Today, Mediabistro published some funny off-the-record comments from Washington Post liberal opinion columnist Dave Weigel. He said that Matt Drudge should "set himself on fire"! Ha ha. Should he, though?
Apparently, there's this exclusive off-the-record message board called Journolist, where fancy journalists gather round their laptops and bitch about the people they cover. (Please send us things from this message board!!) One day, Washington Post columnist was pissed off at Matt Drudge for a misleading headline on his Drudge Report. Weigel wrote the following screed:
This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.
I apologize to Matt Drudge for this — I was incredibly frustrated with the amount of hate mail I was getting and lashed out. If he wants to link to this post with some headline accusing me of wishing death on him, I suppose he can do so. But I don't wish that. I was tired, angry, and hyperbolic, and I'm sorry.
Hold on, Dave Weigel! Who said anything about wishing death on Matt Drudge. You clearly wrote "set himself on fire"—a phrase which encompasses any number of acts of self-immolation. And many of these would not only leave Matt Drudge very much alive—they wouldn't even hurt. Maybe... just maybe Dave Weigel still secretly wishes that Drudge would light himself up?
It was in a review of former Gawker editor Emily Gould's memoir that Ana Marie Cox wrote, "words matter and... they hurt." In the most extreme cases, mean words on the Internet can literally cause people to kill themselves. Other times, they might simply increase the net suffering in the world by supporting terrible ideas and distorting the truth, like by saying that simulated drowning does not constitute torture, technically. Even in this milder case, people are being materially—if not physically—hurt by, for example, the blatant race-baiting and climate change denying that is Matt Drudge's stock and trade.
Dave Weigel may not wish death upon Matt Drudge; nor do we. Hell, we don't even wish any pain on the guy. But we can forgive Weigel for (maybe still!) desiring that Matt Drudge set an insignificant part of himself aflame—more as a symbolic gesture than anything—and thus inconvenience himself. For example, he could set the sleeve of his t-shirt on fire and quickly put it out before he even felt the heat on his skin. Hopefully, this would distract him for exactly the amount of time it would take to come up with one of his dumb headlines. Or he could singe a single strand of his hair while it was still attached to his head. (if we consider a long cluster of nerve-dead keratin cells part of Drudge's "self.") This would stink up his house really bad, and make it a tiny bit harder to obscure the scientific consensus on global warming.
All we're saying is, let's not get too brash about this "not setting himself on fire" thing, Dave Weigel! It doesn't even have to hurt.