Bob Ford -- "the Dirty Little Coward" -- lives in infamy for shooting Jesse James in the back. So does “the Coward Jack McCall” for gunning down Wild Bill Hickok from behind.
Back-shooters were among the worst villains in the cowboy movies of my youth. We scorned them as “yellow-bellies.”
Cyberspace abounds with Bob Fords and Jack McCalls. They’re folks who hide behind pseudonyms to defame, declaim, and disdain.
Like newspaper opinion pages, blogsites feature by-lined opinion writers, often with the scribe’s picture. But almost all reader responses are anonymous.
So naysayers can hide at their computer keyboards and snipe away like Wild West back-shooters. The cyber-bushwhackers are safe in the knowledge that nobody knows who they are. My guess is a lot of them wouldn't write what they write if they had to sign it.
Oh, I forgot. If they signed their comments, President Obama could find out who they are and send black helicopters to haul them off to one of his super-secret "New World Order" FEMA concentration camps.
Seriously, I don't know why anybody wouldn’t want to sign what he or she writes. I spent more than a dozen years as a daily newspaper feature writer and columnist. Maybe it's just ego. But I wanted my name -- and mug -- on everything I wrote.
To be sure, bylines beget responsibility. You’ve got to marshal good arguments in a signed opinion column. Otherwise, readers will take you to task for a poorly-written piece – and rightly so.
On the other hand, pen-names often beget bunk. You can say almost anything, no matter how false or absurd. Anonymity can be a license to lie.
Don’t get me wrong, getting slammed goes with opinion writing, whether for a newspaper or on the Internet.
If blogsites permit -- even welcome -- anonymous comments, so be it. I play by the rules, even if I don't make them.
At the same time, the famous French philosopher Voltaire may not have actually written, "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." But the sentiment was his and mine. And I would add "...your right to say it anonymously."
Many people disagree with what I write on blogsites. Readers often took exception to what I wrote in the newspaper, too. They didn’t pull punches, either.
A newspaper requires people to sign letters-to-the-editor, otherwise the letters won't get published. So I always gave my critics the courage of their convictions, at least. They knew their names would be in the paper, too.
I’ve been out of the newsroom for 21 years. So I guess it's okay to reveal a trade secret: pundits love getting poison pen letters (through the mail or cyberspace).
Opinion writers treasure hate mail as much as--or more than--they relish fan mail. Hate mail lets us know we're rattling cages. “Half the fun is making them jump,” Clarence Darrow, the famous liberal activist lawyer supposedly said.
Oh, the anonymous bloggers may think they are rattling our cages with their unsigned screeds. But they have zero credibility with almost all opinion writers.
Anyway, I’d like to see somebody compile the nuttiest, most paranoid comments from the Internet back-shooters into a book. "Profiles in Cowardice" would be a great title. It would be a weighty tome, indeed.