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The Washington Post Has a Tenuous Grasp on Idea of 'Incivility'

11:08 AM, Oct 14, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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I missed this ridiculous A-1 encapsulation of the media's summer of hand-wringing on Sunday, but it's worth reading for a crystal-clear look at the world view within major media. The opening anecdote for "In Today's Viral World, Who Keeps a Civil Tongue?," is telling. Let's hear about the horrors:

Late last month, Charisse Carney-Nunes fired up the computer at her home in Northeast Washington to check her e-mail. Her brain already was on morning drive time: breakfast for the kids, her day's work at a government agency. She glanced down at her screen, then froze.

"Ms. Carney-Nunes," began the e-mail from Michelle Malkin, a best-selling and often inflammatory conservative writer with a heavily trafficked Web site. "I understand that you uploaded the video of schoolchildren reciting a Barack Obama song/rap at Bernice Young elementary school in June. I have a few quick questions. Did you help write the song/rap and teach it to the children? Are you an educator/guest lecturer at the school? Did you teach about your book, 'I am Barack Obama' at the school? Your bio says you are a schoolmate of Obama. How well-acquainted are you with the president?"

She glanced down at her screen, then froze. Because she got a perfectly reasonable e-mail from Michelle Malkin inquiring about how she came to upload the Obama hymn performed by New Jersey schoolkids to her YouTube channel, you see. It's the stuff low-budget horror movies are made of. A spunky career woman arrives at her tastefully decorated condo after a long day at work only to find her e-mail inbox assaulted by polite inquiries from a (gasp!) conservative! Cue the "Psycho" soundtrack.

Really? This is the incivility the Washington Post wants to address in the lede? Moving on, we find the increasingly horrific fall-out over the video Carney-Nunes posted to her YouTube account:

Carney-Nunes looked at the time stamp -- 6:47 a.m. -- and closed the file without replying. She knew Malkin had driven criticism of President Obama's back-to-school speech, streamed nationwide, as an attempt to indoctrinate students. Now Malkin was asking about a YouTube video of New Jersey public school children singing and enthusiastically chanting about Obama from a Black History Month presentation.

By nightfall, Carney-Nunes's name was playing on Fox News and voice mails on her home phone and cellphone were clogged with the furious voices of strangers.

Gee, you know what would have helped clarify the situation? Replying politely to the polite e-mail from Malkin instead of complaining to the Washington Post after the fact. Malkin had accurately linked Carney-Nunes to the video because it had been uploaded to her YouTube account. Had Carney-Nunes wanted to distance herself from it at the time, by clarifying that an "associate" uploaded it or explaining that she hadn't written the song or directed the kids, Malkin had invited her to do so. The woman whose mission it is to help children "find their inner Obama" was shocked that people assumed she was complicit in the sing-a-long when she had uploaded it and made no attempt to clarify her connection to it, even when asked to do so.

If the Washington Post wants to address the intemperate e-mails and threats she got, fine, but bringing Malkin into the story is just an attempt to paint every major conservative commentator as a ranting, irrational hate-mailer, which the story clearly shows is not the case. Of course, addressing intemperate hate mail would require they address the volumes of it doled out by liberals to said conservative commentators, and they wouldn't want to go there.

It is only in the last eight paragraphs of the thumb-sucking Sunday piece, in a section titled "Town Hall Showdowns" that the Post gets to the infamous Rep. Alan "Republicans want you to die, quickly" Grayson. And, what do we hear about him?

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) tried to establish rules of civil discourse at his town hall meetings this summer. Busloads of out-of-town protesters showed up to the first one, but staff members admitted only his constituents. At the second, he wanted to focus on health-care reform, but residents kept questioning his authority to legislate. Grayson quoted the Constitution, while shouted interruptions drew cheers and applause.