A Final Thought on the Andrews-McArdle Affair

BY busadmin  May 27, 2009 at 4:57 PM EST

Paul Solman: The blizzard of response to the Andrews/McArdle affair has thinned to a flurry, but flakes keep coming, affording me an opportunity to respond to the persistent inclemency and continue the multi-logue, a first for this page.

The problem I have with vituperation — about me, Ed Andrews, his dog, Megan McArdle or Ayn Rand, for that matter — is its fundamental incivility. I guess I’m spoiled. I’ve had the privilege of working for the NewsHour for 24 years now, where the explicit object is “civil discourse.”

Once, years ago, when a live NewsHour guest belittled the video “trigger” that prefaced the studio discussion, I as moderator addressed him somewhat combatively, in defense of my colleague. Jim Lehrer called me immediately after the show and called me out. “These people are our GUESTS,” he scolded. “They are to be treated with respect.” So they are.

Now I do understand that this is a different forum: commenters to a blog are not expected to meet NewsHour standards of decency, though throughout the 17-month history of the Business Desk, they unswervingly have. Moreover, I confess: it can be fun, even titillating, to read lines like “an over-entitled horndog who has no moral compass.” (See Kevin Larrimor, comment #8.)

So, if vituperation makes for vivid commentary and that leads to more comments, and in turn to more readers, who am I to complain? Isn’t the point here to reach as many of you as possible?

No, not really. The point is to try to illuminate, albeit imperfectly. I’ve spent a career learning about business, economics, and finance. I think they’re vital for the citizens of a democracy to understand, in order to make informed judgments. Furthermore, I think their understanding contributes to economic growth — their own and society’s as a whole.

I appreciate being corrected, about matters both large and small, so I eagerly cop to the fact that John Galt is indeed the hero of Atlas Shrugged, not The Fountainhead (see comment #9; though if it didn’t seem uncivil, I might say that to me they all look alike.) As to being criticized, I mind less than most. But yes, I almost always wonder at public vituperation.

“You elitist bastards,” Andrews’ book and article “are a fraud”; his “response is disgusting in its mendacity”; “They should send you to prison” (Andrews, not me).

I note, upon re-reading the initial blizzard from which these comments are excerpted, that the tone changes somewhere after the first half-dozen or so. And that at that same juncture commence consistent references to Megan McArdle. So I take it we began getting new commenters to this site at roughly that point, as I surmised in my first “riposte.” (Sorry to keep using this play on words, but I like it). I also extended a warm welcome, which may be why some have bothered to stick around and re-respond. (If any of you are regulars here, I’m sure you’ll set me straight.)

While I still have you newcomers in the house, then, let me finish this not uncharacteristically long-winded post. Call me sententious. Call me old-fashioned. But without either defending Ed Andrews or prosecuting those who find his actions malign, I simply don’t think it’s right to infuse the world with one’s ill temper. From what reading I’ve done, it isn’t even cathartic for the ill-tempered. But it surely isn’t good for the rest of us. Isn’t the world embattled enough as it is? I’d be interested to hear what you think.

UPDATE: Paul responds to readers in the comments section.