Cracking the comments code

This may surprise you, but I know a little more about crack cocaine than the average 37-year-old guy who grew up in a semi-rural community in southwest Missouri. I know how it’s made, how much it generally costs, where you can buy it in town, and the various ways it’s cut up. You’ve probably heard the term “rock,” but you might not know about it’s bigger cousins the “fries,” or their granddaddy the “cookie.” Put together, it’s like something you’d get in a Happy Meal if McDonald’s was in the habit of selling products that destroy your body (wait a minute…). My years in the news business put me in close contact with narcs of all varieties, and they were usually more than happy to let us review the evidence for the purposes of later rebroadcast. And if a photographer wanted to get a super-close-up during one of those giant landfill weed burns, well, who were the cops to tell the man his business.

All of that understood, I should point out that I’m no crack expert. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve even thought about the drug. That’s what made it so weird when my favorite fear mongers at Tao of Fear linked to this news story from the Detroit CBS affiliate. The news wizards there have the biggest scoop of the day. They’ve uncovered the fact that convenience stores in that area are selling crack pipes disguised as little flower vases and ink pens. If this story is shocking to you, I hear CBS Detroit is working on a story about something called “Y2K” that may mess up our computer systems. Next week the station will be profiling a hot new artist from 8 Mile who calls himself “Reese’s Pieces” or something like that.

It doesn’t take a drug user, cop, or hotshot news hound to know that convenience store have been slinging crack pipes for two decades. Why is it news on May 10, 2011? Well, for one thing, it’s sweeps (one of four ratings periods during the year), so that means stations are struggling to come up with sensational stories to shock the monkey public into…well, temporary dinnertime shock. Other than that, I have no idea. Reporting the sale of crack pipes is equivalent to reporting the sale of crack.

A rose by any other name... (Source: Wikipedia)

A rose by any other name… (Source: Wikipedia)

I was prepared to let it go until someone pointed out the comments on the story to me. Not only were people actually shocked (shocked I tell you!) about the crack pipes, they had already picked out the real culprits. Here’s a list of people that the story commenters hold responsible: Barack Obama, the Arabs, black people, Democrats, Detroit vis a vis Hiroshima, interracial marriage, Muslims, Liberals, Karl Marx, unions, Atlanta, Martin Luther King, Austin, the illiterate, the Chinese, welfare recipients, the 60s, the Japanese, and, however indirectly, Justin Verlander.

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that CBS Detroit might have just published the most transparent of ratings-grabbing attempts in recent memory. Let’s instead turn to what is really revealing about the story: holy cow, we’re afflicted with a real case of xenophobic, racist, class-deluded ignorance in this country. I am actually disturbed to see…well, how disturbed people actually are. Should it surprise me? No. But, hell, apparently there is a new director in Detroit who is surprised crack pipes are for sale at his 7-11, so I think I’m in the clear.

A little more than six years ago, I started a news site for a company. As an experiment, I turned on comments. Within 24 hours, I was reading hard core porn prose about one of the company’s principals performing uncomfortable sexual acts on one of the company’s better-known customers. For the time I left comments on, I spent more time moderating troll filth than doing any actual reporting. I turned comments off and left them that way as long as I was in charge. The problem with comments is that you can’t moderate them without being accused of trying to stifle opposing voices, so an editor is put in the position of being accused of censorship or allowing his more vituperative readers to freely publish whatever they want. I’m not saying moderation is impossible. It’s simply not worth the time for the value of the comments a story will get or the icky feeling of having your commenters use words like…well, a word I don’t even want to type. Before that, I worked for a Hearst TV station that struggled with how to handle comments. The station put up a noble attempt to properly moderate the site. In the end, it had to give up. I don’t blame it one bit. It’s a no-win proposition. I’m all for the First Amendment and letting people say what they want. However, neither I nor any news station is under an obligation to give xenophobes and racists a platform.

This little blog is nearing its ten-year anniversary. While the early years comments are lost to a failed comment provider, most of the stuff from the last several years is still available. I don’t agree with everything everybody writes, but it is very rare I have to moderate anything. Why? Well, I like to think it’s because the people who read here are a little more intelligent than your average CBS Detroit news commenter. I’ll leave comments on here as long as discourse remains civil and intelligent. I value the conversations we get to have here as a result of the comment feature.

However, just for fun, I’m going to see if CBS Detroit is so poorly moderated that it lets me post a link to this post in the comments of the crack pipe story. If so, it should be, as my original tipster put it, a hoot.

Update: Yeah, CBS Detroit moderated my comment, so it’s at least possible. That’s the fun part of this. Comment moderators apparently have a choice of what appears on their page, so they made a conscious choice to allow “Instant ghetto, just add n!ggers!” and not allow a link out from the site to this one. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 2011 America.