Sac Bee comments must be stopped – UPDATED

This isn’t the first time that the racist idiocy that is the comments box at the Sac Bee has come to my attention. We here at the Rag, and other bloggers like Heckasac have often pointed out the problem.

Today’s racist idiocy comes from this story of the shooting death of a young woman in Oak Park:

Bordeau at 6:36 AM PST Thursday, July 17, 2008 said:
What a surprise

Isin’t (sic) multiculturalism wonderful. Were any of these people employed?

The comment is still up (UPDATED) at 9:20 this morning, and one hopes the Bee will catch up and remove it later this morning. I notice there is a “Flag for review” link, but it is only available to logged in users, go figure. The offensive comments Heckasac was concerned with on that 2007 post are no longer shown on the post she links to, so it must be working.

However, I have to ask what is the point in the first place. On a blog, in many cases, the blogger is providing news commentary, so it makes sense for the peanut gallery to contribute. I’m well aware that flaming is older than the Web and that bozos abide, but something about the amateur status of blogs, and the limited audience, puts jackassery in the comment box in perspective. I say limited audience because with a newspaper there is that expectation of professionalism and being for the community, which even on a local site like ours does not come with the territory. I can’t quite put my finger on it, maybe somebody can fill in what I’m not saying. Sure, we have our resident uninformed, offensive dolts, and truth be told we probably don’t delete offensive comments as often as we could or should. However I think most people would have to agree we don’t often get comments at Bordeau’s level of indecency.

Also is(i)n’t the chief defensive posture from the old media vis-a-vis new media the unreliability and lack of credentials of the pajama-clad riff raff? If you allow any jackass to vomit his racist filth on your sourced, fact-checked, researched, and well-crafted news articles, aren’t you just giving up any semblance of being above that? However, I do realize I’m creating a straw man there. (I call him Darryl Strawman-berry.) I think of the people I know, even just through e-mail, who are in the newspaper business. Or take Andrea V. Brambila, whose byline is now soiled with Bordeau’s I’m-running-out-of-terms-so-I’ll-just-say idiocy again. I can’t imagine she sees that comment and thinks what a wonderful business I’m in, that I can help provide a platform for this thoughtful individual to speak his peace (just guessing on its sex there).

No, the presumed need for the consumers to share in the newspaper is coming from elsewhere. I suppose there are aspects of the article that are legitimate–ombudsmen and letters pages being as old as dirt, and moderated comment threads being merely a modern version. But I suspect that the business and not the editorial side of the paper is driving this decision.

I’d love to hear from Bee journalists on this issue. How does the comments box make you feel about your job?

UPDATE: Blogger Plumwin (to this day, btw, still one of our top referring sites) points me in the direction of Bee Public Editor Armando Acuna’s Sunday editorial about the comment flagging. It is a hilarious read that helps me make my point. Apparently the flagging is an automatic thing, which turned into a “flagging war,” which led to flaggers–not offensive commenters now, flaggers–being banned from the site. What a mess. They must be really invested in this. I love this part:

Some editors believed the flagging was initiated by a single user, a Folsom man known as NoNewArena, a well-known provocateur who had been previously banned.

But [assistant managing editor for interactive media Ken] Chavez said there’s no way of knowing whether that’s true, or whether others have taken up his cause, or are associated with him in some way or are simply just using similar user names to be contrary.

And here’s a major WTF:

“We’re not prudish old maids,” Chavez said. “We allow things that wouldn’t ever get in the paper.”

Now everything has come full circle and it’s some readers who won’t.

Excuse me? He’s taking “some readers” to task for not allowing any old claptrap to appear in the paper? I thought the issue was that a few jerks were flagging comments that were otherwise OK. If true flagging is going on, then aren’t the readers doing their job… or the paper’s job, to be precise.

How bout we just get back to you know, researching what is going on in the world, and then writing about it, and putting that on paper for us to read?

Author: CoolDMZ

"X-ray vision to see in between / Where's my kimono and my time machine?"

39 thoughts on “Sac Bee comments must be stopped – UPDATED”

  1. I think the Bee either needs to allow ALL comments up, or none. After all, there’s no inherent right to comment on the stories on the website; if people have something coherent and constructive to say, they can write a letter to the Editor.


