The Campaign Spot

Times’ Public Editor Doesn’t Plan to Write About ‘Magic Underpants’ Comment

Art Brisbane, the public editor and reader ombudsman of the New York Times, responded to my inquiry about columnist Charles M. Blow’s declaration that Mitt Romney should “stick that in your magic underwear,” a reference to a Mormon religious practice.

Mr.Geraghty: I agree this type of tweet isn’t a good idea. I have generally taken the view that ad hominem attacks are problematic journalistically (see link below to a column I write about a Joe Nocera piece). And I personally disagree with criticizing anyone based on religious belief. Because the writer in this case is an Op-Ed writer, whose opinions are his own, I do not plan to intervene to disagree with the opinion itself. But I think tweets of this kind are a mistake.

Brisbane wrote again, a few moments later, to note Blow apologized this morning. “Btw, the comment I made about Mormonism during Wed.’s debate was inappropriate, and I regret it. I’m willing to admit that with no caveats.”

Of course, this still leaves Blow’s comment from yesterday that it was “Time to scratch some of this right wing lice out of my timeline.”

Referring to those of different views as parasitic insects that must be eliminated. No uncomfortable historical parallels there, right?

But not worth intervening to disagree with the opinion itself, I suppose.

If only Mr. Blow had listened to advice like this:

I know that he likes to joke and tease. I have even joked with him. So I can believe that, in his mind, he may have thought that these were just harmless jokes in which the violence was fictional and funny.

But in the real world — where bullying and violence against gays and lesbians, or even those assumed to be so, is all too real — “jokes” like his hold no humor. There are too many bruised ribs and black eyes and buried bodies for the targets of this violence to just lighten up and laugh.

We all have to understand that effects can operate independent of intent, that subconscious biases can move counter to conscious egalitarianism, and that malice need not be present within the individual to fuel the maliciousness of the society at large.

The author of those words is . . . Charles Blow, an entire 13 days ago.

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