The LDS public relations machine doesn't always get a lot of respect from bloggers. But I've been watching the steady and reasonable performance by Michael Otterson, the LDS Public Relations Director, over at the new On Faith site and feel compelled to compliment the man publicly. He deserves an award. Anyone who has to put up with that much crap from "commenters" (I used a more colorful description in my first draft) — and can maintain a pleasant and friendly demeanor at the same time — deserves more than an award. Do COB employees get performance bonuses?
Take, for example, a post from a couple of weeks ago, "Stereotypical 'Female' Qualities Are Core of What Jesus Taught." He ends with this seemingly unobjectionable statement: "It’s those very values – including but not limited to compassion, sensitivity, empathy and intellectual honesty - which, I constantly remind myself, are the core of how Jesus taught us to live." It has (so far) 494 comments! Do you think people weigh in with their considered views on compassion and empathy? Hardly. The first comment shows how quickly a comment thread can be derailed. Self-appointed pests can kill a forum — On Faith better give its contributors some cover if it wants to have a future.
That mudslingers can turn PR types like Otterson into heroes — just for putting up with online flak they direct at Mormons — is an ironic consequence of their activities. Here's what the On Faith producer ended up posting on the Otterson post I linked above, referring to comments:
Some have been insulting and abusive to panelists. It is one thing to disagree with and critique another person’s views. It is quite another to personally attack that person or a group of people with insulting words. Also, some commentators have steered online conversations into avenues that have nothing to do with the issue at hand.
Strong believers in free speech that we are, we also firmly hold the view that strong criticism and disagreements can be effectively expressed in language that is not offensive. In fact, it is widely regarded as a mark of intelligence to be able to do so. We are respectfully reminding all those who will be posting future comments at “On Faith” to please not use language about others that you would not use if the person you are addressing were sitting across a table from you.