Monday, July 6, 2009

Congratulations, World-Herald, you got your lynch mob

At the end of my post last week about Gary Staton, the Nebraska father who was the victim of a journalistic mugging by the Omaha World-Herald which read like something straight from Fox News, I wrote:

And, in the age of the internet, there is an extra reason to be extra careful about any story involving poor people having children. This is a particularly hot button for the virtual lynch mob – the despicable haters who fill the comment sections of newspaper websites under any story about poor people with vulgar demands for compulsory sterilization. The World-Herald does not post comments with its stories yet, but it's already started elsewhere, with one website calling Staton a "slimeball" and a "dirtbag." But then, that's essentially what the Omaha World-Herald did, with just a bit more subtlety.

Well, the mob has formed.

Fox News picked up the story with links to the World Herald coverage (although, as it turns out, other than repeating the grossly misleading aggregation of government benefits given over 17 years to this married two-parent family, the Fox story was a lot more "fair and balanced" than the one in the World-Herald.) And from there is spread quickly to the blogs.

At one site the comments were fairly civil, but at another, a very big, very mainstream site, there were more than 500 comments by last Friday, and if those I skimmed are any indication, each was more vile than the next. (You won't get the name of the site or a link here, since I have no intention of spreading the poison further.) The extent to which this issue brings the racists crawling out from under their rocks can be seen by the fact that at least one poster used the n-word - notwithstanding the fact that Staton is white.

In the internet age, in which almost anyone's location can be tracked down in minutes, even as the mob gets ever more frenzied, I'm sure anyone who wants to harass Mr. Staton directly will have no trouble finding him. And, no doubt stumbling across these comments will do wonders to help the children heal from the various traumas in their lives as they grow up.

As I said in the original post, the latest developments in the Staton case needed to be reported, but not in the way the World-Herald chose to do it.

As old media learns to cope with new media, here's a good rule of thumb: If you see the equivalent of a group of men wearing white hoods and sheets walking through the woods carrying a big wooden cross and cans of gasoline – don't strike a match.