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Insults divert readers' attention from the topic being discussed.

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet called a professor of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism an asshole on Facebook after the professor criticised him for refusing to publish the controversial Prophet Muhammed cartoons first published by the French satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Two gunmen attacked the offices of the newspaper in Paris on January 7, 2015, killing 12 people.

In an argument on Facebook, Prof Marc Cooper had written: How many people have to be shot in cold blood before your paper rules that you can show us what provoked the killers?

Mr Baquet replied: Dear Marc, appreciate the self righteous second guessing without even considering there might be another point of view. Hope your students are more open minded. Asshole.

He went on to call Prof Cooper pompous and characterised his criticism of the Times as a righteous cheap shot.

Mr Baquet later defended his Facebook comments in a statement to an online publication, Politico, saying Mr Cooper's comment was nasty and arrogant. So I told him what I thought.

Mr Baquet's insult provoked a big hullabaloo as Prof Cooper communicated with the Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, complaining about Mr Baquet.

She answered that she was not going to review that incident. I guess she did not want to waste time on what must have seemed to her to be a minor irritation.

For NMG readers insults and name-calling by columnists and editors is not taken as a minor irritation.

I have kept a log of incidents in which readers have taken umbrage with abusive language used by some of our columnists. Name-calling is not necessary in a public debate.

I was taken aback the other day when one of our renowned columnists sent this snap message to a reader: Please STOP copying me. Get a life!

The reader had copied him - and a number of other NMG writers and columnists - a message in which he praised two articles written by Edwin Okoth and Lilian Ochieng in the April 26, 2016, Daily Nation weekly business magazine, Smart Company, as excellent examples of what competence and good journalism means.

For me, Get a life! is the ultimate insult for someone deemed to be boring, foolishly annoying, wearisome, and a twit.

But that was indeed a minor irritation compared to other cases that readers have complained about.

UNACCEPTABLE

One of the complaints on uncouth writing came from Patrick Mukhongo who addressed the columnist directly.

I have oftentimes been lost for words. Your articles are always expressed in an abrasive and uncouth language that leaves me wondering if at all the articles are ever reviewed by editors! he said.

You have made it your stock in trade to use expletives in your articles, and not even your editors are keen to moderate you. In yesterday's article, you used words like stupid, fools, foolish, silly, hogwash, illogical, et cetera.

Michael Hatego, writing in March this year, said: We read repeated insults, denigrations, unproved accusations, etc. Indeed, the most civil language, accomplished style, and skillfully argued contributions are from rare two or three columnists.

This, when they just might be defending one or other government policy or behaviour. Names have been mentioned so I feel sufficiently emboldened to mention Dr Joyce Nyairo, the cultural analyst, and Prof Kagwanja of Sunday Nation, as two such cultured and erudite minds.

Name-calling and invectives divert attention from what is being discussed.

The reader stops listening to the logic of what is being discussed and focuses on the insulter or the person being insulted.

The insulter may feel good and self-righteous about the words he uses, but journalism, as a process of informing and engaging the citizenry, suffers.

Insults make people close their minds. And it is unbecoming for a columnist to insult readers.
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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:May 20, 2016
Words:715
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