News You Can Usenet

« September 2008 »


I've mentioned this in passing a few times since it started, but it can't be said enough: the Minneapolis Star Tribune's decision to add a comments thread to its online letters to the editor is a bigger crime against journalism than Brit Hume's hair. And no, I do not say that lightly.

Beyond the pure recursive madness of readers responding to readers responding, thereby diminishing what infinitesimal value letters to the editor had in the first place, the comments do what comments everywhere on the Internet do: they take the source material and make it stupider.

Take Saturday. For the Strib's letters section, it was actually a good day, with the utterly moronic only making up about fifty percent of the text by weight. But most of that weight was provided by Rose Moriarty of Mendota Heights, who dropped this massive turd on an unsuspecting readership. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"I found the Sept. 10 article about Somali workers winning a prayer break at Gold'n Plump quite interesting. I am pleased with this outcome, but I have one big question: Why can't lawyers fight the same battle for our children's right to have a teacher-led short prayer or quiet time in their schools?"

Sometimes, it's crystal clear to me just how violently the world refuses to operate by rules I'd prefer. I mean, police can lob all the tear gas they want at marching protesters. They can, will, and do hit you with a Taser a dozen times or more if you piss them off. Or if they just got new models that week. But where are the Analogy Police? Where are the shock troops in body armor who will bust down the suburban doors of the criminally insipid? And why aren't they delivering an extra Taser shot for the simpering faux-approval of the second sentence while they're at it?

The Muslims working at the processing plant didn't win the right to force all the plant's employees to pray five times a day in mandatory sessions led by their boss. If they had, THEN you could have made the school prayer analogy without fear of getting pepper sprayed by a crack member of the Special Words, Analogies, and Truisms squad.

Back in the good old days, the stupidity would have stopped there. But now, in the Strib's brave new Crap 2.0 world, the stupidity can amplify and resonate for days. Consider the following excerpt from commenter "comsen", which was, of course, double-posted.

"So everyone's belief system IS their own religion. As far as enforcing Christian beliefs on others that is exactly what the secular world is always trying to do - redefining marriage. promoting the gay life, and surrender now concept. Those are all religious belief systems according to Webster."

Now, even I will admit the Strib editors wouldn't publish something this incoherent in the Letters to the Editor. Unless they have some special insight about what the fuck Emmanuel Lewis has to do with this. Anyway, I thought incoherent bullshit was what the Netlets were for. But thanks to the magic of comments, comsen's rambling misunderstanding of the church-state divide is right there under Moriarty's coherent misunderstanding of the church-state divide.

But it gets worse! When you have a comment system, you invariably get "regulars". Internet users so bored and so desperate for attention that they try to bolster their societal standing by putting their two cents worth of devalued mental currency in at every opportunity. And once you have regulars, you get infighting. So now you have commenters commenting on other commenters' comments from the comments threads on completely different stories.

It's the digital equivalent of going out to your front porch in the morning, looking down, and realizing that someone has come by and dropped a steaming deuce on your just-delivered paper. And avoiding that kind of thing is why I was an early convert to Internet news in the first place. The Star Tribune needs to nip this shit in the bud pronto, before the newspaper circa 2008 turns into Usenet circa 1998.