Those who misjudge the viral nature of today's communications do so at their
A recent victim was Paul Krugman, the noted columnist who writes for the New
York Times and someone whose work I often admire. Mr. Krugman had some provocative
thoughts about 9/11, most notably that our memories have been "irrevocably
poisoned," and the anniversary is "an occasion for shame."
Rather than publish these views in the newspaper, Mr. Krugman chose to write
them only in his blog, deep within the Times' website. Perhaps he took comfort
in believing that the volatile assertions would reach fewer people. Moreover,
he probably assumed the remarks would be seen only by regular readers of his "The
Conscience of a Liberal" blog, who might be more accepting of his views
than those in a larger, general audience.
Mr. Krugman not only sought safety in the blogosphere's back room, he also
tried to stifle debate by stating that he would not post any feedback, for what
he called "obvious reasons."
Naturally, it took only hours to blow up. Conservatives raged on the Internet
and on cable-TV; Donald Rumsfeld even huffed that he was canceling his subscription
to The Times (odd, since the item never appeared in the paper).
By the next day, Mr. Krugman was compelled to clarify his position with a
second posting in which he softened his stance somewhat. Still, his head must
have been exploding. Like so many who underestimate the potency of today's media,
he was no doubt surprised that his quiet little blog had created so much noise.
Professionals who should know better - both liberals and conservatives - often
use less restraint on smaller stages. Lately Glenn Beck's declarations are even
more outrageous than they were on cable-TV, now that his outlet is a small Webcast.
Sean Hannity, whose barbs are plenty sharp on the Fox News Channel, is even more
vicious on his daily radio program.
Politicians who go on local radio back home tend to adopt a "just between
us" approach. Over the summer, for example, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) was
interviewed on radio in Denver and likened President Barack Obama to a "tar
baby." When it went viral, Lamborn apologized.
After Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his presidential campaign, President
Obama advised: "this isn't like running for governor or running for Senate
or running for Congress, you've got to be a little more careful about what you
Perry has had more than his share of small-forum remarks that don't play well
on the national stage. Among his worst was the 2005 insult to a local TV reporter
in Houston following a testy interview: "Adios, mofo." In flunking
Media 101, Perry later said he didn't realize the tape was still rolling.
Perry's book, "Fed Up!" is chock full of cracks and quips that are
not only difficult to explain to a national electorate, but also reflect a misunderstanding
of media. While the audience for most books, even best sellers, is relatively
small, nothing on the printed page is safe from national scrutiny. Following
publication Perry acknowledged as much, saying the book provided "the best
concrete evidence that I'm really not running for president."
New media create an unusual dichotomy: communication that is more personal
and intimate, yet is preserved forever and potentially glimpsed by anyone.
Those in the public eye should commit to memory a media version of Miranda
Rights: Everything you say can and will come back to haunt you.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was orginally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.