the bar, myself.

I really appreciate the Stranger's no-moderation policy. Too many blogs tend toward editing and conforming to some nebulous policy, and in my opinion it leads to mediocrity. There may be a troll or two sneaking around the slog, but the level of discourse is generally pretty high, owing largely to the paper's open mindedness. I vote for maintaining the status quo.

I think that since the blog is hosted at the Seattle Times it is appropriate for David Postman to try to moderate the comments and language - and appropriate for him or the Seattle Times to ban comments and commenters. I appreciate being able to mostly read through the comment threads without being objected to a hug from Roger Rabbit or hateful bigotry from JCH, such as one is at

The vast majority of trolling could be ended here by moving to registered accounts backed by real world contact info. Then, all us honest chickens could swear to our fucking hearts' content, and the moderators could kick trolls off the system. It works everywhere else.

That said, let's send all our fucking trolls over to Postman's site. That'll show him!

I feel better after a good fuck. Others would, too, if they weren't so uptight and knew one when they experienced it.

No censorship. I appreciate the free rolling thunder that is the sound of Citizen Slog. Some anti-semites may object to Shoshana's pro-Israel ranting, but hey controversy and dialectic is how we all grow and change.

I like a good debate peppered with some profanity to make the point but the mediocrity to which Gurldoggie refers is rapidly achieved when the debate is reduced to ad hominems and base language.

Then, it is time to find another more mature site where thinking and reflecting really occur.

Go for it, Postman. You've got yourself a site for intellecual debate. Don't let it become an arena for the incessant mud wrestling that Slog and HorsesAss have become.

I just got done rewatching Star Trek IV (the whale movie); as they pointed out (20 years ago, OMG!), "Well that's simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word."

Anyone who can discuss politics without cuss words has no soul.

I personally get tired of people hurling "You're stupid... you're (blank)... you don't know what you're talking about (failure to explain why)...." in lieu of responding to the point with actual points or reason. I think such crap has become too commonplace here.

Also, this isn't about profanity, it appears, but insults. "You're a fucker," adds nothing. "Why the fuck is Bush telling us that we're making progress when four years later Iraq still lacks fucking stability," does. I think the point here is to cut comments where the only point is to name call and personally insult somebody.

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