  2. Nice. Yes, I’m sure my most recent post (um, June of ’06) brings you in tons of referrals!


  3. Forums on the Internet are moderated by moderators.

    The Bee simply needs to pony up the cash and hire a full time mod or two to monitor these forums. They should review the posts before they are made public. The majority of the comments should be deleted immediately, the primary reason for this is that most topics are off topic and are simply rants. Users who are repeat offenders should be flagged by name and e-mail address to take away their twisted fame they are trying to achieve by being public curmudgeons.

    If the Bee doesn’t feel that they can afford these employees, they should do away with the comment section on stories, as they are largely useless and, I agree, make the Bee look like a less-than-professional media source.

    Also, it makes Sacramentans look like a bunch of jackasses.


  4. All this is getting me fired up about deleting the occassional comment or two here on the Rag. Somebody say something offensive so I can delete it!


  5. I was just thinking about this topic the other day, in reading the political comments on Many are so ridiculous and incoherent that they are funny and entertaining, but what does it say about the credibility of the “news” forum that is hosting them? Especially when they are hateful and offensive? Surely a moderator with some concrete guidelines could help with that problem. And by the way if you’re thinking of someone to ban from the SacRag comments section I have a nomination. I think the name goes without saying.


  6. I used to enjoy reading the trailer-ish comments in Bee articles. Those and the frustrated journo-dropouts with their “IS THIS NEWS???” and trashin’ my girl Lisa. Now it’s just depressing. I don’t know why they keep them up. Even benign comments are horrendous offenses to grammar, spelling and taste–your basic affront to decency. I also like when they throw in “cop words” in the crime posts like “perps”. Aiiiiiieee. We are freaking doomed.


  7. I wouldn’t go to sacbee if they got rid of the comments. That paper is not all that great. The local reporting is the same thing every 4 years. The rest of it is all AP bs. The amount of time the devote to local community non political subjects is small. Without the nutty comments it would be a dry read.


  8. Comment threads are a part of the cultural of the internet. The Bee website should participate in that culture. The Bee should encourage civility, of course, but I don’t agree that the Bee has a responsibility to protect its readers from offensive opinions. We are sophisticated enough to handle them.


  9. What- liberals are afraid that holders of politically incorrect, heretofore systemically repressed views will ban together, maybe realizing that they aren’t that crazy or far and few between? It’s funny, because you never see the conservatives removing posts and banning commenter (PLEASE don’t call them ‘commentators’). Conservative posters might call a moron poster a banal idiot, and expose blind stupidity by refuting/supporting “facts,” but it seems like the only fans of banning viewpoints are those who suggest that “all people and behaviors are equal” and “if only everyone was given the [insert ‘chance/money/property/medical care/love’etc.] that WH[etero]ASP America gets by virtue of birth.”

    They correct way to deal with INCORRECT ‘speech’ is to allow it to be made, and expose it publicly as factually or logically incorrect. Those who observe such speech and the counter-arguments can make up their own minds. Or can they? Is the population too stupid to be able to sift out incorrect (I’m talking factually, not politically) statements or logical arguments? Because if the population IS too stupid to make such decisions for themselves, then we really need to censor publicly expressed opinions.

    Or are you afraid that 1) some politically incorrect positions might be factually correct, and 2) others might actually agree with politically incorrect statements? Take, for instance;

    “Some cultures don’t value the notion of self-sustenance (like having a job or providing for self/family) as much as other cultures.”
    “Such cultures provide their people of culture more time to sit around and drink beer and shoot each other.”

    Are you afraid that people might conclude, “Some cultures are less worthy than other cultures”? Such a conclusion might seem “incorrect” (politically) on its face, but is such a position factually incorrect in all circumstances? I think not: Nazi-ism as a “culture” would appear generally worthy of scorn.

    Bad language and posting of private information (or incitement to perform illegal acts) should be moderated. But the posting of a rhetorical question, potentially raising an interesting point (I know, for one, that I’m just too damn tired at the end of my workday to shoot anyone), even if couched in terms that implicate cultural differences, is not, per se, something that I see as “wrong.” I would appreciate factually based positions showing, fer’ instance, that unemployed people who having nothing better to do with their time, do commit more crimes. Heck- if you have something indicating that the unemployed commit FEWER crimes than the employed, that would certainly be food for thought as well.

