Did ye ever hear the one about the Irishman, Paddy, who was taking an ocean cruise, be dad? While they was down in the South Pacific, the ship sprung a big leak and sank, with the passengers pilin’ into the lifeboats fer dear life. And wouldn’t ye know, our man Paddy missed the last lifeboat and had to dive overboard all on his lonesome! So Paddy swam, and swam, and swam, and finally up ahead he spotted a desert island. With his last remaining strength, he reached the shore, struggled up, and walked onto the dry land. And then he opened his mouth and roared, “Who’s the giver’ment here? I’m agin ’em!”
And that, dear readers, sums up in two sentences, the apparent philosophy of posters to the Old Madison website. “If it’s the local government, I’m against it! The mayor and council are crooks! And stupid crooks, at that! The school board is made up of dolts! The superintendent should be run out of town on a rail! That new county commissioner we supported so heavily last fall has proven he’s just as bad as all the rest!” And so on. If you haven’t read the Town Forum on Old Madison, you’ll find it at www.oldmadison.com . If you read the postings for a few days, I think you’ll see what I mean.
A man named Jeff Burleson operates the website. Jeff is a friend of mine, of pretty long standing. He’s a Vietnam War veteran, as I am; he was once the Jefferson County veterans service officer. He was the one who got me started in writing local columns, on that very same Old Madison website. I’m grateful to Jeff for a number of things; he’s a square shooter who says what he thinks, and isn’t afraid to be “politically incorrect.” And I like that.
And he had the courage and initiative to start a website of his own, about his home town, back before doing so became “all the rage.” And to put his name on it. You’ve got a beautiful website there, Jeff, with interesting, scenic photos of Madison and comments posted on the home page that leave no doubt that you love Madison, your hometown.
It’s sad, though, that most of the people who post comments on his Town Forum — comments which usually have nothing good to say about anyone of prominence in this community — do NOT have that courage. They hide behind pseudonyms like “Hmmm” or “Town Crier” or “Concerned Citizen.” They pat each other on the back about how they are “not afraid to tell it like it is,” (and apparently in Madison, it is never anything but bad, bad, bad); but they’ll only do so from behind a veil of anonymity. They’re like a person who hides down a dark alley at night, and uses a revolver to take pot shots at someone standing underneath a street light, down at the end of the alley. Folks, that’s not “courage.” If you’re going to say something, then stand by it by putting your name under it. If you don’t, then you’re wanting to have your cake and eat it too: Rip the hide off anyone local whose actions you don’t like, but keep your own identity concealed so you won’t have to face any repercussions for doing so.
I worked at the Madison Courier for many years, and one of the things that irritated the hell out of those of us on the news staff was the newspaper’s practice of allowing letters to the editor to be published signed only as “Name Withheld By Request.” The Courier was being a party to allowing such anonymous attacks (the letters written by “Name Withheld” were, almost without exception, scurrilous attacks on someone, or some local institution, or such, always by name). It was providing a forum for such, possibly libelous, attacks. I can still remember the news staff meeting at which the publisher finally announced that letters would henceforth not be published without the name of the writer. We staff members erupted in cheers at hearing that.
Now, there are a few who DO sign their posts on Old Madison. Larry Henry, Warren Auxier, Tami Hagemier, William W. Warren, and a few others, are willing to stand by what they say. And I admire that. I may not always agree with what they say — I may STRONGLY disagree at times. But they are showing the courage of their convictions. And so, more power to them.
I haven’t posted on Old Madison for a long time. I used to, occasionally. Usually to criticize those who wanted to blast all and sundry, but to do it from down that dark alley. As a result, Jeff Burleson barred me from posting, on several occasions, lasting weeks at a time. Hey, Jeff, I was just “telling it like it is.” Of course, when I posted, I did it under my real name. That makes you more vulnerable. But you sleep better at night.
Here’s a question for those people who post from down that dark alley: How would YOU like it, if your family and your friends had to read sneering, sarcastic comments about YOU on the Town Forum, written by people who cloaked themselves in anonymity, while holding your name and reputation up to public ridicule? I’ll answer for you: You wouldn’t like it at all. Really. I know, because it’s happened to me — but not necessarily on Old Madison. It hurts, and it’s infuriating.
There’s a famous line from a Hank Williams Sr. song, “Men With Broken Hearts.” It is: “The God who made you, made them too …” These people who you dump on — anonymously — have families, and friends, and lives. By what right do you just assume that they’re all “tainted” somehow, in your eyes? If you think someone in public office isn’t behaving properly, why don’t you cite some proof, instead of just bandying allegations about? And why don’t you “grow a pair,” and acknowledge that you, John or Jane Doe, wrote these posts?
And Jeff, my friend, Old Madison is your website. You can obviously run it the way you want. But as I said before, you’ve never been afraid to speak your mind, and sign your name to it, so to speak. Shouldn’t you hold your posters to the same criteria?