Calling out BS comments and Community

[ This topic came up as a sub-thread on a news item, and one of the people resented that I was commenting there. So I'm raising the issue here. ]

We are a community, and as such, there is going to be some diversity of opinion. That is healthy, and I'm all for it. There is seductive to pile on in comment threads and say something like John Boehner is an idiot, often in terms which don't contribute anything of substance. Such comments are just a way to blow off some steam and mark our membership in the Democrat or Liberal tribe. I understand that, I've made my share of comments like that.

But when a comment betrays what I believe are liberal values then I feel like I need to call out that comment as being wrong-headed. Daily I see comments which seem completely contrary to what I hold as liberal values. Just because we have ire for some particular conservative being roasted in a news item isn't license to say any thoughtless insult at all.

Specifically, ones I see frequently (and probably others that don't immediately come to mind):

  • implying someone is gay as an insult
  • pointing out that Chris Christie is fat
  • guffawing that Ann Coulter is really a man
  • snickering that a man must have a small penis because he has a gun
  • wishing that someone is going to get raped in prison

When I've called people out on it, I've been called a concern troll. Or that I have no sense of humor. If I "joked" that of course so-and-so is Jewish because they are rich, or that so-and-so obviously is a criminal because they are black, I'd expect an outcry. Nobody would think such comments were witty or humorous. Likewise, I don't see the above list as being humorous.

Why do we tolerate commenters using sexual orientation, or looks, as an insult? Bobby Jindal, or Mitch McConnell, or Michelle Bachmann can be called out on their destructive beliefs without resorting to ad hominems.

Larry Craig is widely rumored to be a closeted gay man. If he said something stupid about the environment, then there was no need to speculate on his orientation. If he said something stupid about the economy, there was no need to speculate on his orientation. But when he actively worked against gay rights, then I think his orientation was a germane point to raise. In such situations I hope what we are pointing out is his hypocrisy, not his gayness. But frequently I didn't get that feeling -- I got the feeling that the commenter was just insulting Craig for being a closeted gay man.

What do you think? Is this not really as common as I think it is? Is it common but you think I'm being over sensitive? Am I mistaken that these aren't liberal values, or that TPM's community doesn't share them?


I did read through the thread. It was on the main TPM site, where I don't often go into the comments for just that reason. I actually didn't see humor in the reference to Sen Paul's penis size, but I am not in KY, so I probably don't have the necessary background information. Maybe it is hilarious there, and we simply don't get it?

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I think Mitch McConnell looks like a turtle. I find Jon Stewart's interpretation of him talking like said turtle to be quite funny (although it was funny long before Jon Stewart picked up on it so it was hardly new).
When you enter public life...unfortunately, this is part of the package....and dont even get me started on Michele Bachmann...she is a walking billboard for comic relief


Thank you for letting me know that I'm not yet completely crazy.

However, I don't intend to make this thread about that thread. Really, the issue of "any insult is OK as long as I'm hurling it at them" is one that I've thought of frequently when reading comments. The one which triggered that chain of fruitless replies in that other thread was just the straw which broke the camel's back.

First, John Boehner is an idiot.

Second, yes, I understand your concern and see no reason to follow it up with reference to the T word.

But third, Chris Christie is fat. That can't come as a surprise to him. But hey, he can lose weight. I'll still never be governor of New Jersey (or any state). So who's the butt of that joke?

Calling Ann Coulter a drag queen is funny because she trades in her sexuality. On the right, they think she's a hottie. Maybe those guys who are hot for Ann should listen to us and watch Ru Paul's Drag Race. They might see something they like. They might see Larry Craig.

On the internet, we all get to indulge in a little stand up comedy without having to actually stand up in front of a crowd. Along those lines, there's really no such thing as victimless humor. If you're calling for a higher standard than fart-joke level commentary, I can only say that we'll try to write better jokes. But jokes are meant to skewer and to bring down the mighty. Put another way, the chicken can't cross the road without somebody first breaking an egg.

I think we should have values but I think we should maybe not get too precious about them. Chris Christie is a fatty boombalatty.


The "Lindsey Graham is gay" meme shouldn't be welcome here. I was surprised at the comments last week.


I agree. It;s been off my radar, but when I have seen it, it has bothered me...I will be policing it a bit more closely.


Destor -- as usual, you write with great wit. [ BTW, years ago I could never quite figure out what your avatar was -- it was pro wrestler or something was all I could figure. What was it? ] The point you raise about Ann Coulter playing up her sex appeal is a valid one. And I agree that humor can be used to take the mighty down a notch. The problem I have with they way it is frequently practiced, though, is that it involves unnecessary collateral damage.

If you want to insult Mitch McConnell, go ahead. But if your insult is that he likely is gay, then I disagree with the approach. If he, in fact, is a closeted gay man, then I feel empathy for whatever has brought him to this position that he has to deny who he is. But more than that, by using "gay" as a pejorative, it isn't targeting solely McConnell -- it is labeling gayness as an inferior, laughable condition. I believe one can make an omelet of McConnell without breaking that particular egg.

When some pol is convicted and sent off to prison, I guarantee there will be a number of comments laughing about how they need to make sure to get soap on a rope. Such comments are not not original, not humorous, and betray the progressive cause.


It was the jet flyin', limo ridin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin' sonofagun... Ric "Nature Boy" Flair!


Your first and last examples are the most bothersome to me. If you see these, please flag and I or the other moderator will take care ofthe comment and deal with the commenter if appropriate.

As far as the other, I'd be less inclined to take any action. unless it is an egregious example that goes beyond the pale.

  • Chris Christie is/was fat. To his credit, I think he pretty much owns
    that, so anything said about it here isn't going be anything new.
    Attacking him that way is ineffective; there is plenty to hate about
    his position, but I don't think a fat joke is going to rise to the
    level of hate speech.

