Press (and food) freedom and Albany

Is Albany next on the list of places becoming battlegrounds on the front lines of the War on the Press?

Steve Barnes, the Times Union’s restaurant critic, and a friend were attacked and beaten on Friday night in the parking lot of an upscale outdoor shopping mall after leaving a preview dinner for a new restaurant.

Speculation is rampant, and the true story will not be know until the attackers are caught (a big “if”). Mugging did not seem to be the motive, based on Barnes’s account (the thieves didn’t try to steal anything from either victim), and Barnes does not suspect a hate crime either.

This leaves two conclusions, neither of them comforting:

  • One, that this was a random “thrill-beating” by two muscled bullies out to attack the first people they ran into whom they perceived as weaker than them, no better than a pair or grown-up playground thugs from middle school.
  • Two, that this was some sort of payback for any one of Barnes’ negative reviews.

If it ever proves to be No. 2, then this is not merely an attack perpetrated by a disgruntled chef or restaurant owner. It’s an attack on the free press, and by extension, an attack on the free expression of opinion and of thought at the hands of bullies. To me, that’s nothing short of an attack on our Constitution. It’s a work of domestic terrorism, if only on an individual scale — for now.

I said it recently and I’ll say it again: in a world of hate, road rage, and venomous anonymous blogs and comments, this can only get worse in our society.

When something like this happens, it makes me glad to be writing at least mostly anonymously — not that I would ever be high on anyone’s reading list, but where do the bullies and thugs stop?

On a perhaps inappropriately lighter note, and shame on me for sounding so contradictory, but based on Barnes’ writing, he seems to have a sense of humor, so here’s one of the more humorous comments, given the circumstances.

On the other hand, a signed comment on Romenesko’s media blog wonders how long the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank blames this on Gov. Palin? I blame it on the culture of hate that Sarah Palin and many of her supporters are encouraging and exploiting, so, yes, if you want, I’ll be happy to do it myself and blame this at least in part on the GOP vice presidential candidate and at least a percentage of her supporters. I am also happy to blame this on the coarsening of society (ironically, a trend the GOP occasionally likes to blame elsewhere), the rise of hate, the death and lack of respect for intellectualism, and the rise of anonymity (guilty here too, on that account at least). Gov. Palin has done virtually nothing but play into all of those things but the last one.


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