OK, part of it is your track record, not just what you say today

Now that I’ve actually tried to implement the new comments policy for nearly a full day, I’m realizing something more fully than I did before. Yesterday, I wrote of my dilemma:

I see, for instance, that WordPress provides the option of “Comment author must have a previously approved comment,” which sounds nice, but what good is it really? I prefer to judge a comment by its own merits, not by who posted it. Lee, for instance (and Lee really resents being picked on, and he’ll probably see this as being picked on, but let’s face it; his name is the one my readers most frequently bring up as an irritant), sometimes posts perfectly fine comments that add to the conversation. I’m not saying it happens every day, but it happens. So, going by my own preferred standards, I would approve that one good comment — and under the “Comment author must have a previously approved comment,” he would then have carte blanche to return to his habitual ways.

See, at that point I was undecided: Under this new approach, should I reward Lee, or “Mike Toreno” or “BillC,” by posting their comments when they behave themselves? Or should I just ban them for their past sins?

When I first posted the new rules, I was leaning toward the former. But I find I’m implementing the latter.

That’s because my goal is to make this a more comfortable place for people who are not shouters or trolls or flamers or whatever to air their thoughts without being dismissed or insulted, which has kept a LOT of good people away. The three I mention above — Lee and “Toreno” and “BillC” — sometimes seem like the only readers of my blog, because of the way they dominate conversations. Especially Lee, who posts early (generally first) and often (alarmingly often). After awhile, they have more impact on the general tone and feel of the blog than I do. Which will sort of make a guy wonder why he’s bothering.

So — even though they may be trying to post some comments that provoke thought without insulting anyone, so as not to be barred, I’m reluctant to approve anything by those three. And so I haven’t. If I let them back in now, I know that gradually they’ll push a little more, and a little more, and my attention will wander, and pretty soon we’re back where we were. I’ve been here before with repeat offenders, and I know the trajectory that these things follow.

If one is of a legalistic mind, this will seem unfair. After all, the judge and jury are only supposed to consider whether the accused committed THIS crime, rather than convict him on the basis of his past offense (right? you lawyers, feel free to jump in at this point).

But folks, I am not obliged to approve anybody’s comment, ever. I don’t even have to allow comments. I do it because I want to. And if somebody has created an ugly disturbance in my living room too many times, I’m not going to invite that person any more, lest my more desirable guests stop coming (and who would blame them).

So I haven’t approved anything by the three I mentioned above, even though they have tried several times. Not for the foreseeable future. They will no doubt find this frustrating. Well, they can go start their own blogs, and dedicate them to trashing this one, if they are so inclined. And if they can get anybody to read them, then more power to them. I’m not going to let them feed off of, and undermine, my ability to draw an audience any longer. They are personae non grata.

(And yes, I know that they can always come back under a new pseudonym — actually, I suspect one of the three of having done so quite a few times before — but that’s why I’m also monitoring the content of comments, rather than simply barring those names.)

Now, for the rest of you, you’re being judged by each comment. Yeah, some others among you aside from the banned three have contributed to ugliness on this blog. So, many of you will accuse, have I. But you’ve also contributed positively, and by approving some of your comments and not others, I hope to get all of us into the habit of listening to our better angels, and reflecting that in our writing.

If it seems like I’m making up the rules as I go along, then you’re very astute. But I’m doing the best I can. If you don’t like it, again: Go to another blog, or start your own. But if you want to be part of building a better public forum, welcome.

17 thoughts on “OK, part of it is your track record, not just what you say today

  1. Claudia

    Good luck with the new standards, Brad… I hope it works out. I’ve stayed away because of certain types here that I just got sick of… such as he-who-shall-not-be-named. I’ve made an effort to just not read comments from some people, but they’re kinda like a wreck on the side of the road, ya know? Hard to ignore.

    BTW – WordPress won’t let me log out.

  2. kbfenner

    Speaking as a lawyer:

    Due process rights vary greatly according to the situation. We aren’t talking felonies here, where there are lifelong consequences or the potential deprivation of liberty. We’re talking blog posts, where there are ample alternative fora, including simply setting up one’s own blog.

