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Snarky radio host Dan Bernstein finally goes too far

Matt Spiegel was mortified.

You could hear it in his voice, feel it in his words.

‘‘I hate being that guy,’’ the WSCR-AM (670) late-morning host said as he and co-host Jason Goff handed the baton to afternoon drive jocks Dan Bernstein and Terry Boers.

‘‘And I’m that guy today.’’

And he was.

That guy?

You know, in this era of scandal and immediate viral flogging, that guy is the person who makes some public mistake, shows frailty or prejudice or absurdity or bathroom vulgarity and becomes the sudden target for scorn and censorship.

What had Spiegel done?

He had played the foil to Bernstein’s derogatory Twitter comments Wednesday night about Comcast SportsNet Chicago host Aiyana Cristal, who was on the air after the Bulls game.

Spiegel only criticized the broadcaster for what he perceived as certain professional flaws. Fair enough. We’re all open to criticism.

But Bernstein, known for his smarter-than-thou snarkiness, only responded about Cristal’s looks.  About her body.

I’m not going to dignify the crudeness by quoting it, but it’s the kind of thing you might start to say, then check yourself out of decency.

Or simply remember that you’re not speaking in private. Bernstein has almost 50,000 Twitter followers. Spiegel has 31,600. This was for public consumption.

At Comcast headquarters late Thursday, one upset official blamed part of the insult on the incomprehensibility of interconnected media forms and the compartmentalization of our lives. That is, in the Internet world — with its cameras and microphones and links to all mankind — we must speak, act and even think differently depending on our audience.

Are you talking to your constituents, your family, your bar buddies, the world? You forget at your peril.

Bernstein’s persona always has been that of the moral arbiter and verbally precise know-it-all who most enjoys laughing at people, not with them.

This is fine. Yet the nastiness he imparts to those who don’t measure up to his IQ often makes one cringe. You sense, at those moments, an anger within him that has nothing to do with conversation or communion, but everything to do with ego and a curious form of self-loathing.

People for Bernstein and Boers are often ‘‘good’’ or ‘‘bad,’’ depending on a code that only Bernstein knows and guards. (Boers, the onetime sports columnist, never has openly disagreed with his co-pilot.)

Being rude to callers, laughing at them for implied ignorance, it becomes schtick.

The other day, the pair praised a sportscaster from Dallas who said, in a TV editorial, that if controversial Cowboys defensive lineman Greg Hardy came to your house, you should ‘‘shoot his ass through the glass.’’

That is, kill him.

Awhile back Bernstein had fun mocking diabetic former Cub Ron Santo and his double leg amputation. The concept of being the smartest man in the room, the building, the universe, comes at a price.

Bernstein is informed, and he often speaks like a litigating attorney or medical expert. But he can’t say it’s all just ‘‘entertainment,’’ then make a sexist comment.

It’s a tough edge to ride. To be fair, informed, ethical and vivid enough to stand out in the media babel is a skill and an art.

I had my own radio show on WSCR awhile back, and I found the work exhilarating, baffling and exhausting all at once.

Who was listening? Were I and the co-hosts amusing, topical, educational, edgy? Just silence. Headphones and silence. The audience is unseen. You just don’t know.

And ratings? Is that a way to gauge anything?

For me — combined with writing a column — it became impossible. I had no life except that in front of the laptop or microphone.

Bernstein is really good at what he does, a rare talent for informing and engaging. When he’s not mean.

He apologized for the tweets, like Spiegel, saying what he had done was ‘‘crass, unnecessary, childish.’’ He did not try to wiggle out of responsibility. He said he had learned his ‘‘lesson about what’s appropriate and inappropriate to say.’’

But did he?

I said some really embarrassing things on the air back in the day. It happens. You tend to sink to the lowest level of chatter. And I’m still learning, as I write, as I communicate, as I judge.

‘‘You’re gonna be the death of me,’’ Spiegel said to Bernstein, sort of laughing.

There’s an old saying: ‘‘Little boys throw rocks at frogs in jest  — but the frogs die in earnest.’’

That’s a lesson Bernstein — and maybe all of us in this business — needs to relearn.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander