A local Website has become ground zero for hate in South Florida. It's loaded, on an almost daily basis, with racist stereotypes, slurs, and sentimental references to slavery and lynchings. You can see it at this address: www.sun-sentinel.com.
That's right, the oh-so-proper daily newspaper of record in Fort Lauderdale, the Tribune Company-owned standard-bearer of stodginess, has become the chief disseminator of hate speech in the region, quite possibly the entire state.
It's not coming from the Sentinel's reporters but from the public. This summer the newspaper began allowing readers to post unedited comments below each article on the Website. Almost immediately the hatemongers stormed the gates, and they haven't let up.
Here are a few gems that appeared on the Sentinel's Internet site just last week:
"Everyone knows nigggers are afraid of fire, cannot swim, and are afraid of heights."
"I started taking a liking to black men after I went on my first class trip to the Metro Zoo."
"Historically, blacks are closer to the monkey than whites and asians. Hence, their intelligence level is more akin to the monkey."
"After slavery they got lazy and just want whitey's handouts."
"Guess what, I got fired a few weeks ago for calling a subordinate a "dirty niggger" b/c I am quite racist. But believe it or not, I have a better paying job already! You know why, cuz I am white, and your not."
"Nigggers are apes!"
It goes on and on. You'll notice that all uses of the n-word are misspelled. It's not just because the people who posted them are ignorant. It's because the Sun-Sentinel has a filter that rejects that word. It doesn't, however, reject all the variations the racists come up with.
The above comments were posted below a story about a white Fort Lauderdale fire lieutenant who was suspended for using an ad featuring a chimp in a business suit to make fun of a black fire chief. The lieutenant, Dave Carter, insists he meant nothing racist by the joke, but black firefighters believe he should have received more than two months' suspension without pay.
There can be debate about this issue. My initial reaction, for instance, was that Carter's joke was exceptionally unwise but very well might have had no racist intent. Chimps in suits have often been used as symbols of corporate or bureaucratic incompetence by people of all colors.
But after the newspaper's readers posted links to a picture of former basketball star Patrick Ewing next to that of an ape and made jokes about trees being Harlem's public transportation system, it became obvious why black firefighters would take offense to the joke.
The racists have all but ruined what should be a good thing. It's increasingly obvious that the newspaper needs to better monitor the boards.
"We don't condone offensive comments and we're not sitting idly by, without any review of the content," Sentinel editor Earl Maucker wrote in his November 28 column, "Ask the Editor."
"When we have any kind of vigorous, real-time debate in the online environment, there are times when hateful language finds its way onto these comment boards. While we are eager to provide a forum for readers to voice their opinions and reactions to stories on our Website, we're very disturbed when we see insensitive, racist, and offensive messages."
He also wrote that staff at the newspaper's Internet partner, Topix.net, "constantly monitors" these message boards.
Oh really, Earl?
Consider this: When a story regarding the shooting of Broward Sheriff's Dep. Brian Tephford appeared on the Website recently, the racist clatter continued unabated.
A message from someone using the moniker "The Police" wrote, "Fry them or better yet ... [hang them from] a tall tree like the old days."
Another commenter wrote, "I want to sit in their trial everyday with a big bucket of popeyes and watermelon. an[d] chitlins. mmm ... chitlins."
Then someone using the name of young black convicted killer Lionel Tate wrote, "you sho nuff makes me hungry just readen dis. Cans I comes to de trial and sit nex to yo too? Maybe you kin gets a large pizza for you and me to share alongz wit de chitlins. I axe my mama to makes me some chitlins but da lazy ho say no. Dat beyatch iz one lazy lazy ho."
Another posting referred to a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner, who recently called for an investigation into the killing of a black suspect by two police officers, as a "filthy monkey."
It goes on and on. On a recent Friday, there was an article about Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena, who was found liable in a civil suit but wasn't forced to pay any damages. Below it was the comment: "that babies daddy lies in open court and gets away with it. We the Ghetto kneegars can walk all over whitey's legal system. Now for the dog bite lawsuit."
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The Sentinel isn't the only newspaper dealing with this problem. A couple of weeks ago, Arizona Daily Star editor Bobby Jo Buel posted this message on her own newspaper's comment board:
"While we added the reader comments feature to give readers a place to talk, StarNet is still our house. And our editors and staff simply do not want guests who make vulgar, abusive, obscene, defamatory and hateful comments. If you want to live in that kind of neighborhood, go create your own online forum.
"Meanwhile, we've removed large chunks of comment today while we consider the future of the reader comments feature."
The Miami Herald, smartly, has restricted comments capability to only a few stories, so it has largely been able to avoid the problems faced by the Sentinel.