The Blogger's Lament

Surveying recent comments responding to a recent blog post, I find myself wondering if there is some logical disconnect between the reality of daily blogging and the expectations of our site visitors. Blogs, as far as I understand the form, and I assure you it is not one I am altogether comfortable with, are intended to be spontaneous, fast and opinionated comment on breaking news. As a result, they are not going to be comprehensive and they are going to reflect the author's perspective.

For the record, I am a lifelong liberal Catholic Democrat, from a N.Y. union-supporting, public sectoring, civil service family. I don't think I can be any clearer than that about my biases and background. I know plenty of our site visitors consider liberal-Catholic to be an oxymoron. So be it; I'll never convince them otherwise, so let's just move on. You can assume when I write an OPINION based blog post (as opposed to items which are more or less straight news reporting) that it is not going to be objective (if there is such a thing at all in any mainstream media these days) and will be filtered through my worldview just as your opinion-based rebuttals are filtered through yours. (I wonder if the same posters here who complain about the bias of America bloggers are likewise leaving lenghty complaints at First Things or Crisis, the National Review or American Spectator about including more liberal commentators on their blogs or if they similarly complain that blog posts are not comprehensive enough.) For more considered opinion (partly because we indeed devote more time to it than a small fraction of the 24-hour news cycle) and for a variety of perspectives from the contemporary Catholic world, I'd invite site visitors to consider the magazine, America. Your expectations can, and should, be higher for what we actually publish in print. I would have to say the blog In All Things is an altogether different animal (too fast and too furious?).


So with subjectivity, and, yes, I will admit some degree of superficiality (blog posts make journalism's "literature in a hurry" seem painstaking) as a given, what can we expect from each other here online? Some alerts to breaking news, perhaps a different spin on news then you might find elsewhere, and I'd say at the least, civility and generosity in dialogue--you know things from which they will know we are Christians by our, etc. I hope I respond with courtesy and respect to all commentators here as my job duties allow (believe it or not I have lots more to do than patrol this blog). I acknowledge some snarky lapses, but I would have to say dealing with some of the particulary unkind comments left behind by some of our regulars is one of the reasons I can find blogging duties here at America dispiriting.

The last few months covering the HHS fiasco have been instructive for me as a Catholic journalist. I have been vilified by both the right and left wing factions of the church, sometimes over the same post. Clearly a thick skin, or at least thicker than I have, is required if one is foolish enough (or contractually obligated) to enter the blogosphere, but I guess  I would prefer it were not so.

There I feel better. God bless all here.


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6 years 11 months ago
Kevin, you are doing a great job.  I do not write a blog, but I puzzle over the intensity of the mean-spirited attacks in the comment boxes of the various blogs I read.  It doesn't happen only in religious contexts.  In discussing a blizzard and the poor decisions that the Chicago Transit Authority made about public transportation during the storm in a blog on The Chicago Tribune, I was amazed to be attacked ad hominem by people with nick or only first names.  It's most disappointing when it happens in religious contexts, though, especially when people who think that they are "defending" Jesus or the church fail miserably to observe basic charity.  In fact, I find most Catholic blogs and their comment boxes to be embarassing and counterproductive, if their mission is to evangelize and build communion.  But yours and the blogs here at America, never.  Some right-wing blogs edit out the comments with which they disagree.  On one such site, you have to pay to post  a comment! As hard as it is, keep injecting a dose of civil sanity into the electronic conversation.  I bet I speak for many, most of whom may never post a comment that would be positive if they did, in saying that your blog posts are needed and helpful.
Kang Dole
6 years 11 months ago
I think that people respond so negatively in com boxes for a few reasons. I don't think I need to repeat what everyone knows, which is that anonymity and the lack of face-to-face communication makes it easier to spew venom. I would say that two big impulses drive a lot of online communication: hate reading and "trying to fix the internet" syndrome.

Hate reading is when you seek out opinions that make you angry, that get you worked up. People do it for the same reason they go to porn sites: there's more than one way to get off, and your sense of outrage can be stroked just as sweetly as other things. Different strokes for different folks, of course: some people get off by getting angry at America or Commonweal or whatever, and some head straight for First Things.

So just remember, Kevin-when people are raging at you, they're actually quite happy deep down that you're doing what you're doing. I mean, nobody hates their dominatrix when she's bringing the pain-quite the opposite, of course. So the next time you post something, do it with "Venus in Furs" on in the background for inspiration. It'll be empowering. Tell 'em to taste the whip.

