New York Times Editor Dean Baquet called a college professor an asshole on Facebook and some people cheered.
It’s possible that those who recognize how hard it is to create great journalism every single day of the year were animated by the idea of the polite and prestigious editor of the country’s biggest newspaper swinging back in response to a cheap shot.
I wish he wouldn’t have.
Creating dialogue in the face of hostility is a challenge in social media – and in real life, too – but it can be done. And it should be done. And it’s in the best interest of journalism that the editor of the New York Times set that example.
Baquet’s comment under University of Southern California’s Marc Cooper’s Facebook post had 53 likes as of this morning.
Marc Cooper seems to reveling in the attention it brought. He posted every article written about Baquet’s outburst, more than once pointing out to his followers, “I’m the asshole.” And he posted a lengthy response.
I’m sure Baquet expected the scrutiny. Teachers, politicians, newspaper editors, cops – they all hold power over others. They all have the ability to force others to listen. They command a microphone and a spotlight.
I’m not saying they should roll over. Almost everything else Baquet said in his comment was legitimate dialogue. Even the wish that Professor Cooper’s students are more open-minded was fair game.
But the name-calling diverted our attention. I bet it felt good in the moment. And for others, perhaps it provided a vicarious moment of satisfaction in the face of smug self-righteousness. But in the long run, calling Cooper an asshole harms the very condition that Baquet and the rest of journalism strives to create: an informed and engaged citizenry.
Name-calling starts when reasonable listening stops. In doing so, Baquet signaled that he was no longer listening. And that’s a dangerous place for the editor of a newspaper to be.