A Funny Thing Happened

On The Way To The Internet Forum

I do not know if Al Gore helped in\xadvent the Internet. I do not know where the Internet is located, or even whether it exists in a spatial place (like the end table where I often “misplace” my keys). I do know that there are many curious things there, however, and that news travels fast on it.

I recently appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News Channel to complain about Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito’s fawning “thank you” note to Religious Right leader James Dobson and the entire staff of Dobson’s Focus on the Family operation for their work to get him confirmed.

I explained that its meaning was “not as difficult, say, as breaking the Da Vinci Code.” Bluntly, I think that Justice Alito was saying, “Thanks for the back scratch, and soon I’ll be scratching yours.”

This was unpersuasive to Bill, who repeatedly referred to me as “crazy” and once turned that adjective into its noun form by labeling me a “paranoid crazy.” He still managed to say that he loves me as a guest and that I’m “one of the best,” so I thought that on the personal comment front the interaction was more or less a draw.

As soon as I came home, though, I started to see reports about my appearance on the Internet “blogs” and Web sites like Media Matters (a tough critic of what it considers inaccurate “spinning” of the news). Some made available in\xadstruc\xadtions on how to complain to the Fox News Channel about O’Reilly being rude to me.

I was a bit surprised to see this mini-firestorm. After all, O’Reilly said the words to my face; he didn’t cut off my microphone. He just believes I’m nuts. To me, that just comes with the territory. But I wasn’t upset that others think television ought to have more dignified discourse. In fact, that’s nice.

Just a short time later, I saw an article called “An Army Of Davids Attacks Barry Lynn” on the “Wonkette” Web site. I found a humorous story about a debate on international trade which featured Barry C. Lynn. (I’m Barry W. Lynn.) The writer was careful to note that Barry C. was not “that Barry Lynn,” that phrase highlighted with something called a hyperlink that took readers to the Americans United Web site if they clicked on it.

\xad\xadThis was courteous, so I wrote the editors of “Wonkette” a note and thanked them. I also pointed out that although I’ve never met Barry C., he was once kind enough to be on my “Culture Shocks” radio show and that he sometimes gets calls late at night from news outlets looking for comments about, say, Jerry Falwell which he passes on to me. I also joked that the “hyperlink” took readers to a page that had an old picture of me that I don’t really like, but that I would not be suing them.

Within minutes, my note was up on “Wonkette’s” Web site. Labeling my letter “amusing,” the editor invited me to become an official comment poster to respond to articles found on the site. This was very nice.

About two weeks later, I came across some Internet articles about Katharine DeBrecht, a woman who thinks the popular culture is too liberal and has begun to write children’s books with titles like Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed! and Help! Mom! Hollywood’s In My Hamper!

In the latter work, liberal celebrities modeled after Britney Spears and Ma\xaddon\xadna appear in two sisters’ closet and convince them to spend their babysitting money on fashion items that turn out to be garish and uncomfortable. One Internet writer had compared the books to “Nazi propaganda.”

This controversy seemed ripe for radio, so we tracked down Ms. DeBrecht and had her on “Culture Shocks.” I told her that some of the things that happen in her book are precisely what occurs in books that the Religious Right likes to complain about it. In her book, a boy puts worms in a girl’s purse; in a book widely censored by the Religious Right, a boy puts slugs in his dad’s pajamas.

Now, I don’t think either book is likely to give children new ideas about inappropriate usage of icky invertebrates, but it seems that some consistency would be in order. More significantly, when the girls decide that their expensive clothing was a waste of money, they throw it in the garbage. I pointed out that it might be a better message if they had given the items to a charity.

My larger point was that some right-wing advocacy groups get a tad too upset about the impact of specific images seen by children and also that communicating values in books can be trickier than you think.

Wherever the Internet is, and regardless of who invented it, it is a fascinating venue for getting instant feedback. It is also proving to be a very serious vehicle to get out new ideas; to warn people about governmental actions they might want to stop or support (AU activists can get regular updates by signing up at www.au.org); to communicate quickly with elected officials; to share ideas with people who see things the way you do or argue with people who don’t.

Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.