Journalist Nir Rosen managed to do the near-impossible. He published some tweets offensive enough to rise above the din of the Internet's general state of offensiveness and lost his fellowship at NYU.
Rosen's offending tweets were in response to the reports that CBS' Lara Logan had been sexually assualted near Tahrir Square on the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Here is a sampling of his handiwork.
"Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson [Cooper]. 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."
During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Rosen apologized for his remarks and explained that he didn't realize that Logan's assault had been sexual in nature at the time of his first tweet. He stood by this assertion even though his tweet included a link to a short statement from CBS News that clearly included that detail.
Anderson Cooper suggested that Rosen was describing an unbelievable scenario. How could he link to an article without knowing the full contents of that article?
I have no idea if Rosen was telling the truth, and I certainly have no interest in defending his latest tweets -- or the many that came before. But that notion that one would link to something without fully reading its contents seems anything but unbelievable. The fact that the assault was sexual does not appear in the CBS statement until you read a full 463 characters into it. Who's got time for that kind of research? I would say tweeting about a topic -- and even linking to an article -- before reading the whole story is the norm, not the exception.
I used to have a junior high chemistry teacher who, in an effort to keep us moving forward on a problem or equation, constantly advised his students: "Write, Don't Think."
That could easily be the tagline for this era.
Rosen may have crossed lines of appropriateness and sensitivity. But how many times a day do you see that behavior mirrored on the web? Are Rosen's takes that much more brutal than the comments you can find in the footer of many web posts?
Even if Rosen's level of offensiveness was enough to rise above the rest and cost him his job, his underlying behavior make him a poster child for the internet age.
Just look at his own explanation:
"it was the twitter equivalent of blurting something out. i had no expectations because i just didnt think of it ... in those few minutes i didnt think about it, you're lying in bed late at night ... just f---ing around on the internet thoughtlessly"
He gave some incoming news his partial attention and then thoughtlessly jotted down a couple phrases and pressed the submit button. Write, don't think.
Doesn't that behavior sound just a little familiar? That's the national pastime. Hot dogs, baseball, apple pie and rattling off idiotic statements without really thinking.
We dedicate a mere 140 characters to explaining our opinions. That's often about as much thought as we're willing to give a topic before shoehorning it into our preconceived narratives.
Once Nir Rosen's tweets started to circulate the web, he deleted them. He would have had better luck trying to build a time machine. That's one of the ironies of this era. We're quicker to share half-baked opinions publicly. And now there's no way to take them back.
Write, Don't Think. Maybe that isn't the best strategy when it comes to reacting to the news or publishing opinions. For what it's worth, it didn't really work all that well in my Chemistry class either.
More from Dave Pell at his blog: Tweetage Wasteland