The "fixing the internet" syndrome is presented quite nicely in an old New Yorker cartoon. A wife is calling her husband to leave the computer and come to bed, but he says,"I can't yet, there's something wrong on the internet!" We see opinions that strike us as so wrongheaded that we just have to do something about it-on one hand, it's fun to show that you're smarter than the other person, but on the other hand, there's a real anxiety about the fact that people are out there thinking the wrong thing. This is of course related to hate reading: what a rush! Why are people who are in such disagreement with the views expressed here so prone to be the most regular commentors? Do they think they will be the ones to finally fix the bad opinions of America writers? Who know, but there's no going to bed while things are still broken online.

Bill Collier
6 years 11 months ago
Perhaps I'm just getting old, or perhaps it's because I'm not very clued in about internet culture, but I'd never heard about "hate reading" and "fixing the internet" until I read Abe's interesting post, which explains a lot about the in-your-face blogging style of some people. Perhaps in my naivete I'm wrong, but I perceive a blogging style that often seems endemic to Catholic blogs, i.e., the need to police such blogs for comments that are heretical, or at least not Catholic enough, on a blogger's personal religious pH scale. This blogging style may be a subset of "fixing the internet" ("fixing the fallen," perhaps?). It's not the spirited discussion of opposing views that is bothersome, it's the lack of Christian charity that often turns comments ad hominem, snarky, or mean that is the problem. Perhaps we should all be asking WWJB (What Would Jesus Blog?) before putting fingers to the keyboard.       
Vince Killoran
6 years 11 months ago
Abe's comments are great-as is his reference to the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs."
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 11 months ago
Love Abe's analysis of the combox problem.  Even recognize myself there at times, being a fixer (and maybe a bit of the other) at heart!
Eileen Sadasiv
6 years 11 months ago
Just a simple "Thank you" for all you do.  Blessings on you.
Amy Ho-Ohn
6 years 11 months ago
I feel like things are a little tense on Catholic blogs right now because the Church is practically commanding us to support positions that seem just plain irrational to a lot of people. If you disagree with the party line, you're denounced as a traitor. If you just shut up, you're an appeasor. If you try to fake conviction in something you think is wrong, you inevitably end up sounding idiotic, and somebody will helpfully point it out.

Some people can stand on a street corner and shout "Dogs are rodents! Titanium is an inert gas! Mindless parroting is a well-formed conscience!" with a straight face and some people can't.

Seven more months of election season. Joy.
david power
6 years 11 months ago

To avoid criticism "say nothing,do nothing ,be nothing".
Your blog entries are valid (no matter what I write with half a bottle of wine in me ).
As the first commenter said we need an injection.America is not perfect as you wrote but there is the possibility to disagree and sometimes to do so without charity or kindness ,for which I again apologise.
Mistakes will be made but it is very reassuring to find that when they are the writers on America (Fr Martin,Tim Reidy and yourself) respond to the commenters and in a professional way.
I live in Paris and in 6 months have seen six punchups.One this morning.Always between complete strangers.We all need a callback to civil discourse at times.
One of the benefits of all of this is perhaps it will come to light how much people appreciate your work and what you do .

Take care. 
Vic Gallerano
6 years 11 months ago
Fr. Martin,
This reminds me of Walker Percy's novel, ''Love in the Ruins'' except that Doctor Percy had to invent a science fiction contraption (called the ''lapsometer'') to wind his characters up as tight as the internet has wound your bloggers... I guess we have finally caught up to Percy's distopic satire. (I should add that Percy's novel is set in a time ''near the end of the world.'' - Quick, everyone look busy!)
Tom Maher
6 years 11 months ago
No need to take it personally but we all ive in a complex, culturally diverse and rapidly and radically changing world.  Everyone has a very different understanding of what is going on in the world society.  All the changes going on overwhelms everyone and causes a lot of confussion and disunity with fewer and fewer common points of consensus and  even common points of reference.   

So when you introduce in your presentations broad abstract concepts such as "the common good" without referernce to practical, common and understandable references you will not be understood.  Your general references to things like common good or exotic theological references like "subsidiarity" you will not to be understood or invite undersatnding.  Your broad reference of the common good is.  Which is a shame becasue as confussed as the world may be there is commom reference at some basic level even if one has to get down on all fours and draw pictures.  Actually there is only one reality which oftern is understood in common and can be referenced. 

