Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stopping the politics of personal cruelty

As those who know me and those who have read this blog closely for years are well aware, I have little patience or tolerance for the personal bullying and intimidation of activists and elected leaders - people who are constantly in the public sphere because they are concerned about the direction and the future of their community, their state, and their country.

Throughout my years in politics, most of the people I have met or crossed rhetorical swords with (in conversation or in writing) have been respectful and kind.

While I feel fortunate that this has been the case, the experiences I've had with the tiny minority of people who practice what I'll call the politics of personal cruelty have been truly unfortunate.

One of the most extreme practitioners of the politics of personal cruelty here in Puget Sound unfortunately has in front of him a large cyber-megaphone which he has no qualms about using for malicious purposes.

That individual is Stefan Sharkansky, the proprietor of the blog Sound Politics, which we unusually jokingly refer to here as unSoundPolitics.

(unSoundPolitics, which features entries by a number of other Republican and right wing writers, became somewhat well known during the 2004 election contest as it stood behind Dino Rossi's legal challenge and loudly trumpeted accusations of fraud and negligence at King County Elections).

Those who Stefan considers to be his opponents are treated exceptionally viciously by Stefan in his postings. I'm not talking about disagreement on policy, or light jesting, or name calling, or even profanity.

I'm talking about raw nastiness, writing that's peppered with disgusting conjecture that is intended to destroy, humiliate, and defame.

Stefan attacks anyone who is in the way of the right wing agenda. For example, he has compared Ron Sims to African dictator Robert Mugabe, impugned Darcy Burner's integrity, assailed Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly, and denigrated yours truly - me and my family.

Frequently Stefan's answer to a post that challenges something he wrote is to attack the person who wrote it.

In those cases he doesn't bother with the merits of an argument, he just vindictively goes after the person who contradicted him and tries to undermine their credibility in any way he can, often using information he finds through public records, which he is very good at obtaining and sifting through.

I find his behavior reprehensible, which is why last year after he attacked me, I challenged him to stop doing so - but predictably, he did not.

This weekend, fellow blogger and friend Michael Hood detailed the story of Stefan's vengeful pursuit of a waitress who had described her experience waiting on his family to a blogger who posted the account online. It quickly drew Stefan's ire.
They [the Sharkanskys] did opp research, searched public records, got everything they could on her, like the trouble her kid got into; some profane old online rantings about boyfriends and husbands past, and posted everything on Sound Politics. They also found out she worked a 2nd job temping at Amazon.

At first, it was just a lark to her, griping online about a not uncommon server's plaint. So when the Sharks circled, she got her back up- who the hell are they to question my right to speak the truth?

A Shark[ansky] relative went to the restaurant, raised hell, and she was fired.
I don't find the story surprising, and I doubt that any of the details are exaggerated. Indeed, it fits with everything that I know about Stefan from his public writing and encounters with individuals I know. It's par for the course.

While I don't believe that criticizing someone's actions in public is unethical, I also don't think it's a good practice for those who work in the hospitality industry, or the larger service economy, to make a habit of relating experiences with customers, including public figures, on a personal blog, to some other blogger, or through any mass media.

Everyone has bad days, where frustration runs rampant and bad luck seems endless. Whenever reasonable and warranted, give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that their mood is temporary.

Someone who has repeatedly been ill tempered and rude in public may have earned a dose of criticism, but it doesn't mean it has to be administered.

As far as blogging is concerned, there is no excuse for not having an ethical standard, which is why Online Integrity is part of our policy.
  • Private persons are entitled to respect for their privacy regardless of their activities online. This includes respect for the non-public nature of their personal contact information, the inviolability of their homes, and the safety of their families. No information which might lead others to invade these spaces should be posted. The separateness of private persons’ professional lives should also be respected as much as is reasonable.
  • Public figures are entitled to respect for the non-public nature of their personal, non-professional contact information, and their privacy with regard to their homes and families. No information which might lead others to invade these spaces should be posted.
  • Persons seeking anonymity or pseudonymity online should have their wishes in this regard respected as much as is reasonable. Exceptions include cases of criminal, misleading, or intentionally disruptive behavior.
  • Violations of these principles should be met with a lack of positive publicity and traffic.

A number of bloggers who at the time said they wouldn't be signatories to the original project went out of their way to explain that they believe in the idea behind the principles and make an effort to respect the private lives of others. We at NPI have incorporated the principles into our mandatory guidelines which all contributors must follow.

To encourage a more respectful discourse, we also prohibit profanity.

Our adherence to and belief in the principles is the reason why months ago we stopped linking to (un)SoundPolitics, and why we will continue not to link there until Stefan changes his ways.
I am sure that at some point, Stefan will read this post, and so, as someone who Stefan has tried (and failed miserably) to intimidate and demean, let me address this last bit of it directly to him.

Stefan, I am sick and tired of your bullying and mean-spiritedness. I'm discouraged that you don't seem to understand that using a medium of mass communication to verbally assault the innocent and the powerless is morally repugnant.

I am repulsed by your eagerness to post information that leads your readers, some of whom are just as vindictive as you, to invade the privacy of people you dislike, typically those who are in the way of your political agenda.

I am indignant that you can dish out criticism so freely but can't take it yourself. Stefan, I am weary of your huge double standard. Your hypocrisy reeks.

Grow up and start treating people more respectfully.

Be kind and you will be the recipient of kindness. In other words, treat people as you wish to be treated. That's the golden rule. You will find that your opinion carries more weight and you will be taken much more seriously when you stop practicing the politics of personal cruelty.

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