Here’s my first email:
I couldn’t help but notice that you called me an idiot on Mark Levin’s Facebook page, even though you said in the very same post that you’ve never heard of me or read anything that I’ve written.
That doesn’t seem very fair!
Should you ever run across something I’ve written that you find idiotic, I hope you’ll feel free to criticize it as honestly and forcefully as you’re able, but I’d appreciate it if you’d at least do me the courtesy of reading what I’ve written prior to insulting me.
And the woman’s response:
I apologize for the offense. My point, in my post to Mark Levin, was that the people who “like” his Facebook page do so to read HIS opinions, not yours. I suppose I could have just stated it thus.
I have followed Mark Levin’s links to your articles previously, so I am somewhat familiar with what you do. Obviously I disagree with the conclusions you draw, but I can see that you are articulate and not an “idiot” in the traditional sense… :)
However, if you would allow me to point out one thing, it would be this: If you believe you have a valid point of view, you do it a disservice by personally attacking someone with a differing viewpoint. With your skills as a writer, you would do your cause a better service by focusing on the issues instead. I would wager that most of your regular readers subscribe to your point of view, which is why they read what you write. You probably don’t have to convince them of your opinion of Mark Levin. Likewise, most of Mark Levin’s readership subscribes to point of view similar to his. I believe that it is beneath the dignity of any real philosopher (whatever his philosophy may be) to attack another. The fact that you are, to some extent, making a name for yourself simply by criticizing Mark Levin’s every word seems like a poor use of your skills. Likewise, Mark’s taking the time to respond to your every criticism with childish vitriol is a poor use of his- especially since he has such a large following, not to mention a best-selling book.
And frankly, sir, I am a bit surprised that you’d be troubled by such an insignificant remark as the one I posted on Mark Levin’s page. I would have imagined that your line of work necessitated a thick skin. I’m a little shocked that you have the time to read, much less respond, to such trifles. That, too, seems beneath your dignity. Nevertheless, thank you for taking the time to correct my manners. :) I apologize again for the offense. I will remove the post.
Your thoughtful response is very much appreciated. And you’re right about needing to have thick skin in this business, but I am in opinion journalism largely because I believe that argument and conversations with other people lead to better ideas, better understanding. Now that I’ve written you, I’ve been afforded a chance to understand your perspective in a way I never could if I merely read your initial Facebook post, and I hope I can explain myself to you as well.
You write that I do a disservice to my work by attacking people with a different viewpoint. I look at things a bit differently. Mark Levin and I disagree about certain matters — some of them concern style and others concern substance, and I think we ought to be able to debate those differences of opinion like intelligent adults, rather than sending insults back and forth. I am not perfect. In the thousands of words I write each day, I doubtless lose my cool on occasion, or handle a conversation in a way less conducive to productive discourse than I’d like when looking at it in hindsight.
But I certainly try my utmost to make this about ideas rather than personalities, even when I disagree with Mr. Levin. You’ll never find a post where I call him juvenile names, or insult him personally, or disparage whole bodies of his work with which I’m unfamiliar. My complaints about him are basically threefold: 1) I think he often treats callers to his show disrespectfully — the first time I criticized Mr. Levin, it was after hearing him tell a female caller, “I don’t know why your husband doesn’t put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.” 2) Though there is much to agree with in his book Liberty and Tyranny — and I’ve complimented aspects of it — it is misleading to act as if liberals want to increase the size of the state as an end in itself, and if the right is going to oppose them, it’s important that people understand their actual motivations for wanting bigger government, rather than a straw man. 3) In the dispute between Mr. Levin and Jim Manzi, I think the latter was treated unfairly.
I appreciate that you may disagree with me regarding one or all of these things. But they all seem like perfectly fair matters for public disagreement. I appreciate that from your perspective, it seems as though a large portion of my work is criticizing Mr. Levin, but contrary to what he would have his readers believe, I regularly write for a bunch of different outlets, and if you peruse my Forbes column, or my Atlantic posts, or my Daily Beast column, or my Newsweek pieces, you’d see that not only do I spend the vast majority of my time on matters other than the talk radio host, I also write a lot of stuff with which his listeners would agree.
And that is my final objection.
When I disagree with Mr. Levin, I describe him accurately, as a talk radio host and bestselling author of Liberty and Tyranny. He describes me to his audience in the most misleading terms: sometimes as a liberal, other times as a Nixonian, always with insults, etc. Occasionally I correspond with fans of his, and it shocks them to learn that I wrote a piece for Newsweek defending Rand Paul, or that I’ve written in defense of a Tea Party rally that was disparaged in a New York Times column.
So now you know my side of the story. And I thank you for taking the time to correspond.
Have a great day.
And her reply:
I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the full scope of your work, even though, now that I’ve looked some of it up, I realize I’ve read it before. Your writing leaves me a little confused as to where you stand politically, honestly… probably because politics have become such a polarizing subject, especially in the media, that moderation comes as a shock. :) I read the Newsweek article you referred to. For years I read Newsweek fairly regularly, although not as much recently. I would have to say that your article was by far the most thoughtful and fair political article I’ve read in a long time in that magazine.
