Jay the Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

I paid my dues at Jay the Joke when I wrote about Jay Mariotti a few weeks ago. Jay the Joke’s the Web site that Matt Lynch and Pat Dahl set up to give Mariotti mockers a place to hoot from, and it served a sort of purpose when Ozzie Guillen called Mariotti a faggot and Mariotti let it be known he wasn’t happy with the support he was getting from his paper and disappeared for a few weeks. But when the Sun-Times freshened his contract and the prodigal came home, the drama was over.

But Lynch and Dahl have kept at it, and they can’t help what some people post. The other day Hot Type reader David Peterson e-mailed me a report. “Observe Exhibit One and Exhibit Two in the kind of socially degenerate and corrosive hatred that the Internet has made possible,” he wrote. From poster “Tyrone Briggs”: “Topics such as car towing, molesting kids, NAMBLA, other stupid sports blogs, self promotion, cabbage patches and anything else posted by wierdos at 4 AM have NO FUCKING PURPOSE here at Jaythejoke. Why the hell do you think we are working so damn hard to get rid of these useless sons of bitches? This is why Mariotti must be stopped. Because these are the kind of freaks [here “Briggs” named a couple of posters despised by regulars because they’d shown Mariotti some sympathy] that arise from the primordial ooze to become Mariotti Wannabees.”

And from poster “Ny-ex chicagoan”: “I sincerely hope that [the despised] Fuckbrains Joe … is out tonight getting out of his tow-truck, quietly giggling to himself on how this poor guy is 2 minutes over the meter and gleefully anticipating the damage he’s going to cause to this guy’s wallet, and down the street comes a group of punks in a Mustang, drunk and tearing down the street, and here they see this fat blubbery mess of a man, and the driver says, ‘Hey, how many points for the fat woman over there?’ And his buddy says, ‘Ten! Ten points, Mitch!’ And so Mitch, this drunk son of a bitch, guns it and promptly runs over Fuckbrains Joe, and his fucking head rolls down the street to stop at the foot of CPK [for Cabbage Patch Kid, equally despised], who’s been watching the whole thing in sheer terror. CPK would pick up Joe’s head and kiss it a little, tears streaming down his fat fucking face.”

Awed by the Internet’s capacity to encourage, collect, and preserve this swill, Peterson decided to have his say by writing up Jay the Joke for Wikipedia. “When it began,” said his entry, “Jay the Joke’s sole purpose was to carry out a smear campaign against the Chicago Sun-Times’s sports columnist, Jay Mariotti. But, in turn, the website attracted individuals for whom the anonymity that the website provides made it possible for them to join in acts of vulgarity and hate-speech that soon extended beyond its original target.

“The first rule of Jay the Joke states that all posted material should denigrate Jay Mariotti.

“The second rule of Jay the Joke states that whenever someone violates the first rule, and either fails to denigrate Jay Mariotti or denigrates him insufficiently, the posted material should also denigrate this other person.

“Thus the phrase ‘Jay the Joke’ now denotes a range of meanings that refers not only to this particular website, to its administrators and posters, and to the smear campaigns they are conducting.

“The phrase also denotes the contemporary, deeply troubling, social-pathological phenomenon in which a smear campaign carried out against one single person via a website created for this specific purpose rapidly morphs into a platform for hate-speech and acts of intimidation and virtual violence more generally.”

Peterson posted his neologistic entry, and someone promptly nominated it for “speedy deletion as a non-notable website”—i.e., the subject was too trivial to take up space. A Wikipedia administrator stepped in and ruled that a triviality charge required a “slow delete” process involving days of public discussion.

In the early going, there wasn’t much. A Wikipedian who’d suffered at the hands of Jay the Joke regulars wrote in testifying that Peterson’s entry was notable on the grounds that “Jaythejoke is incredibly popular in Chicago and has been featured on multiple news sources.” Then Peterson himself argued that if Wikipedia is committed to being a “free encyclopedia,” lack of notability is insufficient grounds for removal. “Facts are one thing. But who is to have the power to determine noteworthiness?”

