The Foxification of Our Public Sphere

These days when I send one of my columns to Common Dreams, I do so with an inward cringe.  I know that CD has become infested with slavering rightwing drones, who lie in wait just waiting to do their best Bill O’Reilly imitation from the comment balcony.

In recent months, CD has tried to address the issue of attack-dog commenters, instituting a comment policy that is now posted at the bottom of every published article.

It doesn’t seem to have had much effect, and I am beginning to wonder:

a) Is it worth my time and effort to open myself up to this kind of harsh, superficial debate?  When I write, I write from the heart, and while I certainly welcome spirited discussion of my ideas, including intelligent disagreement, the vicious savaging of my ideas, usually taken out of the context of the column’s overall message, feels unproductive at best.

b) If I bow out of CD, am I allowing myself to be “silenced”?  Shouldn’t I stand up for freedom of speech and stand my ground, even if it means opening myself up to the snipers?  Public speakers have to have a thick skin, after all, right?

c) Are there other fora I might join where the level of commentary is more elevated, more thoughtful?  Am I being an elitist snob for even wishing for such a space?

d) If I can’t beat’em, should I join’em?  In other words, should I be jumping in and giving as good as I get?  Or would that be stooping to their level and just encouraging their attack-dog mentality all the more?

As I ready myself to teach my media studies class this fall, these certainly seem like important questions to be pondering.

For years now I have been celebrating and advocating “citizen journalism” in my classes, encouraging students to start their own blogs and get their voices into the public sphere.

But if even Common Dreams has been overrun by the Bill O’Reilly wannabes of the world, then our public sphere has become a skewed and dangerous place.

However, if people like me and my students opt out of it, that only leaves a greater vacuum for the rightwing ideologues to fill.

Anyone have any advice on how to grow a thicker skin?

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