    But just because you don’t feel that the implication is something that should be said, you have no rational basis to scrap the post or ban the poster. After all, if the poster is as whacky as you think, they are probably in the minority. And we all know that you can’t (or shouldn’t) ban minorities from public participation.


  10. TS- Why are you assuming that only liberals are offended and only conservatives are making racist/sexist/homophobic?

    And how do you know the political orientations of both readers of online publications and the editors who are in charge of managing comments?

    Regardless of your willingness to buy into stereotypes and amazing psychic abilities, I think we are talking about two different things. Or rather, have different definitions for the difference between racist/sexist/homophobic speech and politically marginal speech. I fully agree that we should not be excluding politically marginal speech from conversations, but what are we to do about “hate” speech? Or do you think that such a thing does not exist?

    OK, example…. A frequent topic of discussion is illegal immigrants.

    JimBob the commenter – Damn illegal immigrants should go home where they belong!
    (My opinion – this is political commentary, not hate speech. It should be allowed)

    JimBob the commenter – Damn lazy Mexicans should go back where they belong!
    (My opinion – this is hate speech.)

    So, how do we deal with hate speech? Should the editor of the publication have the right to delete it? Should the editor have a right to directly comment upon it? I like this method. I think the LA Times does it, where it would appear something like this:

    JimBob the commenter – Damn lazy Mexicans should go back where they belong!
    From Stickie – JimBob, this is not the place for your racist rants and hate speech. If you do not refrain from such useless and non-constructive commentary, we reserve the right to ban you from providing comment

    Or something like that??


  11. For me it’s not so much a question of a journalistic outlet regulating speech. It’s just that, at some point, the credibility and relevance of a newspaper’s website is diminished by its hosting of crazy, bizarre and hateful commentary. When you look at some of those sites (including the Bee) it’s not just one or two COMMENTATORS leaving outlandish, irrelevant, nonsensical, and hostile remarks; they’re plentiful. It starts to characterize the whole website, which makes the whole thing seem like a joke. I would think the Bee and similar operations would want moderate just for the sake of maintaining some credibility and professionalism.


  12. I’m not even going to get into my opinion that the phrase “politically incorrect” was invented by racists to give themselves a justification for making racist statements by re-framing their hate speech as political dialogue.

    Whoops, I just did.


  13. TS: No publication has any responsibility to protect any viewpoint at all. The *Government* should not…as in, its Constitution has been Amended to require it not to…limit the speech of its citizens. I’d comment on the rest of what you said but I have no desire to read it.

    Obviously I agree that the internet provides a forum for people to discuss their opinions. In the sense that I have designed, implemented, and continue to financial support an internet forum for people to discuss their opinions. 🙂


  14. Typical Spuds notwithstanding, why not single out the lazy Mexicans? Nice way to differentiate from the hard-working Mexicans, lazy Swedes, etc.

    What makes a “lazy Mexican” as compared to a “hard working Mexican”? Some stats to clarify would be nice. Employment rates, modal income, maybe broken down by citizenship/residency status. Would be a real eye opener if working green card holders committed half the crimes compared to the American population in general. Why not point that out? Make the poster justify and define “lazy” and “Mexican”, rather than deleting the post and banning the poster. If they are unable to justify their own statement, they look like an idiot. If they post an unpopular (“hateful”?) but factually true statement, you still want to censor their opinion based on a fact? Rather “head in the sand” position.

    While I agree that the credibility and relevance of a newspaper’s website is diminished by its hosting of crazy, bizarre and hateful commentary (um- are you referring to the Bee’s editorial analysis and opinions? HA!), its credibility as a FORUM (I agree with the all or none approach) is zero when they “edit” content that they contend is “hateful.”

    Case in point: I have been to Jamaica. It’s got a nice vibe. But, let’s be realistic. Measured by GDP, hours worked, income per worker, production of widgets per hour, whatever…, the people are L-A-Z-Y. I mean downright ‘don’t wanna do nothin’, hang out, ogle girls, drink beer, listen to and make music, LAZY.’ But that’s not hateful. I greatly admire a society that can accept that kind of laziness. I think the US could learn a little from that attitude. So my calling a Jamaican “a lazy Jamaican” is not the least bit hateful. Who are you to determine that I’m being hateful when I say that? I’ll cite the facts if you want (I bet no one is gonna fight me on this, but if you have a measure of lazy that you want to use, I’ll go to bat with your measure of laziness as applied to Jamaicans). Now keep in mind I’m talking across the board. I’ve known a Jamaican or two to be hard working too. Just, in general, damn. Pretty lazy. Just try and get a building build using local labor down there. Sheesh.