  • Calling Ann Coulter a man doesn't insult Ann Coulter, it insults men.
    I consider her to be somewhat less than human, so all bets are off.

  • Calling out gun fetishists as 'small-penised' is an implication of
    their insecurity. While the language may be harsh, it makes the
    point. However, there are plenty of other things to say about the
    plague of guns in our society.

Chiistie and Coulter put themselves out there, gun activists as well. They need to be able to take a few punches. Hate speech lumps entire groups of people together and is unacceptable.


I have, many times, told jokes in comments that fell flat, and were, likely somewhat offensive. I try to be aware of this. I agree that all of your examples are comments that are both offensive, and not that funny.

I am most bothered by the comments about sexuality. We need, as a community, to call this out whenever we see it. This is offensive and harmful. I learned about homosexuality on the playground, and I learned it was bad. I didn't "unlearn" this until I was an adult. Even now, I rarely say I am bisexual. I am married to a women, am faithful, and have kids. I love my wife and meant it when I said "forever." I fully take advantage of the fact that others see this and think I am straight.


Humor, even crass humor, is part of our cultural heritage.

Further, comedy is often the sharp point of the spear of conscience.

Hundreds of years ago the court jester filled exactly this role: the jester could tell the king what the king did not want to hear. And so the king needed the jester to tell him the truth; and the population needed the jester to tell the king the real deal.

6 decades ago Lenny Bruce brought the horror of racism to the minds of millions before MLK and Rosa Parks had appeared.

George Carlin's routine on obscenity changed the national conversation, and its mores.

Today Jon Stewart and Colbert (now retired) and John Oliver represent, to an astonishing degree, the conscience of the culture.

So, while I abhor ad hominem jokes, and eschew using sexual orientation or attractiveness as a rock to throw at an adversary, I see humor as part of the public conversation and much better tolerated than quashed, even when the jokes induce cringes.

Question: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: It's not funny!


Philip, don't get me wrong -- I have no problem with humor, and no problem with mocking the powerful. The problem is in whether the insult is directed at that person or ropes in a lot of other people.

For instance, my wife can't have children because of a medical issue earlier in life. We have a wonderful daughter via adoption, by my wife still has a lot of emotional scar tissue over the issue. If someone called Ann Coulter a barren hag in my wife's presence, even though my wife is no fan of Ann Coulter, she would feel wounded that (once again) it is stuck in her face that a woman has to bear children to be a real woman. Why not take Coulter down a peg on her hypocrisy, or her outrageous claims that we need to kill the Muslims and convert them to Christianity, rather than whether or not she can have kids?

Ben Carson says a lot of stupid things. I'm sure Carson knows he is black, just like Chris Christie knows he is fat. And Carson has made himself a public figure, just like Chris Christie is. But there should be no allowance for suggesting, even in jest, that the reason Carson's opinions are wrong is because he is black. Likewise, that Christie is fat should really have no bearing on his opinions.

I don't see where what I've said could induce you to think I was suggesting that Lenny Bruce or George Carlin should have been silenced. Bruce and Carlin attacked the powerful, not the powerless, with their humor. Insulting men for being too effeminate or insulting women for being too masculine is nothing of that kind.


I have no beef with what you wrote when you opened this thread. I certainly hope you did not feel I was tossing a rock at you.

My intent was only to add to the conversation because I think its an interesting topic. I'm glad you took the time to initiate the conversation.

I responded directly to @Publishermike who I thought had added nicely to the conversation.


If there is a gray area, we will find it and set up shop.


@frustum thank you very much for this thread. I think this community is awesome, and it hurts when the conversation sinks to a level where an insult to a conservative is also a slur on a whole lot of other people. And, also, thank you for this thread because now I know from @Publishermike that I can flag those comments and some of them will go away. I try to avoid becoming what I despise, and have family and friends that will call me on it when I start saying things about some of these folks that are, frankly, beneath me. Surely we can find creative ways to mock and insult these folks without showing some of the same lack of regard for them that makes us so angry at them when they do it to others. I don't comment a lot, but I read this site every day because I always learn something - from the comments as much as from the articles. Thanks for contributing to a higher level of discourse - we get so little of that in the public sphere these days!


The "Miss Lindsey" stuff. Not sure why that bugs me so much. If I start to work it out, it seems like it's not any worse than your average vulgar personal attack against a public figure. I feel it's stooping about as low as saying Obama was born in Africa. I guess I just don't think this is quality trolling! Someone should be challenged on these grounds: you can talk better shit than that. Needs an "unlike" button rather than a "flag".


What I find troubling when Lindsay Graham is called "Miss Lindsay", Ann Coulter's is called "man", penis-size is used as a metaphor for security, etc, etc is that this is the same junior high school bully mentality in which the right wing is fixated. These and other similar insults really illustrate the psycho-sexual immaturity of whoever tosses the insult, not the hypocrisy or stupidity of some reactionary's position. If as progressives we need to bolster our positions with such irrelevant cheap shots, then we really haven't expanded the culture very much, have we? See "The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity" by Stephen Ducat.


This is an interesting idea.

On this and many forums we can respond and or we can click a "like." In general, if we don't like a post we can skip it or write about what we don't like.

Your thought, @mmurdoch, that there be an "unlike" button would give a much better snap poll of the thoughts of the posters: 4 likes and 0 unlikes would be a very different response than 2 likes and 2 unlikes.

I've have just now, with your suggestion, begun to think about it. It may be a very good idea. I'm chewing. I think @Josh_M might want to chew on this, too.


I know you know Mike . . .

Thomas Nast is probably sitting somewhere in the universe shaking his head.

And Boss Tweed didn't get a laugh out of it...


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