Whipping up the Mob

Last May, shortly before I left Audubon Magazine (where I was an editor for eight years), I received a flurry of angry calls from around the country.

None of these people knew me; they were trying to reach John Flicker, National Audubon Society’s President. My phone extension had become mistaken with the organization’s main number and suddenly I was being bombarded by fans of conservative radio host Michael Reagan. On one of his shows and in a subsequent column, Reagan directed his listeners to call Flicker, along with the presidents of EarthJustice and The Natural Resources Defense Council, and implore them to stop opposing domestic oil and gas drilling:

If you want to drill in Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico or in the continental U.S.–where billions of gallons of petroleum are just waiting to be tapped–or build refineries, these three people stand in your way.

I’m sure it was news to John Flicker that he had this kind of influence, or that he opposed all U.S. drilling. (Hell, up until a few years ago, Audubon got money from a long-time gas drilling project in Louisiana that happened to take place on a wildlife refuge. Yeah, that was controversial.) But at any rate, Reagan’s listeners must have taken his rant seriously, because I was getting all those irate calls.

This episode sprang to mind today because of recent blog posts by Joseph Romm (see here and here), in which he attacks The York Times for this column by John Tierney and this news analysis by Andy Revkin. I’ve taken a stab at unpacking Romm’s missive against Revkin here and at another of his attacks on the Times here.

Romm’s slash-and-burn harangues are striking to behold for their stridency, and in this one, for his plea to readers to email Times editors and “demand a correction for the egregious mistakes” in Tierney’s column.

A similar vent-your-spleen tactic was employed by The Wonk Room at the end of its attack on Revkin.

Now I don’t have a problem with directing readers to other outlets (be they media or a government agency, or whatever) to express their opinions on a given issue. When I was at Audubon Magazine, providing contact sources for readers at the end of stories was routine practice. But we didn’t whip them up with mad-dog rhetoric or even tell them what to say.

By contrast, Romm and other bloggers are issuing directives to their respective flocks that urges them to express their outrage to the Times

The intent is transparent: to impugn someone’s reputation. And probably as effective and misdirected as those dopey phone calls I mistakenly got from Michael Reagan’s listeners last May.

2 Responses to “Whipping up the Mob”

  1. Brad Johnson says:

    I’m sorry you got dopey phone calls from Michael Reagan’s listeners. I’m not sure why you called my listing of contact information for Revkin, his editor, and the public editor of the Times a “vent-your-spleen tactic.” Unlike Mr. Romm, I made no call to action. And I certainly hope that you don’t consider my post a “rant.”

    To be honest, reading the comments I have received, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Times received compliments. The Times has a very open comment policy, explicitly welcoming reader feedback via email.

    It’s certainly a matter of taste as to what the role of the public should be with relation to the media; I’m sure there are reasonable people that don’t consider organizations like Media Matters to be helpful.

    That said, I note that you did not weigh in on the validity of the concerns I raised about Revkin’s column. But I can understand why you did not, if you consider my listing of public emails at the end of a critical piece as beyond the pale.

    One final point — would you consider that it is a reasonable interpretation of Revkin’s piece that his intent was to impugn the reputation of Gore (and, hey, why not, the honorable George Will)?

    If so, what is the responsible response?

  2. Keith says:

    I do not consider your post a rant. Compared to Romm, yours is a valentine. As the hour is late here out West, I’ll respond more fully Friday morning.

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