An Israelite Without Guile
The Naked Blogger
A sharp-eyed reader, having spotted a flaw in my punctuation, said so in my combox. Under ordinary circumstances, this would have been a small thing. But the fact that punctuation, its intricacies and their delights, had been the subject of the blog post under discussion complicated matters immeasurably. Ignoring the post would have meant risking a loss of face. Editing the text in accordance with the commenter's instructions would have set a dangerous precedent—a sort of Magna Carta, binding myself to my readers' will.
In the end, I took a very simple detour around that snarl of potential problems: I deleted the comment. The despotic quality of the act made me shudder. I was curtailing freedom in the service of order—an order I just happened to equate with my own prestige. I had made this reader's feedback a desaparecido, as surely as if I'd tossed it into the Rio Plata from a low-flying plane.
In the three weeks during which I guest-blogged at the Anchoress—a commission no less awesome or flattering than being picked to guest-command the U.S.S. Carl Vinson—I found myself recalling Satchel Paige's caveat: Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you. Time and again, over the past fifteen years, those who deal in the written word have been trampled from behind by people they'd written off as upstarts. Print journalists put on airs around their online colleagues—until Forbes.com exposed the trumpery that Stephen Glass managed to pass more or less under the noses of New Republic's editors. Professional journalists dismissed bloggers as "men in pajamas" until bloggers supplied evidence calling into question the veracity of the so-called Killian memos, which suggested President George W. Bush had shirked duty during his final year in the Texas Air National Guard.
So we're seeing an outward shift of authority, from newsprint to digital, from the formally accredited to the self-trained. The recent Scott Adams flap may demonstrate the final step in democratization—the empowerment of the reader at the writer's expense. Dilbert's creator, having published a piece titled "How to Get A Real Education" in the Wall Street Journal, was incensed to see a string of critical comments at MetaFilter, a site to which the piece had been linked. Concealing his identity with the handle "plannedchaos," Adams proclaimed his own genius and attacked his critics. Once exposed, he had no choice but to confess. The performer had taken a stage dive and gotten his teeth kicked out.
Max Lindenman is a freelance writer, based in Phoenix. He has been published in National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and Salon. His Open Salon blog is here.