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Internet gives traction to the sorriest news stories

Updated: February 9, 2014 6:24AM



I woke up, fell out of bed and brought my iPhone to my head. I had to learn whom to hate today.

In olden times, this was a laborious process. You had to go down to the village square to see who had been put in the stocks.

Today the despised are far more numerous, but the Internet both creates and keeps track of them.

MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry was a target recently for ridiculing Mitt Romney’s black grandchild.

Romney, who has a Twitter account with more than 1.5 million followers, had tweeted a Christmas card with a family photo of him and his wife, Ann, surrounded by their 22 grandchildren.

It was a lovely card; everybody looked terrific. And you had to look somewhat closely to notice that the baby sitting in Romney’s lap had dark skin.

Harris-Perry looked somewhat closely — and assembled a panel on TV to make fun of the card, pointing out the one black Romney face in a sea of white Romney faces.

This was kind of stupid and kind of cruel — which meant it was perfect.

Twitter lit up like a pinball machine, with Harris-Perry as the ball. Harris-Perry apologized by Twitter and then tearfully apologized on-air.

On Sunday, Romney accepted Harris-Perry’s apology, a “news” item that led Google News and was one of the most-read political stories in The Washington Post.

Also at the electronic whipping post was Michael Scheuer — a former CIA intelligence officer, a TV talking head and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University — who wrote a blog that harshly attacked President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

This led to a headline on Daily Kos, “Georgetown University Professor/Fox News Expert Calls For Obama’s Assassination,” and an article by David Frum on The Daily Beast that stated: “In the modern media environment, it’s pretty hard to go too far. Advocacy of murder, however, does cross one of the last remaining lines.”

Actually, I would argue that in the modern media environment, it’s very easy to go too far. All you have to do is shoot your mouth off and wait for it to ricochet around the Web.

Threatening the life of a president is a class D felony under federal law, but because a threat is an act of speech, the justice system has to take into account the First Amendment right of people to say completely idiotic stuff.

My crack research staff (Wikipedia) produced this nugget: In 1971, Groucho Marx was quoted as saying, “I think the only hope this country has is (Richard) Nixon’s assassination.” The Justice Department declined to prosecute, saying it is one thing to make that threat “when you are the leader of an organization which advocates killing people and overthrowing the Government; it is quite another to utter the words which are attributed to Mr. Marx, an alleged comedian.”

Scheuer’s alleged threat amounts to his writing: “Messrs Obama and Cameron and their supporters in all parties would do well to read the words of the great 17th century English republican Algernon Sidney . . . (who wrote), ‘every man might kill a tyrant; and no names are recorded in history with more honor, than of those who did it.’”

Personally, I would imprison for life anybody who uses “Messrs” in his writing. (I might make an exception for French people, but maybe not.) Sidney was executed for treason, by the way, on Dec. 7, 1683, which brings us, somehow, to Pearl Harbor and SpaghettiOs.

On New Year’s Eve, NBC’s Carson Daly hosted a show from Times Square in which he attacked SpaghettiOs for weeks earlier tweeting a picture of a large SpaghettiO holding an American flag, with the caption, “Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us.”

“It offended a lot of people, corporations glomming onto, you know, sentimental American historic traditions,” Daly said.

To which comedian Natasha Leggero replied, “I mean, it sucks that the only survivors of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew.”

I just assumed everybody was drunk — what the heck were they doing talking about Pearl Harbor on Dec. 31? — but it led, of course, to immediate outrage.

SpaghettiOs already had been forced to apologize for its unpatriotic use of pasta, but Leggero wrote on her Tumblr account: “I wish I could apologize, but do you really want another insincere apology that you know is just an attempt at damage control and not a real admission of guilt?”

Well, yes, of course we do. We appreciate it when people fake sincerity.

So I’d like to issue blanket and solemn regret for anything I might write in the future. The Koch brothers are the spawn of an ancient alien race sent from the cosmos to take over the Earth.

My sincerest apologies.



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