- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

So Michael Phelps is a gold medal-winner in the bedroom, specifically with a stripper.

That qualifies as news in the Internet-fueled media culture today.

Gossip that used to be relegated to the checkout counter of grocery stores now makes its way to the Internet, where it is passed off as almost respectable and newsworthy.

That the 24-year-old Phelps is interested in women and sometimes acts on that interest has a dog-bites-man quality about it.

Even so, the Phelps-stripper connection has gained a certain traction on the Internet, no matter the inanity of it.

Despite its positives, the Internet is in large measure a toxic zone. If there were an Internet EPA, it would be designated a hazardous site, a kind of Chernobyl to the senses.

Miss California Carrie Prejean has found the Internet to be an incredibly hostile environment after she came out against gay marriage at the Miss USA pageant two weeks ago.

Lingerie shots of her, predictably enough, soon appeared on several Web sites. And the invective being spewed against her seeped onto cable television, the Internet’s cousin of sorts.

That was Village Voice columnist Michael Musto on MSNBC comparing Prejean to Klaus Barbie, the Nazi war criminal said to be responsible for as many as 4,000 deaths.

“She’s sort of like a Klaus Barbie doll,” Musto said. “This is the kind of girl who sits on the TV and watches the sofa. You know, she thinks innuendo is an Italian suppository.”

By the way, what is the growing inclination the last few years of dropping a Nazi reference on anyone who has an opposing view?

The way the Nazis are becoming part of any debate nowadays, I wouldn’t be surprised if couples going through a bitter divorce start hurling the Nazi charge against one another.

You’re Joseph Goebbels. Yeah, but you’re Josef Mengele.

The Nazi reference in a debate only reveals the intellectually flaccid position of the one who uses it. It is a nasty insult that persuades no one and is losing its punch with repeat usage. It is descending to the level of an old playground retort, namely: Your mother wears combat boots.

That is where we are in America today - unable to agree to disagree in an adult fashion, unable to engage in civil debate.

It is a polarization being inflamed by the unchecked passions of the Internet, where anonymity empowers the dull, bigoted and extremists.

The FBI investigation into a woman’s attempted blackmail of Louisville coach Rick Pitino has prompted all kinds of crazy theories, innuendo and gossip, a few of which just might have a kernel of truth.

No Nazi reference has been found in the Pitino outpouring yet. But give this peculiar story more time. Supporters of the Kentucky basketball program eventually could unearth a Nazi angle in Pitino’s closet.

Dirk Nowitzki certainly can relate to Pitino’s ordeal on some level.

His messy love life is receiving a thorough airing-out on the Internet. I mean, don’t you just hate it when you discover the woman you are planning to marry is a dead beat with two outstanding warrants and at least eight aliases?

The checkered past of Cristal Taylor has inspired a massive amount of idle speculation on the Internet. She is what? No. Impossible. Talk about a distraction.

Not that Nowitzki has appeared disinterested in the Mavericks-Nuggets series.

He is coming off a 44-point, 13-rebound performance in Game 4. Among active players, he is second to Shaquille O’Neal in career 40-10 playoff games. He also leads all active players in the fiancee-arrested-in-the-playoffs category.

As for Phelps, he is drunk on that old cocktail that has felled so many before him. It is the potentially combustible potion of fame, wealth and youth.

To add a twist to a parental bromide, he ought to choose his strippers more wisely. Friends, too.

If not, then he is destined to become a staple of the Internet.

And no one should want that.

The Internet is the cruelest of the mediums.

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