Last week there was Yet Another Political (this time, anti-war) ad, and as expected I got a bunch of complaints and petulant “unsubscribe” demands.
More thoughtful than most was Paul in Florida:
I imagine you’ll get a lot of comments in spite of your disclaimer at the bottom of the issue (‘talk to the advertiser about it, not me.’) I guess the only comment I would make to you is that that is a good policy. However, if you go the advertised website, he doesn’t have the courage or common courtesy to provide an email to reply to the garbage that he spews on his website. That’s unfortunate.
I have often said I expect that my readers are intelligent to make up their own minds about the legitimacy of the messages sent in ads. Paul is very correct: not having any way to contact a site’s owner to ask for (say) substantiation of claims, whether the site is selling products or ideas, does show a lack of courage and courtesy — which you should very much take into account when evaluating what’s for sale.
You’ll note that my address, for instance, is not only in every issue, but also on the Contact page on my site, which is linked from pretty much every other page. I can’t possibly reply to all the letters I get, but I do at least read all of them.
Then There Was the Less Thoughtful
Among the several people that can’t distinguish my editorial commentary from a paid ad were Kristie in North Carolina:
You have no concept of the truth of the war with Iraq. I’m unsubscribing. I pity you. If people like you had your way, we’d all be annihilated now. There is a time for war, and it is here. You have the right to your OPINION, but it is certainly not the TRUTH.
It’s fine to pity me, Kristie, but I find much more pity in someone screaming that any voice — that wasn’t even mine! — which dissents from the party line is promoting “annihilation” rather than thoughtfully gathering information from many sources before making up one’s mind on an important issue.
Several readers sent me this quote, but David in Colorado was first: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” –U.S. President (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Theodore Roosevelt.
He made the comment during World War I, when Woodrow Wilson was president.
April 11 Update
Speaking of prolonged sighs resulting from people who don’t bother to think before doing, I’m absolutely flabbergasted (for you Brit heritage types: gobsmacked) by the number of people who wrote to say they “didn’t know” True has paid outside advertising. I mean …hello?
This fallout began, of course, after I ran a controversial paid anti-war ad. While I didn’t personally agree with the position taken by the ad (or in the web site advertised when I made a very brief visit), I consider free discussion of important topics to be a vital part of our freedom and democracy. How are people supposed to make informed decisions on critical issues without differing viewpoints?
As I mentioned, there are many ways to judge the messenger and consider if any particular source is worthy of your attention. But, as expected, I got plenty of petulant rants, hundreds of subscription cancellations, and accusations of my being a “commie pinko radical” (probably by one of the same readers who laughed gleefully at the Is Bill Clinton an Alcoholic? ad headline in February, which also resulted in some subscription cancellations).
It astounds me enough that people don’t grasp the difference between editorial matter (like these sentences you’re reading now) and paid ad inserts. Just because you see an ad for something in True doesn’t mean I personally endorse anything that’s said.
Do you really think that because Newsweek runs an ad for the Chevy Suburban it means they are taking an editorial position against Ford’s new low-emissions, high-mileage hybrid SUV? Of course not (though if you honestly do — yes, I’ll say it — then you’re an idiot.) (Oh, and if you don’t think that, then I didn’t just call you an idiot, did I? Think first, react later.)
But I was floored when I got dozens of notes from long-time readers who didn’t grasp that the clearly marked ads are indeed ads. Several actually thought those were some sort of plugs for my own web sites — two sites a week, times 52 weeks a year, for year upon year upon year? (See what I mean by people not thinking?)
Let alone that I talk about ads from time to time, like when I announced the recent price reduction. Let alone how clear I’ve made it (in the “Welcome” message, on the site, and in occasional thank-you’s to the advertisers) that it’s the ads that allow you to get the newsletter for free in the first place.
So many people suggested that I change the ad border to explicitly say “Yo, Braniac! The following is an ADVERTISEMENT!” that I actually considered doing it. But you know what? I’m simply not going to. I do know that it’s a very tiny minority that just doesn’t get it, so I’ve decided to refuse to pander to their stupidity — and insult the intelligence of everyone else — by stating something that’s so patently obvious.
If you really can’t stand ads, there is a solution for you, and it’s been there for years: it’s called the Premium edition — double the stories, with no outside ads.
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