Kneale Down, Bloggers!

“And Google is allowing that to happen?” said Mr. Kneale. “Because, oh, well, that’s the blogosphere, they’re anonymous. You know what? How dare you? How dare you hurt people like that?”

At one level, Mr. Kneale’s interest in the subject is cerebral. He noted that at The Wall Street Journal, you were not allowed to include ad hominem criticisms without a direct on-the-record comment from a named source—a practice that was deeply ingrained in his journalism ethos. He also argued that government regulation of the Web was not the cure and that eventually the self-interest of large Internet companies would inevitably shift the medium toward more accountability.

 

AT THE SAME TIME, Mr. Kneale’s reaction to the Forbes story seemed highly visceral. Perhaps that’s because on an emotional level, Mr. Kneale can identify with the family members in the story who had suddenly lost a loved one in a car accident and were struggling to cope. To wit: One night, decades earlier, when Mr. Kneale was 14 years old, his father had been walking home from a bar in their small suburb outside Miami when he was struck and killed by a car.

Mr. Kneale said the sudden loss of his father changed his personality drastically. Beforehand, he had been a shy kid. Afterward, he became more outgoing and pugnacious. “When that happens, you’re like, well, fuck,” said Mr. Kneale. “There’s nothing you can do anymore that’s going to even come close to that. It’s like, ‘Bring it on. What have you got?’”

As a junior in high school, Mr. Kneale wrote a brutal takedown in the student newspaper of his school’s chorus concert. The furious choral director dragged him to the principal’s office. “I wrote the mean review on the record,” said Mr. Kneale. “Not anonymously.”

“My mom taught me, ‘Don’t say something if you can’t say it to somebody’s face,’” said Mr. Kneale. “Now, unfortunately, sometimes I misinterpreted that and I would say bad things to people’s faces. But that was better than, like, stabbing in the back.”

Decades later, Mr. Kneale has managed to channel some of those tumultuous feelings from his teenage years into his first job as a solo news anchor. On Tuesday, July 14, Mr. Kneale added another volume to his anti-anonymous trilogy. This time, he referred to bloggers as “frig-tard” nobodies, and cretins. He said that criticism on the Internet reminded him of a “slam book” that a bunch of mean kids in his hometown had put together in junior high school, anonymously informing one of their classmates, in a rainbow of brightly colored insults, why they hated her.

Shortly thereafter, John Cook of Gawker depicted CNBC reporters as characters in a coming-of-age summer movie, and described Mr. Kneale as “Alex P. Keaton with a receding hairline.” “He’s putting his lunch money in the market,” he wrote, “reading Atlas Shrugged, and patiently waiting for the day when he will make you all pay for dipping his retainer in the toilet.”

Mr. Kneale can live with that. “At least that report has a byline on it,” said Mr. Kneale. “John Cook. Good for him. It has the value of being funny … instead of this lowest mean, stupid stuff.”

So was Mr. Kneale ever bullied as a kid? “I can neither confirm nor deny bullying,” said Mr. Kneale. “I was no captain of my football team.”

As he finished his salad, Mr. Kneale grew reflective for a moment. “I think CNBC brass probably wishes I had not used ‘dickweeds,’” said Mr. Kneale. “But they haven’t said, ‘Don’t do that.’ Which is really excellent.”

“Hell, I don’t know how much longer they’ll let me do it,” he added. “But man, I’m gonna have quite a great DVD collection by the time it’s over.”

fgillette@observer.com