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Mike McFeely, Published May 03 2009

McFeely: Ugly side comes out in anonymous chatter

There is a timeless adage that suggests people say drunk what they’re thinking sober. The idea is that booze works as a courage-booster, encouraging people to say things aloud they normally don’t have the guts to utter.

The same can be said of two popular communication corners in our modern world: the Internet and talk radio. The difference is the engine behind true feelings bubbling to the surface. With drunkenness, it’s the alcohol. With the Internet and talk radio, it’s the anonymity.

Interesting, isn’t it, what people will write or say when they don’t have to be held accountable for their words?

Our latest case study is the plight of Fargo-raised journalist Roxana Saberi. Held in an Iranian jail since February, Saberi has been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the U.S. She denies the charges and reportedly is on a hunger strike in an attempt to help gain her release. The Obama administration strongly denies Saberi is a spy.

Initial reaction to Saberi’s jailing and conviction was predictable. There was outrage, sympathy and calls for action. You know, how normal people would respond.

Since then, though, there’s been some deep, dark commentary from the deep, dark, anonymous corners. When the topic’s broached on local talk shows – including mine on WDAY-AM – there are callers who put more blame on Saberi than on those who wrongly jailed her.

“She knew what she was getting into.”

“She should have left the country.”

“She should have left the country.”

“This is one person in the whole world. Who cares?”

The Internet chatter has been just as unenlightened. Consider this anonymous gem from the comments section of a recent story posted on The Forum’s Web site, www.inforum.com:

Get over this story. She knew what could happen to her if she stayed in that country. Where’s the blame on her part? Write a story as to what she was doing in that country for that many years with revoked credentials. Where’s that story?

One of the early charges thrown at Saberi by the Iranians was that she was working as a journalist without proper credentials.

Here’s a question for the questioners, the most basic that needs to be asked of those willing to dismiss Saberi: What if it was your daughter?

What if it was? Would you be saying the same things? Would you be so cold, so callous, so unforgiving? Would you be so brave as to throw your own daughter under the bus, willing to tell her to “take the blame?”

The issue is not whether or not Saberi had proper credentials. It’s not that she was in Iran at all. It’s that she’s been thrown in jail and faces an eight-year prison term … for no legitimate reason of which we know.

Saberi is a U.S. citizen (she holds dual citizenship in Iran). She was raised in Fargo, graduating from Fargo North and Concordia. To the best of our knowledge, the worst “crime” for which she’s being held is a revoked press credential. Saberi faces eight years in prison because of that.

And yet, there are people in the dark corners who somehow fail to fault Iran and instead blame the victim. Is it because she’s a journalist? Is it because the creeps who inhabit the dark corners don’t like “the media,” particularly “the mainstream, liberal media?” Would it be different if Saberi was a businessman or student?

The blame-the-victim crowd is remindful of the old, pathetic attitude about women who were raped. They must’ve been asking for it. Maybe they shouldn’t dress so suggestively. They probably just had morning-after regrets.

No, nobody asks to get raped. And nobody asks to get thrown in an Iranian jail for little or no reason.

Iran is to blame. The extremists orchestrating this are to blame. Saberi is a victim. We shouldn’t forget that – particularly those who don’t have the guts to attach their names to ignorant comments made in the shadows.

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com. McFeely’s blog can be found at www.areavoices.com