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Last year, Slate mag wrote a good trend piece on the culture of umbrage, outrage, and appallation on the 2008 campaign trail. John Dickerson exposed how good politicians had turned umbrage-taking into an art form:
The key to taking successful umbrage is keeping the expressions of outrage in proper proportion to the offense.
Of course, the scourge has blotted more than just the political culture. It also dominates the culture of newspaper letter-to-the-editor writers. A fine place to sample subscriber outrage is the Washington Post‘s Free for All page, an aptly named inventory of reader reaction to recent stories.
And sure enough, the outrage is sometimes justified, as when the Post is caught in another glaring grammar error or typo or somesuch.
Then there are comments like this one, from Takoma Park’s Sarah Weiner:
I was appalled to see Fred Bowen’s negative article about the Washington Nationals leading the KidsPost page July 16 [“Nationals Put the Blame in the Wrong Place”]. He wrote: “Well, [Christian] Guzmán almost never gets a walk (only seven bases on balls in 72 games), [Adam] Dunn can’t field and [Nick] Johnson gets hurt nearly every season. In addition, the Nats’ pitching is awful.”
Instead, Bowen could have written about Guzmán being third among league shortstops in hitting, Johnson staying off the disabled list this year and Dunn’s recent 300th career home run.
What the last-place Nationals demonstrate is that, despite being incredible athletes, they are a young team that lacks the consistency to win against better teams. Maybe that’s the message The Post should send to younger readers.
Here, Weiner clearly fails the Dickerson test. She is so way out of proportion. I have been reading Fred Bowen for some time now, and one thing he doesn’t churn out is justified umbrage. He writes a very clear, expertly crafted sports column for kids each week, and I—-an aspiring adult—-have often enjoyed his take on things.
And here’s the thing: How could anyone be appalled by a columnist throwing an elbow or two in the direction of the Washington Nationals? I mean, come on, they’ll be lucky to go 60 and 102 this year!