The New York Times likes to remind its readers just how smart it really is. Take, for example, its recent decision to release a list of the most looked-up words in its online edition: words like “bildungsroman,” “peripatetic” and “antediluvian” sent thousands of readers running to the dictionary, or in this case, clicking on the definition, courtesy of the smarter-than-thou Times.
Readers who post comments on news articles also seem to like to show the general public just how smart and clever they really are. So it stands to reason that reader comments on Times articles are the most obnoxiously smug and self-important of almost any on the web. What’s perhaps more surprising is how embarassingly silly and devoid of content these posts seem to be.
Take, for example, this article on the Catholic majority on the Supreme Court. I stumbled upon it looking for something else, and it was showing page 4 of the comments (it turned out that my search term, “Sine auctoritate nulla vita,” matched one of the readers’ comments (the same reader also used the word “authochthony,” in case you weren’t aware he was really smart and wanted you to know that).
The article itself wasn’t terrible. It made the classic mistake of “anyone who claims to be a Catholic is a Catholic,” and got the predictable result: people who claim to be Catholic think very different things, even on issues where the Church has taken a clear stand. But since the article was in the context of the Supreme Court, asking if it was okay for there to be 5 Catholic Supreme Court justices (it was written in 2007, right after an all-Catholic voting bloc struck down partial-birth abortion Gonzales v. Carhart). Sure, it was trying to stoke a little fear, reminding the reader that the Gonzales majority were: “All are men. All were nominated by conservative Republican presidents. And, it was widely noted, all are Roman Catholics.” And sure, it only interviewed anti-“Republican Catholic” (read: anti- “pro-life Catholic”) sources, but it’s the Times, what do you expect? For an article on abortion and religion, it wasn’t half bad.
The comments, however….
Before going any further, I want to remind you that these are just the comments that are on the first page I opened – I didn’t have to go looking for mindless inanity.
Comment 76: “Kathleen” claims that “By including former Catholics (e.g., divorced and remarried Justice Thomas was Baptist, briefly Catholic from high school until college graduation, and is now Episcopalian), the NYT presents it’s [sic] Dan Brown scenario.” Of course, Thomas actually is Catholic (like the Times claims).
Comment 77: “William Coffey” comes up to bat next, claiming that perhaps “Four (Kennedy excluded) of these five so-called Catholics” should “be reminded of John Paul’s words that ‘you cannot be prolife and support the death penalty.’” Yes, Mr. Coffey. Please, “remind us” where and when John Paul II said that. A quick google search shows nothing of the sort. In fact, the death penalty (while deplorable) isn’t on an intrinsic evil like abortion or torture, and can be justified in certain circumstances. So those four justices are just fine, thank you (even though we may disagree with their views on the death penalty). And is Coffey really complaining that they’re not judically legislating their religion’s views on the death penalty? While defending Kennedy, whose vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey prevented the repeal of Roe, and was the cause of millions of abortions (which, mind you, are intrinsically evil).
Or how about this oldie-but-goodie argument from the days of intense anti-Catholicism?
The US has an ambassador to the Vatican as it is a sovereign state. Therefore,
those who take direction from the seculsar head of that state are agents of a
foreign power. The head of state is also the leader of a religion. Adherence to
the pronouncements of the religious leader also creates adheremnce to dictums of
a foreign head of state. Those who do forllow those directives should be
registered as agents of a foreign power and barred from serving in government.
Whatever stereotypes you might have about the Times not being a haven for crazy bigots should be amended. The Times is not a haven for right-wing crazy bigots. If the bigotry is reheated anti-Catholicism brought to you by a “liberal thinker,” no problem. I mean, really, what possible problem might there be in making every orthodox Catholic register with the government, and barring them from serving in the government? After all, a faithful Catholic can’t be patriotic!
Finally, my personal favorite:
“Do Americans want a government based on principles contrary to Scripture? Have voters studied Roman Catholic history to find out how thwy [sic] change their stand on truth? Do they know about the 70 million murders committed by Roman Cath leaders to try to control their members?— U Underwood”
I don’t even know where to begin. 70 million murders? Does the New York Times realize their reader base is insane? What in the world is this joker talking about?
I assume(?) he means the Inquisition, but that resulted in the deaths of a few thousand people over the course of a few centuries (it killed fewer people annually than Texas does today). But let’s assume he’s right. Let’s assume that the various Inquisitions (Spanish, Medieval, etc.) taken together, murdered 70 million people. To put this in context, here’s what one website (warning: very gross medical images) says of the Black Plague:
The Black Death, or The Black Plague, was one of the most deadly pandemics in human history. It began in South-western or Central Asia and spread to Europe by the late 1340s. The total number of deaths worldwide from the pandemic is
estimated at 75 million people; there were an estimated 20 million deaths in Europe alone. The Black Death is estimated to have killed between a third and two-thirds of Europe’s population.
Assuming most (say 40 million?) of these Church-ordered deaths occurred in Europe (after all, the Inquisitions were primarily European, the Catholic Church operated for most of its history primarily in Europe, and the Church is headquartered there), the Catholic Church more or less killed everyone in Europe.
Which, of course, is why Europe no longer exists.
I should note that if you go to the page, you’ll see many, many, many more stupid things said by people on both sides from “the LIBERRAL [sic] AGENDA will no longer be forced on a society that is against the lying LIBERALS [sic] MACHINE,” to this comment too lengthy (over 1300 words, says my word count) and insane (the U.S. Supreme Court “has always been as impenetrable and as mysterious in its workings as the Kremlin. Or the Vatican…“) to summarize.
You’ll also see a handful of smart responses. For example, one reader asks of the article: “What’s next? Will the NYT publish articles that Wall Street is run by a nefarious “Jewish Cabal”? Or that Hollywood is in the grips of a “Gay Mafia”?” It seems to be a fair question. Another summarizes my own view (that the article was okay, but that the comments are crazy bigoted), so he must be smart.
Finally, I know, I know, this is the sort of thing I normally hate – when people pull comments to show “what the other side thinks.” But I mean this not to say “people who disagree with the Catholic Church must be as crazy as these looney tunes,” but rather, “the Times is probably using words way too big for its reader base.”