Of Theo, threats and selective press quoting

The Baby Theo blog got a men­tion in today’s Philadel­phia Inquir­er, It’s almost as good as being there, by Kathy Boc­cel­la. They missed out on a huge rat­ings bonan­za by not pick­ing Theo for their pic­tures. Stranger was that two inter­views pro­duced only one off-topic sub­stan­tive line: “Mar­tin Kel­ly [sic] expe­ri­enced the worst of it when some­one threat­ened his infant son on his Baby Theo Web page [via Archive​.org, as it appeared around the time this arti­cle was writ­ten].

Above: Theo on learn­ing he wasn’t going to be the fea­tured baby pho­to in the Inquir­er piece… Real pho­to cap­tion: This week­end Julie Theo and I took a mini vaca­tion to the Penn­syl­va­nia coal regions. One of the stops was the beau­ti­ful­ly restored Tamaqua train sta­tion, where Theo’s great great grand­fa­ther, the first Mar­tin John Kel­ley, worked as a Read­ing Rail­road con­duc­tor. We woke the lit­tle guy up from a car nap to see the sta­tion and snap this pic­ture, cru­el par­ents that we are.

The Baby Theo site has been a lot of fun and it’s had great com­ments and emails of sup­port. It’s real­ly a shame that the arti­cle only used it to strike that tired old refrain about the pos­si­ble dan­ger lurk­ing on the inter­net.

The threat had noth­ing to do with Theo or with the baby blog. I’ve run a promi­nent anti­war web­site (closed, was at non​vi​o​lence​.org) through two wars now, and in the nine years of its exis­tence I’ve amassed quite a col­lec­tion of abu­sive emails. I try not to take them too seri­ous­ly: most come from sol­diers or from the fam­i­lies of solid­ers, peo­ple desparate­ly afraid of the future and sure­ly torn by the acts they’re being asked to com­mit. The inter­net pro­vides the psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tance for oth­er­wise good peo­ple to demo­nize the “com­mie Saddam-loving peacenik cow­ard.” You could get mad at a Pres­i­dent that active­ly mis­leads the coun­try into war but it’s eas­i­er to turn your anger on some schmuck who runs an anti­war web­site in his spare time. Send­ing threat­en­ing emails is itself cow­ard­ly and anti-democratic, of course, and as I’ve writ­ten on Non​vi​o​lence​.org, it’s ter­ri­bly inap­pro­pri­ate for “mil­i­tary per­son­nel to use gov­ern­ment com­put­ers to threat­en the free speech” of a dis­sent­ing Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. But it hap­pens. And because it hap­pens and because South Jer­sey has its share of pro-war hot­heads, you won’t see our spe­cif­ic town men­tioned any­where on the site. When I asked the Inquir­er reporter if they could not men­tion our town, she asked why, which led to the threat­en­ing emails, which led to the ques­tion whether Theo specif­i­cal­ly had been threat­ened.

And yes, there was a retired Lieu­tenant Colonel who sent a par­tic­u­lar­ly creepy set of emails (more on him below). The first email didn’t men­tion Theo. It was just one of those every­day emails wish­ing that my fam­i­ly would be gang-raped, tor­tured and exe­cut­ed in front of me. I usu­al­ly ignore these but respond­ed to him, upon which I received a sec­ond email explain­ing that he was mak­ing a point with his threat (“You, your orga­ni­za­tion and oth­ers like you rep­re­sent the ‘flab­by soft white under­bel­ly’ of our Nation. This is the tis­sue of an ani­mal that is the tar­get of preda­tors.” Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah). This time he searched the Non​vi​o​lence​.org site more thor­ough­ly and specif­i­cal­ly men­tioned Theo in his what-if sce­nario. This was one email out of the thou­sands I receive every month. It was an inap­pro­pri­ate rhetor­i­cal argu­ment against a political/religious stance I’ve tak­en as a pub­lic wit­ness. It was not a cred­i­ble threat to my son.

Still, pre­cau­tion is in order. I men­tioned this sto­ry to the Inquir­er reporter only to explain why I didn’t want the town list­ed. When I talked about the blog, I talked about old friends and dis­tant rel­a­tives keep­ing up with us and shar­ing our joys via the web­site. I talked about how the act of putting togeth­er entries helped Julie & I see Theo’s changes. I told Kathy how it was fun that friends who we had met via the inter­net were able to see some­thing beyond the Quak­er essays or polit­i­cal essays. None of that made it through to the arti­cle, which is a shame. A request to not pub­lish our home town became a sen­sa­tion­al­ist cau­tion­ary tale that is now being repeat­ed as a rea­son not to blog. How stu­pid.

The cau­tion­ary les­son is only applic­a­ble for those who both run a baby blog and a heav­i­ly used polit­i­cal web­site. When your web­site tops 50,000 vis­i­tors a day, you might want to switch to a P.O. Box. End of les­son.

For­tu­nate­ly with the inter­net we don’t have to rely on the fil­ter of a main­stream press reporters. Vis­i­tors from the Inquir­er arti­cle have been look­ing around the site and pre­sum­ably see­ing it’s not all about inter­net dan­gers. Since the Inquir­er arti­cle went up I’ve had twice as many vis­its from Google as I have from Philly​.com. Viva the web!


More:
For those inter­est­ed, the freaky retired Lieu­tenant Colonel is the chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of a pri­vate avi­a­tion com­pa­ny based in Flori­da, with con­tracts in three African nations that just hap­pen to be of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to the U.S. State Depart­ment. Although the com­pa­ny is named after him, his full name has been care­ful­ly excised from his web­site. I don’t sus­pect that he real­ly is retired from U.S.-sponsored mil­i­tary ser­vice, if you know what I mean… Here’s your tax dol­lars at work.

A few news­pa­per web­sites have repub­lished up the Inky arti­cle and two blog­ging news sites have picked up on it:

  • Yet Anoth­er Baby Blog­ging sto­ry uncov­ers dan­ger — but it’s not true ran in Blog​ging​Ba​by​.com: “When some­one threat­ened his son on his Baby Theo Web page, he took the site down; but left up a pic on his home page. Well, that is, accord­ing to the arti­cle, which some­how man­aged to not check its facts (maybe, ummm – go to the link you includ­ed in your arti­cle?) and dis­cov­er that, in fact, Baby Theo’s page is alive and well. We’re glad, Theo’s a cutie.”
  • Baby blog­gers ran in Net­fam­i­lynews. “The $64,000 question(s) is: Is this a shift of think­ing and behav­ior or, basi­cal­ly, a mis­take?.. Mar­tin Kel­ly, whose baby was threat­ened by some­one who vis­it­ed his baby page, would lean toward the mis­take side of the ques­tion.” (No I wouldn’t, as I explained to the web­mas­ter lat­er)
  • Tim Kennedy

    Well, I logged in to see what you may have to say about the assu­alt on Fal­lu­jah. I was sad­dened to hear about threats to Theo. It gives me pause; I may or may not wish to share that I now may or may not have a new gand-neice born Nov. 3 (or maybe not). What a world!

  • Hi Tim,
    Con­grat­u­la­tions on the forth­com­ing grand neice. May she, her moth­er and your fam­i­ly all be blessed!
    Thoughts on Fal­lu­ja are of course over on Non​vi​o​lence​.org, “Fal­lu­ja Assault and Bat­tle­fields to Come”:http://​www​.non​vi​o​lence​.org/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​0​0​0​4​6​8​.​php.