    Attack/support with facts and the truth will emerge. You might even change a mind. Ban because someone has an unpopular opinion, and you’ve done nothing.

    JimBob the commenter – Damn lazy Mexicans should go back where they belong!
    Turty Squip- JimBob: How to you sort out the lazy ones from the hard working ones? And can we deport the lazy Rednecks too?


  15. So there seem to be two issues here relating to comment moderation.

    1)’s policy decision regarding content…correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems Cool is in agreeance with “Your comments should be free of libel, profanity, personal attacks and racist or offensive language. Do not post phone numbers or e-mail addresses.”

    2) The actual execution of the content policy, which is obviously tied to the commenting and approval process.

    So the current procedure is that a registered user can post whatever they want. And other users can flag that person, rendering their comment hidden until a Bee editor makes the ultimate decision to either ax that comment or let it stay (it can’t be flagged afterwards).

    I think we can agree on that if there is a comment blatantly against’s content policy, and it gets flagged but then gets the Bee approval, then that was a mistake the Bee can be taken to task for…just as if an editor allowed the word “FUCK” to get into a headline.

    So what I’m guessing your main complaint is that unless users are vigilant in flagging, comments in obvious violation are allowed to stay on for an intolerable time.

    There are some practical issues in this. The previous policy was for every comment posted to be queued up until approval. This meant dozens to hundreds of comments were sometimes queued up until the next day, which sometimes effectively rendered them irrelevant since stories aren’t often discussed past the date of publication, unless a strong thread of discussion has already been going on that article.

    So the tradeoff appears to be between having people’s ability to discuss dependent on how quickly and often an editor can get to the queue, or to have a policy-violating comment be on the site until someone flags it (as they apparently did in the one you mention above). IMHO, the procedure as stands pretty much follows the spirit of what most major forum sites do, and the general spirit of how the First Amendment is practiced in public…It’s not perfect, but it’s preferable to the alternative, IMO.

    I do see this as a mostly either-or situation. There are other variations of either two choices, such as hiring a full-time person to execute the first variation, or altering the software for the comment process, which is mentioned in Armando’s column.

    (disclosure: I worked on the online desk but have never been in a position that involved moderating comments)


  16. I must not have sold it strongly enough: I think the Bee should get rid of comments on news articles completely. It is obvious to most that it is a marketing ploy to add controversy. It works.

    Truth be told, if they’re going to do it, I suppose they are doing it the right way with the flagging and all that. The complainy tone of Acuna’s editorial is unfortunate. I think they could/should run a separate forum, moderated, for readers to discuss. But comments on straight news articles is stupid.


  17. In theory, I like the idea of comments on news articles. Sometimes, a commenter/commentator/commentist brings interesting facts, a new POV, or even fact checking and correction to the story to make the comment section a tool that adds to the story and is a positive thing.

    Unfortunately, in practice, it does not appear that either the great majority of commenters or the SacBee itself has an interest in making the comment section a positive thing. I totally agree with Cool in his suspicions that the Bee has the comment section to increase Web traffic in order to boost online ad revenue.


  18. If I begin reading a comment and get half-way thru and see that it is just hogwash (IMO) I stop reading it and move on. They have a right to say it, I have a right not to read it. Simple. Example: I see the the author’s name, ‘turty squip’ and just move on. I don’t even bother reading it at all anymore.

    Same with tv. Change the channel if you don’t like it.


  19. We need to stop talking about things like “rights” and “First Amendment.” People’s right to say something–even something racist– is completely ambivalent to the existence of a newspaper or the Internet. It is offered and safeguarded by the government.

    Basically I am offering free advice to the Sac Bee, and other mainstream, professional media sources. Albeit in the form of scathing criticism.


  20. Stickie is right, the comments forum can be and is often used by readers to add to or dispute a story, and I think it’s not helpful to readers to have this taken away from the website content. Accusing it of being a marketing ploy is a bit suspect…a) the process is run by editorial staff, and b) it’s not in the immediate best interests of a marketing/PR department to provide an open forum in which their employer is bashed on a routine basis.

