It's not often I agree with Steve Benen, but he makes a good point about trawling through comments sections of blogs of any stripe in order to cast aspersions on the blogger. It gets worse when political candidates do it to discredit opponents, the context in which Benen discusses it here:
For quite a while, conservatives have embraced an annoying strategy -- trawl through liberal comments sections in the hopes of finding intemperate remarks. The right then takes these comments to "prove" that the left is made up of unhinged radicals.
The practice has always been rather self-defeating. In fact, about a year ago, Kevin Drum came up with a sensible maxim: "If you're forced to rely on random blog commenters to make a point about the prevalence of some form or another of disagreeable behavior, you've pretty much made exactly the opposite point." Eventually, the practice was even given a name: "Nutpicking."
It's not easy to build a community with a free and open comment section. If it's worth anything, the blogger has to allow a wide range of views from opponents and allies alike. The blogger has to trust that more extreme views will get challenged by other commenters or address them him/herself. Deleted comments and blocking commenters to achieve a homogeneous community eventually adds nothing but an echo chamber to the blog, and the comments become boring -- just an extension of the blogger.
Under those circumstances, it might be reasonable to judge the blogger by the comments. However, for those of us who have run comments sections for a few years and allow (sometimes through gritted teeth) all sorts of criticism and scolding on the blog, making assessments of the blogger by individual comments -- nutpicking -- is both unfair and undermining to the free exchange of ideas on blogs such as Captain's Quarters and TPM. It pressures bloggers to excise comments rather than just respond to them, as the nutpicking never includes those responses.
Danny Glover at Beltway Blogroll says that bloggers have the power to stop nutpicking -- and he's right. Rather than scan through comments on blogs to find the nutcases every time some significant event occurs, we should focus on the blogposts themselves. We should all allow commenters to represent themselves and not the blogs on which they comment. Otherwise, comments sections will either get so policed as to become boring and inconsequential, or bloggers will simply close them down in order to exercise total control over their message.
I prefer a debate, and I welcome anyone willing to honestly engage in my comments section. Only trolls need not apply.