When someone else proposed merging Peterson’s Jay the Joke entry into Wikipedia’s far longer “Jay Mariotti” entry, Peterson replied that the entry, almost all of it written around the time of Guillen’s “faggot” remark, “reads more like a smear of [Mariotti] than it does an entry about the same.” This was clearly the wrong environment for his protest against smears.

And what about Lynch and Dahl? To judge from their own Web site, as of Monday they had no idea what Peterson was up to. I called them for comment. They didn’t get back to me, but now they knew.

The Blame Game

Getting right with the Lord above has got to be easier than satisfying his scolds here on earth. Paul Krugman in the August 11 New York Times laid into “gung-ho” warriors like Senator Joe Lieberman who’ve seen their precious war in Iraq go south: “The neocon fantasy has turned into a nightmare of fire and blood. What do you do? You could admit your error and move on—and some have. But all too many Iraq hawks have chosen, instead, to cover their tracks by trashing the war’s critics. They say: Pay no attention to the fact that I was wrong and the critics have been completely vindicated by events—I’m ‘sensible,’ while those people are crazy extremists.”

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times moved on. For his troubles he was lambasted on August 11 by Andrew Greeley in the Sun-Times. Big deal if Friedman, the Times’s “all-purpose pontifical expert on the Middle East, has finally announced, yes, it is time to call a peace conference among Iraq parties and get out. Where was he three years ago? Why doesn’t he admit flat-out that he was wrong and apologize?”

Suppose he did apologize. He’d still have to deal with Georgie Anne Geyer, who made an appearance in that morning’s Tribune. “Even after [Hillary] Clinton lambasted Rumsfeld … one had to ask: Where has she been until now? With Clinton’s newest transformation, this time into critic of the war she consistently voted for … we enter a new stage of repentance. Forgive us, the late liberals are now saying, for the war was not fought as we thought. Forgive us and let us now become critics, for we are the truly good at heart. Well, sorry, but I’m not in a forgiving mood.”

News Bites

The judge in Thomas v. Page ruled on August 11 that former state supreme court justice Mary Ann McMorrow can be deposed by the opposing attorneys. Bill Page, who resigned this month as a columnist for the Kane County Chronicle, wrote in 2003 that Robert Thomas, today the state’s chief justice, had played politics in a disciplinary case involving Meg Gorecki, then the Kane County state’s attorney. In a series of columns, Page accused Thomas of treating Gorecki as a political enemy and urging her disbarment, relenting only when some Gorecki allies agreed to support a judicial candidate Thomas favored.

A state appellate court ruled that the supreme court justices enjoy an absolute privilege and couldn’t be questioned on the Gorecki deliberations. But Thomas waived the privilege for himself, and then trial judge Donald O’Brien allowed written questions to be submitted to the other six justices that focused strictly on what Thomas said and did. Because McMorrow’s answers wandered into recollections of her own thoughts, O’Brien has ruled that the two sides can ask her to amplify them.

McMorrow’s recollections matter because in her answers to the written questions she said Thomas had originally favored disbarment. This testimony seemed like a godsend to Page, but a few days later she tried to change her testimony on grounds that she’d confused the Gorecki case with another one. O’Brien refused to accept the change.

It was Page who asked O’Brien to rule that McMorrow had waived her privilege. But the judge’s decision that she had looks like a bigger break for Thomas. If it gives Page’s lawyers an opportunity to try to get McMorrow to do further damage to the chief justice, it gives Thomas’s lawyers a chance to allow her to undo the damage she’s already done.

Here’s Tribune movie critic Michael Phillips on Mel Gibson August 3: “Apparently he’s an anti-Semite only while under the influence. The booze made him lie. Right. So much for the Latin phrase ‘in vino veritas’—in wine, truth. Gibson’s apology is more like: ‘In vino, anti-Semitic uh-oh.'”

And here’s op-ed columnist James Martin in the same edition: “That makes [Gibson] the only person in history whose true feelings don’t come pouring out after having too much alcohol. Besides, someone who loves Latin so much should know that wine makes people speak the truth. In vino veritas, right?”

Should the similarities trouble us? Just the Tribune’s erratic italicization policy.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Frost.