Commenter clinic

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Rush Limbaugh isn't the founder of the syndicated talk radio genre -- Larry King should get the credit for that -- but he has set the standard in many respects. I don't listen often any more, but I always enjoyed it when he took the time to explain why he ran the show a certain way and how his rules contributed to the success of the show.

A lot of talk show hosts focused on the callers and measured the success of the show by the number of people wanting to talk. Rush pointed out that there were far more listeners than callers, and that the show was for the listeners. Callers had no right to bore or irritate his listeners to the point of provoking them to tune out.

Rush has always made it clear that his show is about what he thinks, and the callers' role is to interact with the issues he raises. Callers who want to talk about a different topic are turned away (except on Fridays, when he allows more leeway), and callers have to be able to make their point succinctly. Dissenting views are welcome, but you're expected to be polite and engage in a conversation, not a shouting match. It's his show, his rules, and he's built a substantial audience by running it his way. Those who want to do things another way are welcome to start their own radio show and build their own audience.

I haven't done this consciously, but Rush's approach seems to have shaped my approach to running this blog. It is after all BatesLine, and it's about what I find interesting and what I think about it. This is my blog, not a bulletin board or a forum. Comments, even dissenting comments, are welcome, but try to stay on topic and keep it polite. As it's my place, I am the arbiter of what is on-topic and what is polite. Those who want to do things another way are welcome to start their own blog (much easier than starting your own syndicated radio show) and build their own audience.

I've written previously about my comment policy, and in that entry you'll get a general idea of what I will and won't approve.

In the last week I've declined to approve seven comments.

Five were from a frequent commenter here. These comments made some interesting points, and even included compliments for me, but they went way off-topic, and some were also quite lengthy. A comment like that can kill a conversational comment thread or trigger a flame war that has nothing to do with the blog entry at hand.

The other two were from someone who had never commented before, writing under the pseudonym Tommy, with the e-mail address, and an IP address of, which is a Cox cable internet address. later e-mailed me to ask why I hadn't posted his comments.

I referred him to my comments policy, which he misread, responding by e-mail from (assigned to

I see; so you don't post any dissenting opinions. Maybe you should put some kind of disclaimer on the comments form so people don't waste their time.

In fact, after I replied to his first e-mail, it occurred to me that it would be helpful to provide a link to my entry about comments. I had already added it to the template and rebuilt all the individual entries before I received that second e-mail.

Although my general rule with comments I reject is "never apologize, never explain," I think it would be useful to take a closer look at these two comments, because they illustrate how to make an interesting point in a rude way. Rush Limbaugh used to do "caller clinics" -- he'd take an unscreened call and explain the call's good and bad points to help listeners understand the screening choices he makes.

In that same spirit, then, here we go with a BatesLine "commenter clinic." Let's start with the first comment from "Tommy", posted to the entry about "planned shrinkage":

Bates you are such a conspiracy theorist. Reading your blog reminds me of an old X-Files episode. Let me get this straight. Youíre trying to make a connection between Tulsa demolishing properties that have been abandoned for years, to St. Louis intentionally starving poor sections of the city. Ok, well Iíll bite. Is there any evidence that Tulsa has been cutting services to certain areas of the city? (Iíll admit; the huge sound proof walls built around south Tulsa neighborhoods do annoy me a little.)

"Tommy" gets off on the wrong foot from the start. It's rude to address someone you don't know by his last name. Among friends it may be endearing, but between strangers it conveys a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, a contempt for the person you're addressing. By calling me a conspiracy theorist, he only digs himself deeper in the hole. He could have communicated the same point less offensively by dropping the first two or three sentences. (We'll overlook his failures of punctuation and reading comprehension.)

Even with the 'tude on display, I might have approved his comment if he had been willing to stand behind his words by signing his real full name. If you're going express contempt for me and hide behind a pseudonym, I'm not likely to welcome you to track your mud into my cyber-home.

Here's the second "Tommy" comment, on the Iconic Tulsa entry:

So the Whirled made your point heh. Well that begs the question, ďWhat is your point?Ē People donít vote for an icon that doesnít exist yet? :)

As for the ďExpo Center / County PropertyĒ ranting. I wonder how many events come to the fair grounds because of the lower taxes. I bet if we look into it, the amount of money lost in city taxes is far less than the amount spent outside the fair grounds by event goers.

Beneath the contemptuous tone, there are some reasonable, debatable points. W. actually made the point in the first paragraph. The question in the second paragraph is one that should be examined before the City of Tulsa annexes the Fairgrounds -- does having a city-sales-tax-free enclave in the middle of Tulsa bring in enough outside dollars to make up for the city's loss of revenue? But by calling my one-sentence case for annexing the Fairgrounds "ranting", he makes it more likely that the comment won't be posted. As with the other comment, anonymity is an aggravating factor, as is the fact that the score is now two rude comments to zero polite comments submitted by this person.

I mentioned W., aka rwarn17588, and he's a good example of someone who gets his comments approved, even though disagrees with me fairly frequently and can be rather abrupt in expressing his disagreement. I don't recall having not approved or having deleted any of his comments. It helps that I know his real name, even though he uses a kind of pseudonym here.

So to sum up this BatesLine commenter clinic: Take the chip off your shoulder, express yourself as as if you were to trying to generate conversation instead of trying to pick a fight, post under your real name, and your comment is far more likely to get published.

UPDATE: In the comments, "Tommy" politely takes exception to my interpretation of the tone of the comments he submitted. (And notice, Tommy, you criticized me politely, and you got published! Despite comparing me to people who burn consulates over cartoons!) While the tone of written words can be misinterpreted, I don't think I'm far off in this case.

It is curious, too, that someone calling himself "Timmy!", using a TypeKey account, posted a very positive comment from at 12:40 p.m., not long after Tommy sent an e-mail from that same IP address. That IP address could just be an odd coincidence -- they may be two different employees of SemGroup and that IP is the company firewall, using network address translation.


W. Author Profile Page said:

I, too, listened to a lot of talk radio, including the pioneer of the format, KMOX-AM in St. Louis.

The good hosts kept the callers from rambling, and when they did so, asked the caller this: "What's the bottom line?"

It's sometimes hard to be succinct. But it serves the commentator well and helps the format in which it appears. "What's the bottom line?" is a pretty good thing to remember.

Tommy said:

You completely misinterpreted the tone of my comments. Iím a jovial person and Iíve recently got very interested in local politics partially because of your blog. I didnít realize using your last name was rude. I assumed it was better than using your first and I felt that Mr. Bates seemed too formal. Calling you a conspiracy theorist is just good natured teasing and XFiles happens to be one of my favorite shows. As for signing my full name, the truth is Iím an average nobody and Iím nervous about revealing personal information on the web.

I do realize there are some people that canít tolerated any joke aimed at them. These kinds of people burn down consulates over cartoons and such; so good luck with your blog but Iíll be reading somewhere else.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Tommy and all:
We sure could use some "formal-ness" in our consideration of how we write, especially when other people are reading. I suppose if we write politely, and formally, we would be astonished to find one person getting angry or taking offense. We can all make our points quietly and succinctly; we don't have to ramble.

On the other hande, I think some people might regard polite and formal writing arrogant. Each style has a purpose and an audience.

It is rude to use someone's last name (without a Mr. or Ms. in front) to address them - unless its your best friend, or someone on your softball team.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 22, 2006 10:35 AM.

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