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.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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10 Responses

  1. Julius_Goat says:

    I can’t believe nobody blamed the Oompa Loompas. Those little orange bastards are ruining the Greatest Country In The History Of Everything Ever.

    When will we improve wardrobe security between our country and Narnia?

  2. John Boyanoski says:

    Hot Ladys available now in u market. NOT a SCAm. Is True. These women are single and looking for man. Or maybe woman. This spambot not judge. It is 2011. Why live in past. Where was I, oh yeah, my not a scam. They have webcams. Very Nice. You Like. Go look now. No worry. NO Scam. Npoo virus. You friends is there now. They get best woman. You lose. Hurry. No Fail. Superman and Tom Cruise big fans too.

  3. RIggstad says:

    The comments and circumstance of this whole article spanks of what isw wrong in America today… FOCUS…

  4. RIggstad says:

    …or lack there of

  5. Bracelet says:

    From Kwame to 25% high school graduation to miles and miles of vacant, crumbling structures to more wig shops than places to buy fresh food to misguided efforts like saving shitty tiger stadium while neglecting public parks to the closing and abandonment of too many schools to count to a million other problems.

    Oh Detroit, I miss you so little sometimes.

  6. RedxBranch says:

    this has nothing to do with your post but I would like to get on the list to be able to read “The Bracelet’s” blog…..

  7. Damien Burke says:

    I’m guessing that most of the comment moderation has been automated. Computers can easily filter out external links and “nigger” but cannot recognize xenophobia, racism, class-deluded ignorance, and “n!ggers.”

    In defense of the general public I would speculate that most of the comments on a large-market news story come from trolls. These are people who have the goal of annoying and offending and are drawn to places they can have a large audience. They almost certainly don’t actually believe what they say, and even if they did they represent an extraordinarily small segment of the population.

  8. otis says:

    That’s a fairly well-reasoned response, Damien. I’m not sure I entirely agree about it being a very small part of the population, but agree with the rest.

  9. Bracelet says:

    Hey Redxbranch!

    I have a new url. Actually, it’s my 800th new url. Had to shut two down because work people found it and then had some weird thing where some “stranger” set up a site for me to blog again, so I did, then as either a joke or because this stranger is unbalanced they turned it private and locked me and everyone else out of it. Weird. And dumb. As if I can’t start another blog somewhere for free with minimal effort, or something. It’s a long dumb story.

    Anyhow, long dumb story short if you go to you can read the innermost thoughts of the Bracelet. It doesn’t have everything I’ve written, by far, but it has the latest and should have the futurest. (It’s totally a word)

  10. Wolfshead says:

    Speaking of comment moderation I went on the Should Trump Run site and left a comment that was a bit “disparaging” on his attempted candidacy. It was the third comment listed a couple weeks ago. I find that while there is a whole list of comments encouraging his candidacy listed after mine that my comment is still “awaiting moderation”. How long does it take to read 4-5 lines?