Jim Zumbo is a famous hunter, and has been writing about guns, the outdoors, and hunting, for decades. He has a TV show and is an editor and writer for the second largest outdoor magazine in the nation. Or rather, he was all those things. He lost it all one evening, when, after a hard day of hunting on a Remington Arms funded coyote hunt, Zumbo blogged the following words:
“Excuse me, maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity,” Zumbo wrote in his blog on the Outdoor Life Web site. The Feb. 16 posting has since been taken down. “As hunters, we don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them. . . . I’ll go so far as to call them ‘terrorist’ rifles.”
Zumbo has since pulled the post, and has apologized profusely, all to no effect. The NRA has gone to war with him, perhaps as a way of reminding the new Congress that the group has not lost its teeth.
The parallels to the Edwards blogging affair are obvious.
A comment in one context is dragged into a new one, in which the comment is misinterpreted and misrepresented in order to inflame passions. Jobs are lost and an interest group asserts its power.
Online communications make this sort of thing easier, with psychologists arguing that:
several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure.
To most of the people complaining about Zumbo’s remarks, like the people who attacked Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte, the target is literally two dimensional. He is words on a screen, perhaps with a photograph attached. To the people who cost those individuals their jobs, the targets were fundamentally separated from a reality in which there are bills to pay, personal opinions to express, and different avenues to blow off steam.
The NRA was no more interested in Zumbo than Bill Donohue and the Catholic League were interested in Melissa and Amanda. The groups wanted to score some cheap points and to throw an elbow early on in this accelerated election season. Our mass media, and the way that talking heads spar with each other, have made it easier to use the lives of passionate and thoughtful human beings as pawns in petty feuds. Online communication may make this easier and more widespread, but the casualties of the average flamewar are a lot less severe than the one the NRA and Bill Donohue have waged in the last few weeks.
Perhaps they’d benefit from some character education?