A BuzzFlash Contributor
Schmidt Strikes Out
Special Guest Appearance by the Inimitable Gene Lyons
hero, Gene Lyons, calls a spade a spade, and a weeny, a weeny.
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April 24, 2002
by Gene Lyons
Is there a bigger bunch of crybabies in American public life than our esteemed Washington press corps? In my experience, nobody comes close. Exactly how this came to be is a small mystery. Journalism used to be one of the rough-and-tumble trades. Reporters didn't have to be tough guys, but, like cops, took a dim view of human nature and saw skepticism as a virtue. "If your mother says she loves you," the slogan went "check it out." A thick skin was a basic job requirement. If you were going to make a career handing it out, you'd better learn to take it.
Alas, today's Washington reporters have grown as delicate as houseplants. Who knows why? Maybe it's the fault of college journalism departments for turning a trade into a "profession." Maybe of cable TV, which made political reporters into minor celebrities, increasing their self-importance. It could be Washington's status-obsessed salon society, basically junior high school with money.
No matter. The capital's crybaby culture has rarely been more perfectly captured than in a recent article by Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler. Post reporters have been getting rude e-mails, if you can believe such a terrible thing. Several, poor babies, got their feelings hurt. "Some of the stuff coming into electronic mailboxes here in recent weeks is simply vulgar," Getler huffed. "Some is threatening, some is hateful." Alas, "the number of people willing to say almost anything via e-mail is increasing, especially if the target happens to be a woman staffer."
Since he quotes none of it, Getler's complaint is hard to evaluate. Here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, we're made of sterner stuff. The merely vulgar gets featured on the "Voices" page, my favorite part of the paper. Name-calling, race-baiting, religious diatribes, anti-Semitism, sexual taunts, you name it. Only the major dirty words are forbidden. Half the time you can't tell when writers are joking. Somebody recently opined that I have horns and a tail, like Satan. Parody or unintentional self-parody? Searching for a farrier who can fit shoes on cloven hoofs, I'm too busy to decide.
Getler says some e-mails are too coarse to quote. That's easy to believe. During the Clinton years, I used to get letters from a loon in Florida who called himself a "pacifist," but warned darkly that he had violent friends. In the crudest language imaginable, he portrayed my "Mommie dearest, sister, wife, or daughter" raped, then dismembered by "blacks or Hispanics." I always wondered if "Sock," as he signed himself, had any pants on when he typed that stuff up.
Did I cry to my editors? No, I figured it was like the time Rep. Tommy Robinson publicly threatened to "sue my ass and kick my butt." (Or maybe it was the other way around, two buttocks references in one sentence being unusual even for the tough guy ex-sheriff.) Empty talk from a blowhard.
Apart from informing the occasional anonymous caller that he's a coward, I've only twice reacted to nasty communications. After an anonymous posting on the crackpot FreeRepublic website published the grotesque lie that I was a well-known pedophile at the same time somebody was spending lots of money mailing me glossy magazines with photos of bodybuilders who definitely had no pants on, together with what the U.S. Postal inspector said were X-rated gay videos, I smelled a setup and filed complaints. Mostly, though, journalists figure crank mail comes with the territory.
Not so the sensitive flowers at the Washington Post, whom Getler's article never names, although their identities are obvious. One is our old friend Susan Schmidt, dubbed "Stenographer Sue" by the scrappy activists at mediawhoresonline.com for what they deem her practice of taking dictation from Kenneth Starr. Anyhow, here's the part of the story the ombudsman left out, although it's been widely reported elsewhere. Subjected to a barrage of informed criticism of her comically one-sided articles -- Schmidt's March 20 dispatch on the "Ray Report" on Whitewater contained not a single reaction from anybody mentioned in its pages, the equivalent of reporting a football game by mentioning only the home team's touchdowns -- she tried to get even.
Schmidt traced her correspondents' e-mail addresses, found out where they worked, and forwarded messages to their bosses in a seeming attempt to get them in trouble for malingering on the job. It backfired. Her antagonists not only didn't get fired, they exposed Schmidt's pettiness for the world to see. In response, the MWO website has posted close to a hundred letters devoid of obscenity but filled with pungent critiques of her peculiar behavior. Trying to turn a debate on substance into a debate on manners made the Post look ridiculous. Meanwhile, if Schmidt had put half the ingenuity into her reporting she did trying to silence her critics, maybe they wouldn't frighten her so.
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