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Environment

Whipping up the Mob

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Last May, shortly before I left Audubon Magazine (where I was an editor for eight years), I received a flurry of angry calls from around the country. None of these people knew me; they were trying to reach John Flicker, National Audubon Society's President. My phone extension had become mistaken with the organization's main number and suddenly I was being bombarded by fans of conservative radio host Michael Reagan. On one of his shows and in a subsequent column, Reagan directed his listeners to call Flicker, along with the presidents of EarthJustice and The Natural Resources Defense Council, and implore them to stop opposing domestic oil and gas drilling:

If you want to drill in Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico or in the continental U.S.--where billions of gallons of petroleum are just waiting to be tapped--or build refineries, these three people stand in your way.

I'm sure it was news to John Flicker that he had this kind of influence, or that he opposed all U.S. drilling. (Hell, up until a few years ago, Audubon got money from a long-time gas drilling project in Louisiana that happened to take place on a wildlife refuge. Yeah, that was controversial.) But at any rate, Reagan's listeners must have taken his rant seriously, because I was getting all those irate calls. This episode sprang to mind today because of recent blog posts by Joseph Romm (see here and here), in which he attacks The York Times for this column by John Tierney and this news analysis by Andy Revkin. I've taken a stab at unpacking Romm's missive against Revkin here and at another of his attacks on the Times here. Romm's slash-and-burn harangues are striking to behold for their stridency, and in this one, for his plea to readers to email Times editors and "demand a correction for the egregious mistakes" in Tierney's column. A similar vent-your-spleen tactic was employed by The Wonk Room at the end of its attack on Revkin. Now I don't have a problem with directing readers to other outlets (be they media or a government agency, or whatever) to express their opinions on a given issue. When I was at Audubon Magazine, providing contact sources for readers at the end of stories was routine practice. But we didn't whip them up with mad-dog rhetoric or even tell them what to say. By contrast, Romm and other bloggers are issuing directives to their respective flocks that urges them to express their outrage to the Times The intent is transparent: to impugn someone's reputation. And probably as effective and misdirected as those dopey phone calls I mistakenly got from Michael Reagan's listeners last May.

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