I do notice that you take the time, in a few different pieces that I’ve read, to defend yourself against what others say about you. (In your piece about the Times article, for example, you defended yourself against the accusation that you were “oblivious.”) I don’t know if this is due to your personal sensitivity or because you think that addressing such criticisms directly is important in maintaining your credibility as a journalist. I don’t personally think it achieves the latter, but I’m not a journalist; perhaps I’m wrong. What I do know is that Mark Levin has lost my respect by repeatedly posting personal attacks against his detractors. It’s tiresome, unnecessary, and- in his case- ridiculously childish. (“Friedersdork”? Seriously?? HOW old is he?!?)
I still think that it is a little odd that you took the time to respond to my thoughtless remark and subsequent reply… Probably the kind of thing that prompts Mark Levin to accuse you of being a “stalker”. It’s not a bad habit, I suppose, for someone in your position to take the time to connect with random people among the masses; probably a GOOD habit, in fact. Just unusual these days. But your reply gave me the opportunity to better understand the potential impact of words, and to form a more “fair and balanced” viewpoint. Mind you, I’m just a mom raising my family in the “boonies” of northern Michigan, so I’m not sure it was the best investment of your time… :) But thanks anyway.
Before I could write back, she pinged me again:
I hope you don’t mind my writing back to you once again- I’m kind of laughing at myself for doing it- but I wanted to share with you that I have been blocked from Mark Levin’s Facebook page. Yesterday, after his last “Friedersdork” post, I had the audacity to ask if he was in the third grade. For this I received a rabid response from many of his fans and got myself blocked from posting on his page. Needless to say, I am heartbroken. ;)
I don’t know why I decided to send him an e-mail after that, but I did. Just wanted to share. I’ve shortened it a bit so as not to take up TOO much of your time. I hope the sarcasm in all but the first paragraph is evident… :)
Before you read it (if you have the time to do so), I’d like to thank you once again for taking the time to set me straight! I deserved it, and the manner in which you did it was consummately dignified and respectful. I admire your character.
I read your book Liberty and Tyranny and was so impressed with your insights and wisdom, your brilliant articulation of the virtues of Conservatism, and your skill for disemboweling the tenets of liberalism, that I joined your Facebook page. There I found myself disappointed by the fact that you took so much time addressing the criticisms that others levied against you, often by namecalling, rather than sharing more of the kind of wisdom evident in your book. I left you a couple of comments to that effect, the most recent of which seems to have gotten me blocked from your page.
In reading the replies of other members to my comment, it is clear to me now that I am not entirely familiar with what you do… I had no idea that your strategy for winning hearts and minds to Conservatism was through cheap shots at your opponents. It seemed at odds with the impression I had of you, which was that of a brilliant philosopher.
It was clearly my mistake… you have over 181,000 friends to your page, and they all seem to have the same approach you do… I was accused of having voted for and supporting Obama (which I most assuredly didn’t and DON’T), I was told to “go cook dinner”, and the majority of respondents did not even correctly spell my name… Your strategy eluded me before, but suddenly it is clear! The Democrats… by the votes of the ignorant… won the presidency and the Congress. It was a whole demographic that was being missed, that Conservatism simply didn’t appeal to.
Suddenly, here you are, a Conservative making the low blows and ad hominem attacks of the Left your own. You realized that showing actual character, dignity, and maturity is completely lost on the majority of the population… Only by sinking to their level can we win their hearts and votes! And… the ignorant masses… are absolutely flocking to you!
…in my boorish way yesterday, by questioning your character and maturity on your Facebook page, I have bruised your ego. I’m sorry. I should have realized, based on the content of your page and the complete lack of criticism for you, not to mention the way you have ripped apart other journalists who have dared to breathe a word against you, that such criticism simply was not tolerated… such a great mind simply could not bear to be questioned or endure a less than favorable appraisal… that in order for your approach to work, it had to stand unquestioned and unchallenged. After all, your ministry… is not to the educated and thoughtful of America who are already likely to be Conservative, but rather, to the intellectual children and sheep that have, until now, been underserved by the Conservative movement. You saw how the Obama administration works- by attempting to silence dissent- and you realized that, in order to attain your objectives, you must work in the same way.
…I will strive to cultivate in myself these same attitudes so that I, too, may represent Conservatism to the masses effectively. Once I feel that I have become sufficiently smug, sarcastic, and petty to associate with you and your fans once again, I will join your page once more. I only pray that you might unblock me at such a time so I can contribute to the new “Levinian” dialogue of Conservatism.
Here’s how I responded:
Thanks so much for your note. It means a lot to me. And I’m sorry to hear you were insulted by Mark Levin’s fans. That’s never fun, but if it makes you feel better, for most of them, it isn’t that they actually bear you animosity. He’s just created an environment where insults are made thoughtlessly. When you walk into a bar with sawdust and peanut shells littering the floor, you’re more likely to litter without thinking about it. So don’t take their words personally!
And I hope you’ll always feel free to write me. A thoughtful email is never a waste of time.
I hope you have a great day.
I’m not sorry. If that incident reflects the character of the people Mark Levin attracts, I’d prefer their scorn rather than their praise. The juvenile insults were getting to be a little too much for me, and I was about to leave his page regardless.
So where’s YOUR Facebook “fan” page? :)