Distilling a provocative and deeply emotional idea into 140 characters is challenging and can lead to trouble—just ask Wall Street Journal
editor James Taranto.
On Tuesday night, Taranto tweeted
about last Friday’s Colorado movie theater shooting: “I hope the girls whose boyfriends died to save them were worthy of the sacrifice.”
The response on Twitter ranged from calling the journalist “disgusting” to referring to him as a “a real piece of sh*t.”
Taranto is a member of WSJ
’s editorial board and writes its “Best of the Web” column. His column on Wednesday was a mea culpa
, in which he addressed the “errant tweet” by evoking four of the victims of the Aurora shooting and their boyfriends and brothers who died to save them.
(Taranto uses the editorial “we”; he told The Huffington Post
that he is the sole author of the tweet and the column.)
"We intended this to be thought-provoking, but to judge by the response, very few people received it that way. The vast majority found it offensive and insulting. This column has often argued that a failure of public communication is the fault of the public communicator, and that's certainly true in this case. What follows is an attempt to answer for this failure with a circumspect accounting of our thoughts.
"What makes the stories of Jansen Young, Samantha Yowler and Amanda Lindgren especially poignant is that their boyfriends' dying acts simultaneously dealt them an unfathomable loss and gave them an invaluable gift—a gift of life. Their loss is all the more profound because the gift was one of love as well. In instinctively making the ultimate sacrifice, each of these men proved the depth of his devotion. They passed a test to which most men, thankfully, are never put—and then they were gone.
"These three women owe their lives to their men. That debt can never be repaid in kind, because life is for the living and cannot be returned to the dead. The closest they can come to redeeming it is to use the gift of their survival well—to live good, full, happy lives.
"People live on after death in the memories of those who loved them. Sometimes when this columnist does something we consider worthwhile, our thoughts turn to our father, who died four years ago: ‘Dad would be proud.’ That is our hope for Young, Yowler and Lindgren: that in the years to come, each of them will have many opportunities to reflect that Jon or Matt or Alex would be proud of her.”
This excerpt from Taranto’s column is 1,570 characters—11 times that of a tweet—and it more accurately conveys what he was trying to say. It’s probably best to leave such difficult topics for blog posts and columns.