Why assume I have even heard of let alone understand or care about some exotic reference to Catholic theology when you are talking about a civil function like the the federal budget?  I mean who cares what Paul Ryan's theology is?  He is chairmen of the House Budgetary Committee because of his economic and financial expertise on the U.S. federal budget.  Ryan forms a budget like anyone else based on recognizable economic conditions, patterns and trends and needs.  Ryan's budget or anyone's budget is not excusively theological and is mostly technical.  Why not deal the common civic reality of the budget process and make economic arguments that can be undrestood?  
Max Lindenman
6 years 11 months ago
Abe's absolutely right.  The most successful bloggers are not only partisan, but downright obnoxious about it.  They cast their opinions, their reputations, and their egos into the water like chum precisely in order to attract the sharks.  To thrive in that gig, I would expect, requires a sense of negative empathy - an instinct for knowing what people will snap on.  To survive long must take a masochistic streak.  Hang in there.  
Amy Ho-Ohn
6 years 11 months ago
I really don't often get the sense that anybody is wrong on Catholic blogs. Just that they're a bit incoherent. Unfortunately, trying to elucidate by combox is like seeing your neighbor's house on fire when all you have is a flame-thrower.

I have no idea what "Venus in Furs" is and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know.
Kay Satterfield
6 years 11 months ago
I think David there may be some misunderstanding to the mission of the magazine that may need some clarification.  In an article "Speaking the Truth with Love" that is listed in this website's About Us section it states the mission as the following:

"The ministry of the word we exercise at America is a distinctive one. We are neither an official nor a semi-official review; neither a scholarly periodical nor a catechetical one. We are a journal of Catholic opinion. We serve educated Catholics and other readers interested in intelligent examination of church and world affairs, seen through the lens of the Catholic faith and with the eyes of catholic reason"

The magazine is a journal of Catholic opinion.   
J Cosgrove
6 years 11 months ago

The main content I object to here is the personal nature of the attacks, the distortions that is often found in the OP's and comments on this site and most of all in the lack of response to other points of view.  The second thing that upsets me is that this site represents the Jesuits.  If the National Review represented the government of the United States, or First Thing represented the Archdiocese of New York or the Catholic Bishops I could understand your point of view.  So I do not think the analogy is appropriate.  The Jesuits owe a balanced approach to any issues of importance as they were once the premier intellectual arm of the Church.  Instead we get a one sided often shallow approach with little recognition that there are major disagreeing arguments from people of substance.

The Jesuits represent the largest educational organization in the United States of young Catholics especially when they are at the age where many attitudes are formed.  As such they should represent civility and fairness in all their dealings with the public and not be seen as advocates for a political point of view.  I have rarely seen a dialogue here or an examination of other opinions that are not without contempt.  

Thus, my experience is that those who disagree and express their opinions in as logical a manner as possible, often citing data and the opinions of experts in this attempt are essentially ignored.  The result is often a contempt by those who do not agree with them with no offsetting data or logic to back up their distaste.
Joshua DeCuir
6 years 11 months ago
Call me crazy, but the comments to America blog posts are mild, even downright polite, compared to other sites.  I'm always simultaneously amused and saddened to read the comments, for example, responding to a Ross Douthat or Maureen Dowd column.

As for as "hate reading," I'm not sure that makes much sense to me.  I certainly read First Things and NRO (and comment on both), but I also more frequently read things that challenge the settle world view I normally inhabit.  I like to think its because by responding, it forces me to really think about the views I hold more deeply than if I read pablum inclined to reinfoce my opinions. 
Anne Chapman
6 years 11 months ago
David, I may be wrong on this and my memory faulty, but it has been my impression at times that some commenters make highly judgmental attacks on the ''liberal'' Catholic bloggers here - James Martin talks about the same thing in his post, using a humor approach to convey the same message as Mr. Clarke.  The ''conservative'' commenters often then go on to say that they are 'praying for the soul''  of the ''liberal'' or ''progressive'' blogger (and for the souls of the ''liberal'' commenters too). Thus are ''progressive'' Catholics tried and convicted and condemned - at least threatened with condemnation - if they don't ''recant' and ''see the light'' and docilely accept ALL that the current crop in Rome teach (regardless of a teaching's place in the 'hierarchy of truths'' and regardless of the reality that the church has changed its teachings throughout history, will change again (or die) and that many ''dissenters'' and ''heretics'' in church history have often later been ''redeemed'' (and sometimes even canonized).  They forget that Joan of Arc was denied communion before she was burned at the stake as a heretic!

These ''dissenters'' are not ''real'' Catholics, and thus, they are ''heretics'' doomed for hell. Rather than discussing the point being made, they are judged, and then told they need to ''learn'' about ''true'' Catholicism, as though these bloggers are somehow totally uneducated in the history and teachings of the Roman Catholic church, while the commenters, of course, are ''better'' educated and ''more'' knowledgable'' and understand the ''true'' faith.

