Thursday 02 May 2002

Attacking the (person not the) argument

Mike Sanders quoted Richard Bennett’s snide personal attack on Dave Winer, written in response to Winer’s essay, Sharon Must Go.

If Winer had followed the party line and written an essay called Sharon Must Stay in which he praised Sharon as a “man of peace,” would he have been flattered instead of denigrated? Like this, for example:

A particularly sharp example of Silicon Valley political savvy is the essay on Dave Winer’s blog titled “Sharon Must Stay.” Winer is a key figure in the group that some have called the San Francisco Web whizzes. He’s representative of a common phenomenon in this valley, the brilliant software developer who singlehandedly creates an important software category, builds a company around it, then sells the company for a handsome profit.

In Winer’s case it was an outlining and presentation package for the Macintosh called MORE, which he astutely sold to Symantec before Mac sales started to nosedive. Although he could have relaxed on a beach in the Bahamas for the rest of his life, Winer has chosen to devote his imagination and considerable energies to creating a blogging tool called Radio UserLand. He has initially positioned Radio as personal publishing software, but his real goal is to empower groups to work collaboratively in new and exciting ways.

Along the way, Dave Winer has managed to antagonize more than a few people but that’s to be expected for anyone who has the moxie to forcefully express his opinions, about politics or technology. Here’s the essence of his argument:

As it happens, my rewrite is considerably closer to the truth than Bennett’s unsavory ad hominem attack. But that’s not the point. In both my version, and in Bennett’s original, there is only one relevant sentence. It’s this one:

Here’s the essence of his argument.

The only issue worthy of rebuttal is Dave Winer’s argument that Sharon should go. Winer’s personal history, how he made his fortune, and how he spends it have absolutely no bearing on his attitudes towards the Middle East. Dave Winer is entitled to express his opinions in good faith and to expect that anyone who disagrees will attack the argument and not the person making the argument.

When Bennett does address Winer’s argument, he makes the persuasive point that “that the only possible successor to Sharon in the wings right now is Netanyahu, a more hawkish man than Sharon himself.” So why not build on that to undermine Winer’s basic premise?

Instead, Bennett sends out an unambiguous message that anyone who expresses less than unconditional support for Israel will be subjected to a character assassination. In Winer’s case, his motives have been called into question, his life’s work dismissed as trivial, and his financial success shrugged off as accidental.

How that encourages the uncommitted to give sympathetic consideration to the Israeli cause is beyond my comprehension.



Ahh. Reading this post was like listening to someone explain my own unformed thoughts. My good, RL pal Ken blogs over yonder at the Illuminated Donkey (, and was very drawn to the warbloggers when they started (interestingly, replacing the indymedia sites in his media ecology).

I didn't know a durn thing about 'em, but Ken's a really good pal, so I thought I should listen to what he had to say and check 'em out.

I just want to have fistfughts with them, and have not yet been able to write about warblogging or even politics as a result. It's very strange! Normally I go on and on about poltics. But I hadn't even been able to formulate my emotional reactions to their writing to the point it generated words.

So, I tend not to read 'em. which, of course, leads me to continue creating my own self-defined media ecology.

Anyway. Thanks for the post.

Posted by: mike whybark on 4 May 2002 at 09:49 AM

A much needed post. There are many examples of personal attacks on both sides of the political spectrum and they all need to be called to task.
Well done.

Posted by: Norm Jenson on 4 May 2002 at 12:58 PM

Well put! A golden rule of blogging, even if it's sometimes hard to measure up to. Too often lately passion kicks wisdom into the back seat. Thanks for the good advice, especially at a time when this "with us or against us" mentality is running amuck. Argue the case, not the man. I officially forgive you for your previous blogsisters' slam. ;-)

Posted by: jeneane sessum on 4 May 2002 at 01:13 PM

I saw no problem with the attack on Winer's very simple minded "Sharon Must Go"... By equating terrorist with a legitimate defense against terror, Winer is proving he is a victim of Palestinian propaganda.

If this kind of terrorism was happening in Silicon Valley in the shops he visited and buses he took to work everyday he would be singing a different tune.

Jewish blood is not cheap! Israel will crush those out to destroy it (as any other country would)!

Posted by: BS on 7 May 2002 at 02:51 AM

I didn't criticize the attack on Dave Winer's "Sharon Must Go" opinion piece. Even Dave himself would agree that anyone is entitled to criticize his opinions. I took exception to the personal attack on Winer himself.

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 7 May 2002 at 05:07 PM

Ignore Bennett. He's not even sophisticated enough to be anything other than rude, rather than simply snide in his ad hominems, as is the case with the Instapundits and Laynes of this world.

Posted by: devotscha blank on 8 May 2002 at 02:56 PM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour