Monday morning I posted a commentary (They Shoot Mules, Don’t They?) about MSNBCs Keith Olbermann. I talked about how loud and offensive Olbermann can be, particularly when he engages in counterattacks against Fox News and Bill O’Reilly.
Not long after I posted that piece on Huffington Post, (Sunday evening) I received an e-mail from an editor at the site which read, “While we appreciate your contributions to HuffPost, your latest post isn’t for us. We look forward to your future submissions.”
When I asked for specifics, the editor responded, “For us, your latest post too often crosses the line from analytical criticism toad hominem attack and name-calling – thus the decision to not have it on the site.”
An ad hominem attack is defined as attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument. In another post on Huffington by contributor, lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz, (September 24, 2009) he writes, “The definition of the ad hominem fallacy is to respond to substantive arguments solely by attacking the person who offered them.”
In my critique of Mr. Olbermann, I said that in spite of good points, he has gotten his facts wrong on several occasions and cited Politifact.com as a source on statements the MSNBC host put forth to viewers (July 6, 2010) concerning tax subsidies. Of seven statements made by Mr. Olbermann, Politifact found that two were “False,” three were “Half True,” and two were rated “Mostly True.”
I argued that for Mr. Olbermann, or anyone with a large and potentially influential national presence on television,credibility is vital to millions who are trying to make informed decisions about both policy and people in government. In short, Mr. Olbermann should get his facts straight before he speaks on any issue. If an error is discovered, he should follow-up with the corrective information.
However, in my description of Mr. Olbermann I used excessive sarcasm in describing what I believe to be his obnoxious behavior – even going so far as to suggest “shooting the talking A#$.”
For those words, I apologize to Mr. Olbermann, Huffington Post readers as well as readers to this site.
Whenever anyone, including myself, engages in name-calling, it lowers the bar for reasonable debate on any issue.
I was attempting to make two points:
First, you don’t need to act loud and obnoxious to make your case.
Second, and more importantly, if you have a national platform, whether it’s television, radio, print or the Internet, you have a responsibility to act appropriately and make your argument using facts and reasoned argument, not inflammatory personal attacks against the opposing side.
In my opinion, both MSNBCs Keith Olbermann and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly regularly cross the line of reasonable debate. While this leads to higher ratings and ad revenue, it leaves many of the rest of us distressed at a degraded dialog and calls into question the credibility of anyone who relies on those kinds of tactics to make their point.
However, that is no excuse for me to engage in similar characterizations. No, I’m not getting soft, just smart enough to realize I need to pay closer attention to my own principles.
While some might point to the fact that the language I used was tame compared to many of the things Olbermann, O’Reilly and others have said, I violated my own standards of reason and went too far in my descriptive rhetoric of Mr. Olbermann, and for that, I sincerely apologize.
I extend my apology to the editors at Huffington Post and appreciate their frankness in reminding me of the rules of the road.