In an interview from 2008, Bob talks with This American Life host Ira Glass about the inherent worth of online conversations, as at the time, This American Life had recently disabled user comments on his show's website.
Bibio - Saint Christopher
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If there’s any cold comfort we can take in the kinds of angry comments that we receive, I guess it’s probably because we know we’re not alone in being on tthe receiving end of so much vitriol. In an interview we originally ran in 2008, Bob commiserated with fellow Public Radio host Ira Glass of This American Life.
BOB GARFIELD: Recently there’s been a bit of a backlash against the angry commenter, especially the anonymous angry commenter. Newspapers around the country have had to disband comment sections because of racist content, ad hominem attacks, and vulgarity. The Mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, Eddie Perez, actually staged a protest outside of the offices of the Hartford Courant in response to what he called “hate speech” on the paper’s site. Even a reporter for Gawker, the snarky online gossip site that itself trades in mean jabs at anybody with a semblance of name recognition, urged newspapers to stop hosting the fray, which, of course, if you believe in digital democracy and in the transfer of power from the few to the many, is absolute heresy.
Here’s our friend Ira Glass of Public Radio’s This American Life. Ira himself was impaled on the horns of a dilemma when comment traffic on his website got uglier and uglier. IRA GLASS: And this culminated in this story that the woman named Debra Gwartney did, which was this incredibly bare piece of journalism where she tried to document why her teenage daughters ran away from home, ran away from her, okay? And, you know, they're doing drugs, they're on the road. I mean, it’s just like it’s a very, very serious story and it’s an honest story. It’s an actual, honest story, where somebody tries to say, here’s how it happened.
And so, we had this story. We thought it was really just an amazing piece of work and a very brave piece of work on their part to make themselves so exposed. And at the time we had this bulletin board on our website, where people would comment on the shows, and people were just so vicious about her as a mom, and about the girls, and they called the girls names, they called them sluts. And we had to go on the website, like, I went on the website and I said, like, please, like, these are teenage girls who are reading what you’re saying about them, right here.
They come onto this site and they see what you’re saying, so please like act like they're in the room and you’re saying something to them in this room. Know that you are talking directly to them, and use the tone of voice you would if, if you knew that they were hearing you.
And, and truthfully, I and the whole staff, we just thought, like okay, that - that’s the last straw, and, and we took down the bulletin board, 'cause we felt like it was an act of bad faith with our interviewees. We don't need to create a forum for the audience to express their mean-hearted opinions about people who open themselves up to us and, and to them. There’s just, there’s just no reason for that. We don't have to – we don’t have to endorse that by, by giving it a space. BOB GARFIELD: At that point in the conversation, I asked Ira a leading question, something along the lines of, how uncivilized the discourse is online, and I more or less invited him to sneer at some portion of his audience. He didn't take the bait.
IRA GLASS: I mean honestly, I hear you say that, and I, I just think that that’s the way the royalty feels when they're not the only ones who get, who get a voice. Do you know what I mean? Like, up until now, you’re old enough and I'm old enough that you were very comfortable with the one-way communication. And I feel like I hear you say this and, and I feel like you are anti-democratic. You are a royalist. You are upset with democracy itself.
I, I don't find it very comforting that there’s like a world of people who don't agree with my feelings about my own show, but that’s okay with me. Like, I don't have, I don’t have to feel good about that. I feel like, you know, you make something and you put it out in the world and you want people to have feelings about it, and the feelings can include that they hate you, and, and that seems okay. And the fact that they get to say it and it gets to stick to my name –
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- I feel like even that seems okay. BOB GARFIELD: Radio, television and, now film producer, Ira Glass is the creator and host of This American Life.