The shadow spreading over my country from the Crescent City has taken away my appetite for writing for the last week. I've been obsessed with following the story and, since I rarely watch TVnews, I've been getting it online. I read the coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and check the Times-Picayune for updates. I click on AP headlines to see if there's anything new. When I run out of new news there, I can't help myself from digging further into the blogosphere. That's where it gets really depressing.
I'm not surprised at the partisanship, at how quick the anti-Bush crowd is to see this as more clear evidence that the idiot should be impeached, while his defenders just as quickly focus on the failures of local and state officials and praise W for his efforts to rescue them from their manifest incompetence. At this point I can almost give a shrug of resignation at the paucity of genuine thought on both sides, how the partisans cherry-pick the news for those items that "prove" their points, while ignoring or dismissing all evidence to the contrary. It's as if recognizing the fact that Nagin waited too long to call for a mandatory evacuation would enable our president to slither away from the blame, or to admit that the head of FEMA is manifestly out of his depth would be to allow an unadmissible chink in the armor protecting W, the great and decisive leader. The partisans have long since decided what they want to believe, and in this age of emotion and irrationality, it is considered completely acceptable to rummage around in the barrel of broken facts and pull out just those that you can arrange neatly as "evidence" for your position.
Most dismaying, however, is the amount of petty viciousness. Not so much in the blog entries themselves, but in the comments. Over and over I see comment threads that descend into hostile name-calling among anonymous posters. Clearly these people are not interested in anything like discussion. When you call someone a "reactionary, ass-sucking, right-wing fuck" I don't think you're trying to persuade them to your point of view.
At this level of babble there's no distinction between the right and the left. And I can't figure out what drives these people. You imagine them hunched for hours over their keyboards, scanning their hundred favorite blogs, feeling like a heat-seeking missle, looking for postings or comments that they can obliterate with a blast of withering, scatological scorn. I suppose they think that they're incredibly clever. Do they think they're defending their version of the truth? Or is it just another videogame -- seek out and destroy the bad guys.
This is the part of the blogosphere that the sceptics (remember Gorman?) are talking about. And there is a lot of it. For all the self-preening among bloggers about "citizen journalism" and the dawn of a bold new age, most of the billions of words that get spewed every day present us at our very worst. Makes me want to close up shop and quit participating. I don't want to be associated with those people.