Learning Curve = 0
Steve Schwenk, late of wishing violent death upon the child of a New York Times reporter and then being shocked, shocked when that wish was publicized in the New York Times with his name attached to it, has posted an open letter to Daniel Okrent, the NYT’s public editor, who is the one who outed Schwenk in his column.
I don’t think much of it, and reading it I think less of Schwenk than I did before. Schwenk gripes about how horrible this whole ordeal has been for him and his family and about how awfully he’s been abused by the Times when it published his name and the comment. But other than agreeing that what he wrote (“I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war”) was “shocking and uncivil,” I don’t see Schwenk actually being sorry for what he wrote.
Oh, true enough, he regrets it, for various reasons: He’s gotten a number of harassing phone calls, he’s been exposed to national ridicule, and now anytime anyone Googles him, they’re going to see his brief spike into national prominence, and for a not very nice reason. But as Schwenk formulates it, it’s all about what’s being done to him, and nothing about the outrageous comment which provoked the response.
For example, look how Schwenk formulates the Google complaint:
What won’t go away for years, if ever, are the results of the Google search of my name every prospective employer, professional colleague, new friend or potential spouse is likely to conduct in the future. When you search my name now, you learn right away that the Public Editor of the New York Times called me a coward and a despicable person incapable of consideration of others. As Mr. Nagourney well knows, Google is brutal and unforgiving. It forgets nothing. And everybody uses it. And when people see in their search results that it is the esteemed New York Times that has branded me an inconsiderate coward, they are, ironically, likely to believe it to be true without any second thought.
What Schwenk conveniently glosses over here is that the Google-accessible chunk of text in which he is called a coward will also include Mr. Schwenk’s actual quote. I suggest that future Googlers of Mr. Schwenk will be rather more convinced that he is a coward because he wished for the death of someone’s child from the safe remove of 2,200 miles and e-mail delivery than the fact that Daniel Okrent, for better or worse, called him on the fact.
Yes, yes, I know, Schwenk says that it’s out of context. But let me ask, and not for the first time: In what context can hoping someone’s child gets his head blown off in a war be seen as anything other than cruel and monstrous? I’m racking by brain for that sort of redeeming context, and you know, I’m coming up with squat.
I’d also like to draw attention to this bit from Mr. Schwenk’s letter:
In sending my angry e-mail to Mr. Nagourney, I never intended to cause him harm, and did not cause him harm.
Simply and baldly put: Steve Schwenk is a liar. Mr. Schwenk is apparently a parent, since he details how his children have been frightened by the aftermath of his outing in the Times. I find it utterly inconceivable that a parent — particularly one who is now trotting out his own children to bolster his claims of persecution — can wish another parent’s child dead without recognizing the extreme power of that statement. This isn’t your usual, garden variety “you’re an asshole” sort of invective. It’s the sort of language you use when you want to hit someone hard in their soft spots. You don’t say something like that about someone’s kid as part of a general suite of heated conversation. No, placing an image of a child’s death in the mind of a parent takes malice aforethought.
Within the scope of Schwenk’s ability to hurt Mr. Nagourney, the reporter whose child for whom he hoped for death, he went out of his way to do so. Some of the people jumping to Schwenk’s defense (none here, thank God), have suggested that this kind of comment is “a mildly heated email to a Times reporter.” Well, I call “bullshit” on that, and on Mr. Schwenk. You don’t wish someone’s kid gets their head blown off and then try to say that you weren’t trying to hurt them. If Schwenk is not a liar, and he genuinely didn’t know hoping for Nagourney’s kid to die might not come back to haunt him, then he is so unfathomably stupid as to beggar description. But as I said, since he’s canny enough to trot out his own kids to make his case, I don’t think Schwenk can claim stupidity.
Here’s the clincher for me that Schwenk doesn’t really think he’s done anything wrong:
Let me close by pledging that, henceforth, I shall write all of my e-mails as though they will be published in the New York Times. I shall write them with the care, consideration and respect for civil discourse that one would expect from the public editor of the nation’s leading newspaper. I will write them as though I am writing a respected column that will be read by people around the world, and that will be captured in Google forever. My parting request to you, Mr. Okrent, should your choose not to do the honorable thing and resign, is that you pledge to never again write a column for the New York Times as though you are writing a private, angry and hostile e-mail to an audience of one.
In other words, “I’ll never write another e-mail wishing another parent’s kid dead because I don’t want to be embarrassed again.” Not “I’ll never write another e-mail wishing another parent’s kid dead because it’s a horrible thing to do, and I was wrong for doing it.”
What a schmuck.
Look, if I were Adam Nagourney, I would have dropped Schwenk’s e-mail into the trash like it deserved to be trashed. If I were Daniel Okrent, I wouldn’t have published Schwenk’s name. If I were Okrent’s editor, I would have strongly suggested he not put Schwenk’s name in the article. Outing Schwenk is far from the New York Times’ greatest moment. Schwenk should have been ignored, not held up for ridicule.
Having said that, in light of Schwenk’s self-pitying refusal to acknowledge his sentiment was wrong, I again discover I have not a thimbleful of sympathy for him for the predicament in which he finds himself. It’s nice he regrets sending that e-mailed sentiment to Mr. Nagourney. Would that he regretted it not for what airing the sentiment is doing to him, but for what sending the sentiment says about his soul.
Here’s what I hope for Mr. Schwenk’s children: That they grow up bright and beautiful and happy, and so very far away from the sort of death their father wished upon the child of another parent.