Give Me Liberty Or A Good Flaming!

Yesterday Deborah Howell devoted her column to responding in print to the thousands of flame messages left on the Post website after her column last week.

She goes all Voltaire on her attackers: “There is no more fervent believer in the First Amendment than I am, and I will fight for those e-mailers’ right to call me a liar and Republican shill with salt for brains.”

“What I do know is that I have a tough hide, and a few curse words (which I use frequently) are not going to hurt my feelings.”

“Going forward, here’s my plan. I’ll watch every word. I’ll read every e-mail and answer as many legitimate complaints as I can. The vast majority of my work takes place outside this column. But I will reject abuse and all that it stands for.

“To all of those who wanted me fired, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. I have a contract. For the next two years, I will continue to speak my mind.”

Why does it seem like today’s ombudsman/public editors, in theory the readers’ representatives inside a newspaper, hate nothing more than dealing with readers? And why are the high-profile ones so loathed by readers in return?

Case in point: The Times’ first Public Editor, Daniel Okrent, it appears, is writing a book of his columns. Now no one liked him while he was there, inside or outside the paper, so why would a publisher think someone would like to read his columns again?