Thursday, October 30, 2003

I think all you need to know to get the measure of National Review Online's Donald Luskin is that a few months ago, in his own blog (with the paranoid-friendly title "The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid"), he published this rant.

The issue was a meeting between high government intelligence operatives and Michael Drosnin, author of best-selling but utterly dotty books that claim to find God's will in the letters of the Hebrew Bible arranged in the form of a word-search puzzle. Luskin wasn't the least bit upset that people paid by our tax dollars were wasting their time meeting with Drosnin; he was more exercised at the fact that "the leftist press" (i.e., The New York Times) and "trained-doggy bloggers" had the audacity to imply that meetings between this modern-day Madame Blavatsky and important government officials weren't a good idea. To find such meetings unwise was "snobbish," "condescending," and "snotty." (The pages provided here show the sort of thing Drosnin purports to find in the Bible; as Brendan MacKay, his best-known debunker, points out, clues of the kind Drosnin finds so meaningful in the Bible can be found just by chance in other texts -- want to find JFK's assassination in Moby-Dick?) Luskin went on to split hairs maniacally, complaining that as liberal writers retold the Drosnin story a "meeting" became a "briefing" (in Luskin's word, this is a distinction fraught with sinister meaning) and then "a briefing of 'the Pentagon' -- the whole damn building, it seems" (Luskin's dictionary apparently does not include the word synecdoche).

There's a word for this: nuts.

And now Luskin has sent his flying monkeys (a white-shoe law firm) after Atrios, the best blogger out there, in part because Atrios responded to Luskin's obsession with the alleged high crimes of Paul Krugman by calling Luskin a stalker (months after Luskin called himself a stalker). Atrios was motivated by this Luskin blog post, in which he described the Travis Bickle-like moment in which he queued up to get a book signed by Krugman, his arch-nemesis (Luskin on Krugman: "I have looked evil in the face. I've been in the same room with it. I don't know how else to describe my feelings now except to say that I feel unclean, and I'm having to fight being afraid.")

If Luskin has any case at all, it's with regard to reader-comment pages appended to Atrios's blog -- his lawyer cites this one and this one -- but is that our new standard for libel? That saying "That dude is just completely fucking insane" now constitutes "straying beyond mere expressions of opinion and making false and defamatory statements of alleged fact"? Aren't right-wingers the guys who complain all the time about "frivolous lawsuits"?

Sorry to take up so much space with what might seem like "inside baseball." But in the online world there has to be some sort of reasonable accommodation of what any half-intelligent reader can recognize as flippant, discontented grumbles rather than willful misstatements of legal or psychological fact. This suit is wildly inappropriate. Atrios doesn't deserve it. I can't think of anyone, including the nastiest right-wing bloggers, who deserves it.

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