Okay commentors, you got my attention. Now might be a good time to lay out a ground rule

Oooookay, Yakity Yak. You certainly woke me up this morning.

I was still half-asleep bumbling around after my shower, the result of too much caffiene the prior evening giving me a bad night's sleep. As I was getting dressed I pulled up my e-mail in preparation to start the day as I always do.

And there, as plain as day, was an atomic bomb of a comment under a post waiting for me in my e-mail box from a reader known as Yakity Yak (heavily edited for your review):
Let's get this party started. I'll be blunt. I have heard from a "good source" that name omitted is still married, yet he has a female "front" that many people seem to call his "girlfriend". I have also heard that he has a male friend that some people seem to call his "boyfriend". This person is usually referred to as the "gardener". Is Name Omitted actually gay or bi-sexual? I really don't care what he is.. I just want to know if he is telling those of us in his District the truth. I know that some of the people he hangs around with also have the reputation of being gay. Take Name Omitted for example. She buys her clothes at a local men's store and is widely reputed to be a lesbian. And what about Name Omitted? She seems a bit masculine to me.
Oh crap. Instantly shaking off the haze of sleep, I deleted the original, and then reposted an edited version of the comment, leaving off this entire first paragraph. As you can see here, even for illustrative purposes as I'm relating the comment it's still heavily edited.

Why the sudden surge of censorship?

I'm sure you could ask any other blogger in the SD Blogosphere about posting the same comments, unedited, and as in Monty Python and the Holy Grail they would be chanting "run away, run away" as they also bolted from posting it.

In earlier days, Mt. Blogmore deleted a similar post about a year ago themselves. Can I blame them for it? Heck no. I believe it's what caused them to institute comment moderation as I turned on while I was in work this morning.

The first knee-jerk reaction is "Ahhhhh! I'm going to be sued for slander." And it's actually not so much that I could be as much as the information provided was not defensible.

Much of what I say passes a proof test, or it's couched in terms of being my opinion. Where's my proof to back up a commenter's statement that so-and-so is a lesbian or so-and-so commits adultery on a regular basis? I hear plenty of stuff that is really, really good gossip. But without a source or a way to verify it, it can often be difficult to post.

And let's face it. Saying someone is rumored to be running for office isn't anything that's going to get your tail bit. And when I do that, I have a credible source who would reasonably have that knowledge. And saying someone is considered fit for office is actually a compliment.

But if you say someone is gay in South Dakota it's not necessarily going to be considered complimentary. Neither is stating that someone has sexual relations with someone other than their spouse. Despite how Hollywood might sometimes tend to portray it, adultery is generally not considered a compliment.

Commenters posting information anonymously or under pseudonyms aren't left holding the bag for such statements. I am. Given that, am I supposed to spend my time trying to prove it? Am I supposed to institute a program of photographic surveillance based on a blog comment? My answer is no. It isn't going to happen.

Secondly, framing things from a political point of view, I would bring up the point that it's extremely, extremely difficult to frame a political debate in reference to someone's sexual preference. So, Legislator X is rumored to be gay. How does that relate to property tax reform? How does that relate to their position on abortion?

Some readers have their position on the practice, others have another opinion, and I have my own. And I'm not getting into any of it here. This is a blog about politics.

And in reference to preference and politics, if you look at what's happened around the country, it's only legitimately entered into arguments about a candidate's preference when someone has misused their elected office in relation to it. The Governor of New Jersey only had his secreted sexual preference blow up in his face because he gave the subject of his adulterous gay affair a government job.

So the moral of the story (or the comments) is that political opinions are ok and welcome. They're just fine whether you agree, disagree or just think I plain stink. Want to e-mail me with a tip? That's great, please do, and I love them. It leaves me to be the arbiter of what I can prove and what I can't.

But if you want to post comments based on who elected officials select to pine away the long lonely hours when they're not governing, I'm not going to touch them, because I can't afford to invest the time or effort to prove it. So, please refrain from doing making note of it on the comments.