As one who read America for a long time, it seems to me that it is now a pale shadow of its former self as far as its ''liberalism'' goes. It doesn't touch NCR for that, but NCR is not run by a religious order and so can exercise a bit more freedom of thought than can the Jesuits.  Some complain that America does not feature ''enough'' conservative writers/bloggers. Or is it only bloggers they object to? Do they read the rest of the magazine? There are plenty of conservative (at least from my point of view) writers in America, even if not quite Opus Dei conservative.  However, once Benedict forced the Jesuits to force Thomas Reese out as editor, the magazine became far more bland. Reese used to do some wonderful things - for example, he would carry opposing viewpoints on various controversies. One I clearly remember was on women's ordination, offering in one issue the differing views of leading theologians. As I recall, Joseph Ratzinger was one of those featured on that particular subject. Well, I guess the cardinal didn't like the idea of open discussion on that, or any other, issue. He wants Rome to do all the thinking for everyone. Everyone else should just ''obey'' the men in charge. Obviously the Sensus fidelium is  a concept that those running the show since 1978 have no interest in either. Once Benedict was pope, Reese was out the door. One of his first acts as pope, as I recall. God forbid that America should encourage real thinking!

It's not surprising that America is so bland these days - the threat is always hanging over their heads, especially on the subject of women, and secondly on homosexuality. No bishop or cardinal has been forced out by Rome for allowing pedophiles to molest kids. But, Morris of Australia was forced out for daring to suggest the church at least restudy the issues of mandatory celibacy and women's ordination. A priest in Ireland was recently ''silenced'' for saying much the same. The 'silencings'' under the unholy joint tenures of Joseph Ratzinger and John Paul II have set records in modern history. For a church that claims to be the only spokesperson for God on earth, for a church that claims to be the sole speaker of ''TRUTH'' on earth, it doesn't seem to have much confidence. It imposes, it silences, it threatens. Now, if it truly believed its own PR, it would not fear open and honest discussion and debate.

I miss the old America. It may never return. At least the bloggers occasionally speak out.  The ''conservatives'' have far more ''outlets'' expressing their viewpoint than do the 'liberals'', which are pretty much limited to America, Commonweal and NCR (thanks be to God the latter two are lay-run, not as subject to papal pressure).

So, David, we look from different perspectives and see different things.  I would suggest that those whose main goal in reading America's blog is to attack and criticize bloggers instead of disuss the issues, just stay away if it bothers them to read other viewpoints, if simply reading progressive thought bothers them so much that they have to attack the messenger instead of the message.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 11 months ago
I like the notion of a "Catholic opinion" as expressed in the "Speaking the Truth with Love" article.

To my way of seeing Catholicism, it is neither liberal nor conservative (or it is both liberal and conservative, and probably too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals).  Catholicism is outside of the usual definitions that we apply to political alignments.  You don't get there by giving equal time to each "side".

I like the idea that an American Catholic magazine is attempting to clarify that Catholic way for these very partisan times.

Joshua DeCuir
6 years 11 months ago
"Blogs, as far as I understand the form, and I assure you it is not one I am altogether comfortable with, are intended to be spontaneous, fast and opinionated comment on breaking news. As a result, they are not going to be comprehensive and they are going to reflect the author's perspective."

I don't have any problem or misunderstanding with this; nor do I object to the reliably left-liberal bias of America's bloggers and editors.  What I object to is when the positions of others are unfairly or inaccurately presented.  For example, this piece from the post on Paul Ryan:

"Ryan seems to ignore issues that might complicate his analysis. He simply leaves out the notion of positive subsidiarity-defined neatly in the OED as “the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care”—and focuses on the concept’s preferential option for “smaller essential cells of society” (186). But that preference does not exclude or prohibit a role for higher social players, like state and federal government, to intervene when it is appropriate for them to do so."

This completely ignores Ryan's own statements on the role of federal welfare programs, as it completely ignores the recent changes to Ryan's own Medicare reform proposal that garnered the vocal support of Dem. Sen. Ron Wyden: he wants to strengthen the existing federal programs by enacting bi

In my view, blogging, while of course "spontaneous, fast and opinionated" shouldn't or needn't be an excuse for not treating your interlocutor with respect and dignity - and accurately reflecting their positions seems to me a necessary first step in doing so.  Moreover, the nature of blogging suggests to me an inherent interconnectivity with and among readers, commenters and fellow bloggers that open up opportunities for dialogue and correction.  Again, perhaps a little intellectual diversity among America bloggers might work to soften things up a bit.
Jim McCrea
6 years 11 months ago
"If you disagree with the party line, you're denounced as a traitor."

Such is the badge of courage.
Jim McCrea
6 years 11 months ago
"He wants Rome to do all the thinking for everyone."

It is interesting that many of those who welcome this position so vigorously are usually those who take a totally opposite position when it comes to secular government.


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