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Provocative blog posts – sometimes they offend.

By December 20, 2006katrina, law, new orleans

My friend Brian Privor apparently caught some flak for his post on the state of our local criminal justice system.  He also received a lot of praise for his passionate account; but some people thought he was too provocative.  I had linked to the post, but I took the link down because I got a call from someone who said that some people might view it as ‘unprofessional’ (because of the use of a metaphor).

Brian and I talked about the situation yesterday, and I told him
that this kind of situation is not uncommon.  There are lots of things
that I would love to blog about, or things that I would love to write
about in a certain way, but I don’t.  Why? Because I’ve become aware
that, on the Internet, you have to imagine your audience as being the
entire world (because it is).  The judge I used to clerk for was a
skilled politician, and when I was clerking for him he offered this
advice: "never say anything that you wouldn’t want to see on the front
page of the Times Picayune."

With a blog you are speaking to a potentially much larger audience than the Times Picayune,
and also you have to remember that your post will not disappear after
one day (unless you delete it, and even then it’s not necessarily going
to vanish from the web).  Many people would take my judge’s sage advice
and conclude that you should avoid all possibility of controversy.
Just stick to the safe areas, and dont’ say anything that’s too
provocative.  That’s what many people would do.

Of course, that’s kind of antithetical to the foundations of this
country, since if our early leaders had shied away from giving offense
we’d possibly not be an independent nation.  And we’d possibly not have
created a document that gives people the right to free speech.  We all
like to celebrate democracy and free speech, but we seldom like to
acknowledge how messy and complicated democracy is.  Transparency is
also hard to manage.  But, in my view it’s worth it. 

I liked Brian’s original post, and I liked his recent apology/explanation
too.  I don’t think his original post was unprofessional, but it was
critical.  Was it overly critical?  Apparently some reasonable people
might disagree.  I can appreciate that, and so can Brian.  Unreasonable
people, however, would not just disagree, but would also try to find a
way to silence what they regard as offensive commentary.   But, enough
about our society’s insidious struggle to endure the kind of free
speech that our Constitution has enabled; what about the point of
Brian’s original post? What about the state of the criminal justice
system in New Orleans right now?

In the post-Katrina world there are a lot of things that need to be
fixed, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and thereby become numb.  I
feel like I’ve been numb to the problem that Brian describes.  I linked
to Brian’s post because it stirred me from my torpor, and made me feel
like it was something that needed more attention.

I took the link down because I want to try to respect the feelings
of those who were offended, even if I disagree that Brian’s post was
too strong.  Brian has explained it was never his intent to offend
anyone.  It’s clear –to me at least– that Brian is passionate about
making this city better and that was the dominant motive for his post.

Hey, we all get passionate.  If you were initially offended by
Brian’s post perhaps it’s time to look past the provocative metaphor
and consider the significant personal sacrifices he made to come to
this city to help us rebuild a critical resource.   Granted, many of us
here in New Orleans are making sacrifices.  So let’s not get bogged
down in criticizing people who are acting with good intentions.  If
some of us are impatient it’s because we want things to get better
faster.

Impatience and brashness are sometimes a good qualities.  A lot of
people thought our founding fathers were impatient and brash.  Not so
much anymore, though.


P.S. If you appreciate my observations, you might want to join my inner circle.

4 Comments

  • Christine says:

    Hello, Ernie! I’ve been following your blog since the aftermath of Katrina and I’m a regular fan. I’m an “expat” New Orleanian (born & raised) who became a blissed (or blessed) Seattleite in ’91 (having moved immediately after graduating). Though I loved N.O., I knew that there were better opportunities, economically and socially, for a young woman of modest means elsewhere. That year, the Mississippi corridor was ranked #2 as the most polluted place in the US, and in the late ’80’s-early 90’s New Orleans had the highest murder rate per capita. Also, though I hadn’t lived anywhere else, I knew that something was wrong with privileged whites blaming “niggers” for everything wrong with society. Most oppressive was the inability to SPEAK plainly of society’s problems for fear of offending, as though “rudeness” were a crime worse than the pervasive injustice. It is precisely the inability to debate and the stifling of creativity that keeps Louisiana behind the curve in FIXING many of the problems that exist there.

    I admire anyone remaining in Louisiana who is willing to put their thoughts out there with intelligence and courage, because I know how hard it is when society is mostly against your opinion. Louisianians need to increase their level of tolerance in discussions and not try to silence every voice by playing the “offense” card. I thought Brian’s opinion was RIGHT ON, and I’m sorry, but people who are “offended” by his opinion are simply in denial (or maybe think too highly of themselves). I mean, does anyone care to know why so many college graduates get the hell outta Dodge? The Louisiana exodus started long before Katrina, but not enough people are willing to wake up or ask why. Nonprogressives simply don’t care (“You don’t like Louisiana? Then be my guest and get the f^*& out!” is the attitide), without realizing the tremendous sinkhole (and impact on Louisiana) that exodus has made.

    There was nothing for Brian to apologize for in his post. In fact, he should be THANKED by Louisianians for his candor and YET ANOTHER wake-up call! Because yes, Louisiana is not just like a drunk, but a belligerent drunk who gets “offended” when you kindly suggest an AA meeting! Brian is a TRUE friend of the justice system of which he speaks– because a true friend is willing to risk “offending”, to save the friend he cares about.

    I laud progressives like yourself and Brian who remain, still give a damn, and keep on working to make improvements, despite all the resistance and cries of “offense”, because you’re the most tolerant and courageous. Heroes truly! I certainly couldn’t stomach the vortex; I felt too powerless and frustrated… and then moved to a relative paradise. Best wishes to all!

  • Kell says:

    Freedom of speech is personal to you and to each of us. It is not an impersonal right given to mass media who rarely reflect our views. The freedoms of speech and press are yours and do not belong to commercial institutions who are the usual ones hiding behind them. It is your obligation to stay within acceptable social bounds and the remedy for your failure should be losing your audience. That is a choice your readers or listeners may exercise. There are already too many laws interfering with your rights. Don’t give them away easily.

    You may have a social obligation to tone your speech, but this should not be interfered with on a legal basis. Free discussion of ideas should not be denied on any basis except social impropriety which is decided by each of us.

  • Aaron says:

    I had my best readership from provocative posts. Say what you will about the negative effects of controversy, the upside in publicity almost always outweighs the cons.

  • f p says:

    Look at what is happening. Just take a look.

    Now try to have a discussion without offending anyone. There are too many players with too many intrests that overlap or interfere with others. But there’s too much backwards thinking that has been allowed to go on for way too long.

    Get it all out there man.

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