I'd never heard of Nir Rosen until Tuesday, when he became the author of the most reviled Tweets on the planet.
Shortly after CBS sent out a news release explaining that correspondent Lara Logan "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating" from a crowd of Egyptians following the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Rosen started posting Tweets. (I'm cleaning up the language of his quotes here, by the way, but making no other changes.)
"Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson. Where was her buddy McCrystal."
"Yes yes its wrong what happened to her. Of course. I don't support that. But, it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too."
"Look, she was probably groped like thousands of other women, which is still wrong, but if it was worse than I'm sorry."
His posts were quickly retweeted, triggering a tsunami of revulsion. Rosen took another post or two to realize what he'd stepped in:
"ah f--- it, I apologize for being insensitive, it's always wrong, that's obvious, but I'm rolling my eyes at all the attention she will get."
Shortly thereafter he got on the contrition train bigtime:
"i apologize and take it back. joking with friends got out of line when i didnt want to back down. forgot twitter is not exactly private"
"As someone who's devoted his career to defending victims and supporting justice, I'm very ashamed for my insensitive and offensive comments"
"I know that in a matter of seconds with a thoughtless joke, I brought shame upon myself and my family and added insult to Ms. Logan's injury"
Click play to watch video, where CNN's Anderson Cooper gets all het up about exactly what Rosen did or did not know when he started Tweeting. Seems rather beside the point to me. No context would make them more acceptable. But watch away:
So who is this guy? In short order I figured out two things:
He's not simply an idiot. Agree with his conclusions or not, he's got a body of work assembled by hard work and personal risk in some pretty harsh places. He's had articles published in The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The New Republic, Boston Review, Time, Mother Jones, and World Policy Journal.
And he's not simply a butthead. If he didn't give a damn, he could have just ignored the reaction and smirked himself to his next assignment. Instead, he's been apologizing for two days. He resigned from his position as Fellow at the Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law.
See, for contrast, how Ann Coulter responded to criticisms after she wrote this about some of the widows of the 9/11 attack:
"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."
If Coulter offered an apology, I'm unable to find it.
So Rosen isn't simply a dope or a jerk. (Although as my PD colleague Matt Lewis points out, Rosen does have a history of dehumanizing entire classes of people wth whom he disagrees.) Nor is he some Internet newbie, unaccustomed to the power and reach of the new media. He stands in a growing line of people who should have known better, including, say Octavia Nasr and Dave Weigel, who got bit in the butt by the irretrievably public nature of the Internet.
"it was the twitter equivalent of blurting something out. i had no expectations because i just didnt think of it."
But how is that possible?
"in those few minutes i didnt think about it, you're lying in bed late at night (i'm in the middle east), just f---ing around on the internet thoughtlessly"
When did you realize you'd crossed a line?
"well i was just a d--- at that moment. then i realized that she had been sexually assaulted (i just thought she was roughed up at first), and i realized that this had grown way past people i knew and felt comfortable joking around with and thousands of people i didnt know were taking me seriously, and i realized i was f---ed"
While not defending his Tweets, he did suggest the massive reaction had something to do with politics.
"i was unthinking, but there was also a mob element to this, and its because i'm a leftist, i'm not defending myself, but i think its fair to observe that if i were a right wing pundit this would not have happened."
I'm not so sure of that. Coulter was widely condemned for her 9/11 quote. On the other hand, she suffered no loss of position or popularity among her fans that I can discern.
What's the takeway? Everybody repeat after me: Nothing is private on the Internet. Not an e-mail. Not a Tweet. Not a blog post. Before you hit the "send" button, you always, always need to think about what those words would look like in the New York Times or stripped across the Drudge or Huffington home pages.
Or you can end up like Nir Rosen, whose conscience eventually kicked in:
"i realized it several minutes too late, i was tired, in bed, watching tv."
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