And unless because of a relationship, someone is getting their girlfriend, boyfriend, or stuffed animal (for the plushies) preferential treatment as a result of their elective office in the first place, it's hard for me to label it as a tale worth telling. You have evidence of it, e-mail me privately. Even then, it's going to have to pass some really, really stringent standards of proof for me to consider it. Even then I might still take a pass on it.

Now, to Yakity's credit, they picked right up on it after I explained my position, and responded "No problem. I shouldn't have been so blunt.."

Nothing like my being woken up in the morning with blunt trauma to to the head.

Comments are back unmoderated, and it's on with the show....


mhs said…
P, you've killed the golded goose of free speech with this one. How can you expect to have any credibility for your otherwise excellent site when you allow this kind of garbage? Your ground rules don't help, the explanation is lame and you can't put the tornado back in the box.

You have dozens of great posts encouraging potential candidates and lamenting the difficulty the party has in attracting our best and brightest to run. To then turn around and allow the worst kind of execrable, low-brow slander is inexcusable.

This sort of attack is what drives people away from the process. Why would an otherwise successful person want to seek public office in the face of such tactics?

You should have hammered the author and disavowed his post and premise. Instead, you dignify it with your response and probably have kissed the credibility of your site good-bye in the process.

Gov. Mickelson always closed his speeches by saying "government is run by those who show up". This kind of whisper-slander, compounded by someone who should know better than to repeat it, just makes it more and more certain that those that do show up are increasingly nothing but kooks and zealots.
PP said…
How am I allowing it when I tell people not to send it to me because it has little or no place in a political debate.

The whole point was "this is the type of post I won't allow so don't send them to me," and the lesson is that you can't use this stuff.

The only way it's pertinent is if it's in the context that someone is abusing thier office, and it's usually pretty hard to show it.

You need to look at my goal in the post (goal-post?) - to educate why it's bad as opposed to just saying so.

In the end, even the guy who wrote it understood why it doesn't have much of a place in public debate.
Todd Epp said…

MHS spanks you pretty hard. Unfortunately, I agree with him. I would have pulled the comment down and that would have been the end of it. I've pulled scurillous comments on my blog that similarly gave me heartburn. I'm sure there are some that some people thought I should have pulled but didn't. (Eriv v. the Boys comes to mind.)

The best parts of your blog are your excellent advice on campaigning, reliable information on S.D. political goings on, the graphics and other interfaces, and your avuncular style. It concentrates on ideas. It is humane. It doesn't devolve into character attack. That's why it is so good.

Comments that call people out for being gay or whatever are better left to blogs with less class and intelligence than yours.

(Or as Chad Schuldt calls me, Officer Todd)
PP said…
Is everyone missing the point? TO put it in simpler terms;

Gay/adultery comments generally bad. Me point out why.
Douglas said…
Tis a puzzlement. I would like to keep comments open without moderation on my blog, but it just turned out to be impossible. TypePad has made changes which cut down considerably on the trash however.

And frankly, I don't much mind comments on the logic of my posts or lack thereof, but I don't really think I have any obligation to pay for space so somebody can make ad hominem attacks on me or my family and I don't really expect other bloggers to allow it on their own blogs either.

Recent law changes may make anonymous posters additionally liable for their slander as well (blogs may be excluded..not sure.

In any case, whatever you do with comments is your business and nobody else's.
Todd Epp said…

Point not lost. The point is don't let people post such horse hockey in the first place. Then don't repeat it.

We still love you, in a manly, non-touching, Upper Midwestern sort of way.

You have a lot of respect in SoDakBlogOLand and we want you to keep it that way.

mhs said…
Ditto to Todd's comments. I may have come off a bit harsh, but, the "Borking" of the political process is a pet peeve of mine. I am firmly of the opinion that the rampant influence-peddling, etc. in Congress is a result of fewer "citizen-lawmakers" drawn to public office.

In doubt? Compare fighter aces Joe Foss and Randy Cuningham. Anybody here think Joe would take a bribe? Or let any attempted briber leave his presence un-maimed?

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