    The more apt analogy, but still faulty, is free speech. Courts have required malls to allow certain activities because they had become the de facto town square.

    Otherwise and in virtually every other private property case, Publix is free to ban solicitations on its premises; you don’t have to let me into your living room, even if you let me there before. If I threw up on your sofa at your last party, you don’t have to invite me back just because I say I won’t this time.

    Even if I’m in your book club.

    You are not the government. You are not the only forum. I know this is hard news for you to take, but it’s true, alas.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Amen to what Sallizar just said…

    And Kathryn — nicely argued, counselor. (Picture me here as the lugubrious judge played by Fred Gwynne in “My Cousin Vinny.”)

    My problem is all those years in the Fourth Estate — we were all about holding government to account by the rules we apply to government, and tended to apply those rules to ourselves as well. We just thought in those terms. We acted like “Fourth Estate” meant we were actually a part of government. The folks in advertising knew they worked in the private sector, and you could tell, but you couldn’t always tell from listening to news/editorial types.

  4. larry forsyth

    Most Blogs end up being dominated by the “Lee”s of this world. Some of them have enough “Lees” to survive. Your blog does not.

    The people who are interested in reasonable debate get fed up with the “Lees” and don’t participate anymore.

    I don’t know the answer. I had hope for your BLOG and perhaps you can figure it out.

    (Does Lee have a real job?)

  5. kbfenner

    and, indeed, as the paper of record, you should have been extra careful to be as fair as possible. I believe you tried and succeeded for the most part, even though I disagreed with many of your stances.

    This isn’t the paper of record. It isn’t your blog as editor of the paper of record. It’s your personal blog.You can be as arbitrary and capricious as you like.

    That sounds awfully fey for you, though. Capricious. Hmmmm

    and you did offer a rational basis. Past experience. *Extensive* past experience. The burden of policing.The lack of permanent change from the last embargo.

  6. Norm Ivey

    I have to say that I am a much less frequent visitor/poster to your blog than I have been in the past, but it’s because I grew weary of the tone so many of the conversations. It seemed that even some of your more innocuous posts concerning pop culture or your personal story (like that hat-at-the-beach story or your wistful desire for a commuter train coming into town from Chapin) became shouting matches and drifted far from the original topic. I’m glad to see you’re taking a stand, and I want to offer my support.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Folks, I met Norm when he was on a panel assembled by the newsroom to comment on the presidential debates in 08…

    You’re a good man, Norm, and it’s good to have you back.

  8. Claudia

    Thanks, Karen. And VERY good to see Norm here, too… one of the folks who (whom? I never know…) I often disagreed with but always respected!

  9. kbfenner


    “I often disagreed with him” becomes “whom I often disagreed with.”

    Turn it into a simple sentence with a pronoun, and if it’s “he,” it’s “who,” and if it’s “him,” it’s “whom.”

  10. martin

    Don’t you just want to slap yourself silly for letting those people hijack YOUR blog?!?!

    Good for you… at long last!!

    Can’t you already FEEL how different it is?

  11. Burl Burlingame

    Thanks for the English tip, KB. I write for a living and I don’t know anything.

    Part of the reason is that, like Brad, I was educated overseas. In my case, Hong Kong English. I still tend to spell it “grey” rather than “gray.”

  12. Claudia

    Thanks for the grammar tip, kb. Maybe a mnemonic will help it stick… “him” and “whom” have more letters than “he” and “who”?

    And the atmosphere has definitely improved since you kicked the bullies off the playground, Brad. Fist bump to you!

  13. kbfenner

    My father and brother are/were editors. My brother left the Philly Inquirer to work for Vanguard after 25 years as a copy editor, etc. there, at the Charlotte Observer and at the Cola Record (RIP). Needless to say, one does not make grammar or style mistakes with impunity at the dinner table. I just emailed him yesterday to find out the preferred apostrophization of words ending in “s” and got a treatise on the various style books/sheets. Basically, AP goes with the shorter “Davis'” while the non-newspaper style mavens prefer “Davis’s”. In my family, one is not sentenced to death, one is sentenced to die, and no one is “famous,” they are “noted.”

Comments are closed.