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On the Issue of Readers’ Right to Comment

By Comments

One of the issues inherent in writing a blog is the extent to which readers’ comments should be subject to censorship. My initial impulse was to publish everything. I make my living under the First Amendment, and I am reluctant to place any restraints on speech. Furthermore, the culture of the Internet is that information is unfiltered. People feel that they have a right to weigh in on the subject under discussion and get indignant when their comment is not published. In the year (almost) that I have been overseeing this blog, I can think of only three four comments that I have not published. One involved an invasion of privacy of a legislator. One involved a personal slur aimed at me. And the third was a letter that accused my colleague, Patricia Kilday Hart, of displaying bias. I posted it at first and then removed it. After I removed it, a reader sent this comment:

Why did you remove the post referring to Patti applauding the member that walked out of the House Chamber?????

Would it not have been better to have her respond?

Now it only looks like she was guilty of that act rather than explain herself.

This was a discussion yesterday – many people saw the post as well as saw her that night.

It makes her journalism standards very, very suspect.

This was my response:

When an accusation is published about us that we know to be untrue — for example, that Patricia Kilday Hart once worked for the Democratic party — one has three choices: (1) refuse to publish the letter with the false accusation; (2) refuse to dignify the accusation with a response; (3) respond to the accusation. Patti believes that the right course is (1) and I agree with her in principle. To publish the falsehood is to give it credence and to place the burden of a response on the wrongly accused. The second option is to publish the letter and ignore it; falsehood merits neither publication nor a response. Readers, unfortunately, are prone to judge silence as an admission of guilt, which logically it is not. So that brings us to (3), which is to refute the falsehood. That is the course Patti has taken here, and that both of us will take in the future. I’m not thrilled about this. I started this blog as an exchange of ideas about politics. I don’t claim any special status for my ideas. Readers are free to critcize them at will. But I am reluctant to turn the blog into a forum for personal attacks.

Ms. Hart did respond:

I have never worked for the Democratic Party.
I have never applauded at the Capitol, except for resolutions for war dead and fallen public safety officers.
I watched the walkout from the Gallery and walked to the stairs where democratic staffers were gathered to seew which members were walking out. At no time did I clap.

So I am going to bend over backwards to post every comment. But this policy is not a promie to publish every comment. I will not publish comments that are defamatory. I will not publish comments that are demeaning. And I did not publish a comment today that included a racial slur.

I hope this satisfies everyone.

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