    So, no, I didn’t quite get how you jumped from a) there are offensive comments on the Bee’s website to b) all comments must be eliminated. There’s something in between missing there, like those offensive comments are indisputably tearing civil society apart.


  21. You are right that the First Amendment, as a legal protection, does not apply here, as a commercial entity can generally regulate its content as it wishes. However, the premises and rationale that allow for judges to continually uphold First Amendment protections, are relevant to how a newspaper or any entity regulates discourse.

    With that said, which philosophy on expression rights do you prefer? The traditional American version, or the one practiced in various EU democracies that have a staunch ban on hate speech (particularly anti-Semitism)?


  22. I prefer American, duh nice try 🙂

    But seriously: Again, for me the issue is not whether people have a right to express their hate speech in a newspaper. I simply think, as probably 50% if polled would agree, that the whole thing sucks, cheapens the product, and is done for questionable motives. The editorial side directly benefits from the ad revenue generated by people reading the outrageous comments.


  23. I’m not questioning your patriotism…I mean, I’m sure you’re wearing your flag pin like everyone else is. :). But I do think that your philosophy fits more with the European mindset than the American one, in which you seem to think an authority or content-provider should regulate offensive content, rather than the “marketplace of ideas” and whatnot.

    OK…well, let’s accept the questionable premise that something should be done based on popular opinion rather than principle…if more than 50 percent believe that the comments section are abhorrent, then that’s a great number of people who won’t be revisiting a website to read the comments section…which means that the Bee would be netting effectively nothing from its comment sections (unless you’re going to argue that the people who post bigoted comments also love the Bee so much that they provide a noticeable bump in revenue)…so, I guess…hey wait, that’s the American “marketplace of ideas” model…so we all love America here!


  24. I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that the American philosophy on speech is that content providers have no responsibility to regulate offensive comment. Also I don’t think it’s a questionable premise that something should be done based on popular opinion.


  25. Dan, I appreciate the notion that editorial and advertising should have a thick wall between them, but (in my professional experience) I have seen many concrete examples of this not being much of an imperative in some newspapers, especially in light of the corporatization of the modern newspaper (and news in general) and ever increasing pressure on the media to make money or perish.

    Wow, that was a long sentence.


  26. How did this become a freedom of speech thing. Sacbee is not the government. They are a part of “THE MAN”, but not the government. They can edit anything they want. Weren’t we all taught this in grade school? That papers sometimes leave huge arguments out to make for more interesting reads. We already know the bee does this. Any time they write about something I have personal knowledge on they leave out a huge fact that justifies the action they try to paint as stupid. These are huge facts that are shown to them from the get go of tours and interviews. I have noticed this going back to articles on fellow athletes in HS all the way up to my current profession. If it isn’t sensational you probably wont read the next article on the subject. If you buy the BS they can sell a paper and flood the boards with any headline that says “prison”.

    I guess the boards are an extension of the paper. Sometimes they are completely wasted. In a fact only blurb there should be no comments. However in any in depth article the statements can sometimes destroy the argument or tone of the author by simply providing a link to a more current study, or report that shows the basis for the article is obsolete.


  27. Comments wouldn’t be necessary if the paper only reported facts. The Bee only brings this problem upon itself with its own biases, which leak into the “news” pages. Keep the editorials in the editorials, and the “facts” in the news.


  28. TS: I’m more liberal than any of these other people – I guarantee it – and I’m absolutely, positively against deletion of ANY political speech for whatever reason. What one person calls offensive racism, someone else will have another name for. The minute we start protecting specific viewpoints so much that we turn away from others, we can no longer respect our own.

    I guess private websites will do it, whatever, that’s fine. But I think it’s a bad idea for a newspaper to.

    If they have a problem with the comments they’re getting, stop allowing comments. End of story.


  29. TS – It is not a journalist’s or a newspapers responsibility to print solely factual information; Journalism uses facts and different viewpoints to tell stories. Most stories are not objective. It is fine if you have a problem with the Bee failing to adequately present contrasting points of view on a story, or editorializing that one particular point of view is more “correct” than another, but a newspaper with nothing but facts would not be journalism, it would be an Excel spreadsheet.

    JLT – The Bee [i]is[/is] a private Web site.


  30. I think you are overreacting. People can say whatever they want in this country and most sac bee readers are morons anyway. so you need to let it go.


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