SOUTH BEND – I’m often asked about hate mail. Do I get much? And, if so, what do I do about it? Apparently, a lot of folks assume that a political columnist gets a lot of angry criticism, especially these days.
     
True. Although, since I don’t get into social media wars, source of so much vituperation, the volume of denunciations is no higher than in decades past. It comes of course in e-mail now, not in an envelope that used to signal at times the tone of the message before the letter was opened. An address in crayon was a tip about content.
     
One envelope contained ashes. The writer explained that the smoky content was the burned remnants of my column. There’s big difference between just an expression of disagreement, which is fine, and what reflects actual hate, the stuff of vicious bigotry and advocacy of violence. 
     
While I get some rather nasty stuff, most of what crosses the line to hate mail doesn’t come from any area readers but from afar. That’s when a column lands on a website of some group displeased with what I wrote. Like a militia group. My comments about gun violence once were posted on an NRA site. I quickly received over a hundred replies and an apology from an NRA official for the obscenity and suggestions. Not all the replies were outrageous. There’s room for disagreement even about gun violence. 
     
What do I do about nasty mail? Nothing. I don’t respond to angry denunciations. Why further infuriate someone who really isn’t interested in an intelligent dialogue? Why try to persuade someone that you aren’t, as described, a ….ing moron, a communist conspirator or a liar specializing in fake news?
     
Do I ever send at least a “same to you, fella” reply? No. Why make someone already upset, perhaps with real stability problems, even more upset? Nor do I send that classic response: “I thought you should know that someone sent this ridiculous tirade over your signature.” 
     
Couple of times, when I knew the disgruntled writer, I did respond briefly: “Interesting. But not very.”
   
Do I have hurt feelings or get upset by the language? No. I’ve heard all that language. I was in the Army. Also, sometimes there is humor in the rebuke. One insult was so poorly constructed that it literally constituted praise. I do feel bad when someone who doesn’t understand satire takes every word literally and misunderstands the meaning.
     
A favorite example: Back when Lou Holtz was coach of Notre Dame, I sought to poke fun satirically at spoiled Notre Dame fans denouncing Lou’s coaching ability after the Irish lost to Miami to end a 23-game winning streak. I wrote, in satire, that Holtz should be fired. A 23-1 record? A 95.8 winning percentage? “Well, that’s not good enough. What if he stays in a rut and loses one game every two years? Disgraceful. Who wants to be called a loser every other year?” 
     
You would think every reader would catch on when I cited “the sound program he inherited from Jerry Faust.” An irate reader wrote to the editor. She was particularly displeased with the reference to what Holtz inherited from Faust. She concluded: “Jack Colwell is really a total idiot.” Idiot? Maybe. But total? I object. 

Colwell is a columnist for the South Bend Tribune.