Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Every once in a while, while holed up in my windowless cubicle, I start to wonder what is going on in the world outside the office. For information on the "big stories" (you know, those related to such worldly figures as Scooter Libby, Paris Hilton & Alex Rodriguez) I usually visit the New York Times website or CNN.com.

But sometimes I just want to just keep it local, so I drudgingly type the URL "www.burlingtonfreepress.com" into my browser (Firefox, y'all) and wait for the ugly graphics and poorly written articles with innumerable grammatical inconsistencies to load.

Lately, as a way to generate an option for interactivity and community feedback, the Free Press has created a comments board for each article called "StoryChat". Now, as any of us blogging types know, comment boards can be very constructive and helpful to adding new ideas and viewpoints to a post/article. It allows for multiple viewpoints and a thriving discourse, in effect making the article a "living document", not finalized by the author's publication but instead open to elaboration by the viewing community.

So that's the good side of "comments". We've all seen the bad side as well--spam, ugly arguments, juvenile name calling, etc. Hell, I've even been involved in a few such debacles myself. But for the most part, even when discussions devolve into idiocy and strife on most of these blogs, it is usually always bred out of an initial desire to have an intelligent debate about issues that people feel passionate about.

I pulled up the Free Press website today and the lead story was about a flight from Chicago to Vermont that was delayed due to "security concerns" regarding a group of Afghan men in native dress who were visiting our state as guests of the U.S. State Department to "learn about democracy and community development". Welcome to America, guys. The article was the standard Freeps fare--simple, mediocre and unenlightening. But I noticed there was plenty of action going on in the "StoryChat" section--over 20 posts. Oh good, I thought, maybe there will be some more interesting discussion on airline security, racial profiling & how strange it is that this would happen to men visiting such a "tolerant" state as Vermont.

I was sorely mistaken in my assumptions. Instead what I found was two pages of some of the most bigoted, hate-filled diatribes I have ever read. It made me ashamed to know that these are people in my community, maybe even people I know or have met, hiding behind pseudonyms such as "GreenMountainPatriot". Take this gem for instance from "Roach"--

Good! I'm glad the flight was checked out. I'm glad the flight was delayed. They are Muslims. Dressed up like Muslims. Why would anybody in their right mind trust a Muslim? Only idiots who think that it is a small minority of fanatics who are out to destroy us. It's their religion, folks. Thirty years ago, nobody ever heard of Ramadan, or saw a Mosque. Today they are everywhere. Why we even have little Muslim enclaves. Where the hell did they come from and why are they here? Just guess.....
.....the beacon of prosperity and opportunity.... how stupid. These people don't think like us. They are NUTS!! Their religion is CRAZY. They are EVIL. They don't care about prosperity and opportunity. They want to kill us because we aren't Muslims!! You people are scary; almost as scary as the terrorists. And their allah is satan.

Impressive. You've just generalized a group of 1.8 billion billion people as insane, evil murders. And you've disregarded one of the world's oldest and largest religions. Congratulations. Have you ever visited a country with a large Muslim population? Explored their culture through music, books, films, etc.? Have you ever even held a conversation with a Muslim American? Somehow I doubt it. Oh yeah, and the guy you buy your chicken curry from doesn't count. He's most likely a Sikh (not that I'd expect you to understand the difference).

It's inevitable that anywhere you live you'll encounter ignorance, hate & fear-mongering like this. Maybe we're likely to see such dramatic examples in a progressive state like Vermont, because boring, lonely, spiteful contrarian types like to play the Devil's Advocate to the extreme in an effort to get "negative attention" from folks who wouldn't carry on a conversation with them otherwise. But I blame the Free Press--in a veiled effort to promote free speech and community discourse, they've instead opened the door to unmoderated hate speech that generates nothing more than sensationalism and publicity for their paper (hell, they got me to link to it, right?)

