Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chat With a Friend

I just had the following discussion with an old friend:

Friend: Jim, I read the NY Times article, and I don't understand what the problem is. You were adding to public knowledge of this person. Isn't that a good thing?

Me: Well, first, why does the public deserve knowledge about this private person? How does it help anything? Why is it any of the public's business, aside from satisfying their morbid voyeurism? And, second, you and I are friends. If, god forbid, something terrible happened to you, you wouldn't want me mouthing off about you, would you? I'd be betraying our friendship!

Friend: Ouch. Ok, I get it. So why did you speak up?

Me: I was upset, and when I get upset, I do what I do best: I write. I sat down and tried to work out my feelings here on my sleepy little blog [read my remembrance here]. I had no way of knowing that, at that moment, I was the only person in the world publicly speaking about this person. Disaster reporting abhors a vacuum, so out-of-context quotes got sucked into a huge vortex. [read a description of how this happened here]

Friend: Why wasn't anyone else talking about her?

Me: Because my extremely non-media-savvy buddies up in Newtown turn out to be a lot savvier than I am. I can't tell you how much I respect the way they've handled all this. They're amazing. And I hope they're still speaking to me.

Friend: The Times article includes a quote from you about her interest in guns. I don't see that anywhere on your Slog. Where did they get that?

Me: It was an idle comment buried in the discussion beneath one of my postings. Should I have said it publicly? No. Did I realize the entire world would be hearing about my idle blog comment? No. Was I a naive fool? Yep.

Friend: So are you going to sue the Times, or write a nasty letter or something?

Me: No! The reporter was just doing his job, which was to pull out informative nuggets, not to faithfully convey the dignified tone of some blogger's remembrance. I'm actually not sure the extraction could have been done much more sensitively. And the fault was mine. As someone with extensive press experience, I should have remembered the prime directive: anything you say publicly can be extracted and played as a stand-alone quote. That's why Obama always speaks so haltingly.

But here's the thing: I'm so accustomed to speaking freely here that it never occurred to me to switch into press-defense mode. I never thought I'd need to again, post-Chowhound. There were a couple of press hit-jobs during those years, and they weren't much fun - it's a big reason why I jumped out of the spotlight so fast. But, alas, here I am again, and it's excruciating (though I'm having a sublimely happy week compared to some of my friends, and you can bet your ass I won't forget that).

Friend: Wanna go get some beers?

Me: Yes. Yes, I would.

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