So, instead of stoking the coals and trying to argue reason with folks like "Roach" and "GreenMountainPatriot" (because they're just looking for a negative reaction), I've decided to just go straight to the source and ask the Burlington Free Press to consider moderation or elimination of the "StoryChat" feature. It's really in their best interest--they're in danger of losing what little respect they have left in this community as a viable resource for news and "journalism".


the le duo said...

the free press is a rag. always has been. its a shame that those kind of racist comments fill the message boards but I think that, even though we're known as a liberal state, lots of vermonters hold those views. people I've always had lots of respect for shocked me right after 9/11 when they were certain 'islam is an evil, intolerant religion bent on the destruction of christianity!' I couldnt believe it- living in burlington for so many years sometimes makes me forget that a lot of vermonters are conservative, un-trusting folks who fear change etc.

jay said...

I don't have an issue with folks who have conservative viewpoints; I'm sure I have a few myself. But I think there's a huge difference between a conservative and a bigot.

I know a lot of people who spouted off about Islam as well right after 9/11, but most of them recognized that it was just a fear response during a period of complete confusion. I forgive someone for saying something they didn't mean in a moment like that.

But to go on a public forum seven years more than half a decade after 9/11 and refer to a group of 2 billion people as evil murderers with diapers on their head (read the comments; this isn't hyperbole here) is inexcusable.

Again, I don't so much blame the people writing the comments (they are obviously lonely, bored, bitter old men who feel like they were cheated by life) but the Free Press for not moderating this. It shows a degree of irresponsibility, unprofessionalism and tacky sensationalism that has unfortunately become all-too-common at our local "news"paper.

jay said...

That should have read "half a decade" in the third paragraph. I'm sounding like Lincoln there...

casey said...

That's just lovely. I've always thought VT was pretty fucking xenophobic, as are many rural states. Just step outside of Burlington.

You need to brush up against a wide swath of humanity in order to lose the feeling of "other."

And Libertarian does not equal Progressive.

But Islam is the most backwards, repressive and repressed religion of the Judeo Three, which should all be eradicated, IMO. Oh wait — weren't we talking about tolerance?

casey.contrarian@gmail.com said...

My last comment made little sense. Never post before coffee.

But I stand by my defamation of X-tianity, Judaism & Islam. The shit's poison.

Tanner M. said...

well, i wouldn't recommend the freepress removing the talkback option just because it's filled with hateful comments, i disagree with it, but we're all entitled to our opinions, no matter how hateful and ignorant they are...

as far as the statements of islam being hateful i would agree, and i'd agree about the same statement regarding christianity - it's all bad news.

jay said...

Tanner, I agree that freedom of speech shouldn't be restricted, but I also think that when hate speech or just plain off-topic discussion comes into play, there should be a moderator there to either close the thread or redirect the discussion.

The posters writing derrogatory things were obviously not looking to have a serious debate--they were just trying to be deflamatory & to work people up by making racist comments & hurling insults.

There are plenty of forums where they could have gone to spout off such nonsense, but to do it in a forum associated with a newspaper of "serious" journalism just makes the Free Press and our state look bad, in my opinion.

My feeling is this: if the Free Press can't sponsor and moderate a public forum that adds to their articles via intelligent public discourse & instead just degenerates into name calling & bigoted rants, maybe they should consider not having the "StoryChat" at all. It certainly doesn't add anything for me as a reader; it only detracts.

jay said...

As for the religious aspect--I agree with Casey and Tanner that both Islam and Christianity (and essentially every organized religion) probably does more bad than good & is usually pretty closed-minded & hate-filled.

That said, I don't think it's right to categorize everyone who associates themselves with those faiths to be close-minded hate-mongerers. Some are; some are also misguided, harmless idiots. And quite a few of them are intelligent, caring people who are just searching for a spiritual path to make them happier, better, more loving human beings.

I can fault a religion, but I think it's downright misanthropic, naive and sad to associate all of the followers with the worst actions of a few.

casey said...

Organized religion is for the weak willed, no mater how *nice* and *non-threatening* certain followers may seem to be. But we all need our salves, I guess. Buddhism and Black Magic work for me. ;)

Gotta go — I'm late for the big sacrifice to Osiris down at the National Mall.