Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Drank the Internet Kool-Aid and Now I Feel Queasy

Confession: a few years ago, maybe mid-‘aughts, I was that kid on a Hoverboard telling people who didn’t get behind new media that they were olds who were in denial and they needed to get on the Hoverbus or get left behind. Nice printed newspaper, Nonagenarian! You want a Werther’s Original with that copy of Newsweek? Here’s a nice crocheted shawl to keep you warm as you curl up with The New Yorker.

I would tell anyone that asked, not that anyone asked but I would volunteer my thoughts on the matter loudly like any cocky mid-20’s person would do, that instant news is where it’s at. The overhead is lower, the writers are hungrier (quite literally) and the ability to turn a story out quicker and scoop your competition all signaled the New World Media Order.

I’m a fucking moron. Ok, I get the majority of my news online, as do most people I know. But as I’ve found out in the past few months, weeks and days, the list of online sources you can trust seems to be dwindling. It turns out that not every asshole who can think of a “clever” URL to reserve at Blogspot (see above) is the undiscovered Walter Cronkite of their generation.

Maybe it was the finality of words being immortalized in print and the money that a libel suit against a major publishing company could garner that made print journalists more diligent and trustworthy. It’s easy to get a hot head and think you’ve got something so incredibly clever to share with the world that, editing and self-censorship be damned, you’re going to just hit that Publish button and let everyone soak in your genius. And if it turns out you’re wrong about the whole thing or people don’t exactly lap it up, you can always go back and edit. Or even better, you can deflect any criticism by picking apart your critics.

I wrote about the Chief Brown kerfuffle yesterday. It’s a pretty good example of when emotions, vitriol and bias get in the way of pesky things like facts. Interpretation is a slippery slope when publishing doesn’t involve multiple editors and printing presses but a few taps on an iPhone screen. And now Deadspin has leapt at the opportunity to prove why, despite occasionally dressing the part and keeping up in the conversation, they don’t deserve to sit at the grownups table.

You can go here and read the entire thing. The synopsis is: girl tells acquaintance, we’ll call him “AJ”, who works at Deadspin an anecdote about Brett Favre leaving her voicemails and sending pictures of his man places. AJ says he’d love to get her on the record, in case you weren’t fully convinced that Deadspin is less worried about breaking worthwhile news stories and just concerned with trying to take rich pro athletes down a peg by embarrassing them. Girl declines offer. Favre retires (or doesn’t, which you would think would be the story they would be chasing down here) and AJ decides that they need to strike while the iron is hot. He remembers the wiener picture story.

This is where a story about cell phone pics of dongs and Crocs manages to get sleazier. He shoots the girl an email informing her that he would be running the story and if she’d like to get on the record with it or send those pictures along, that would be great but this story is just TOOOOO hot to pass up. Needless to say, she’s upset. It almost certainly could endanger her career and livelihood. Also, there’s the minor issue of the fact that he had a verbal contract with his source to not reveal her identity without her permission. But I guess when it comes to sports news that will shake the earth to its’ core, pesky things like promises and character should never get in the way. The good news for him is that AJ doesn’t seem to ever risk going to jail for not revealing his sources. In fact, just give him a slow news day and he’ll cough up names faster than Hedda Hopper. You wouldn’t know her. That was a reference for the olds.

The joke here is that Deadspin anted up its small pot of credibility it had with a story that is remarkably meh. So I’d like to offer up this open letter to Deadspin:

Dear Deadspin,

First off, you have my full permission to reprint any or all of this blog entry for whatever use you see fit. I know you find that an unnecessary step but it makes you look a little less like a multi-level marketing scheme run out of a PO Box and more like a real publication.

I saw your post about Brett Favre sending pictures of his ding dong to a cute girl and leaving her flirty voicemails. Now maybe my moral compass is way off but I default to an assumption that any rich, male professional athlete has done one of or both of these things. Multiple times. Married, divorced, widowed. Doesn’t really matter.

If I know a half dozen people in my small group of friends who have received that sort of picture, it seems to be a pretty common occurrence. Therefore the law of averages back up my assumption that a pro athlete, a man whose profession includes appearing hyper-masculine and showing off, is likely to participate in this behavior.

So you told me that one did. He didn’t have a love child, didn’t kill a stripper, didn’t do blow off the carcass of a bald eagle. He sent a girl he thought was cute a picture of his business. This is not news. This is not shocking. Please try harder next time.

Deadspin reader

And so now I’m left with my sad realization that new media is maybe not the great youth revolution that I had previously claimed it would be. A lot of times it’s more of a party line with wild rumors and unsubstantiated un-facts being tossed around. The good news is that Deadspin has given fair warning to anyone who might want to give them a story or a tip that any promises of confidentiality are as non-binding as Favre’s retirement promises.

I feel cheated.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Let's go ahead and get one thing straight here. Is rape a crime committed by rapists? Yes? Ok, good we agree. Are rape victims in any way to blame for the fact that they were raped? No. Ok, good. We agreed again. We're on a roll here. Well, now that we've gotten that out of the way...

As you might have read on Unfair Park, FrontBurner or Jezebel today, the Dallas Chief of Police David said something that was controversial. FrontBurner seemed to handle it best by presenting Bethany's take on the whole thing while also offering up a link to the video allowing readers to come to their own conclusions. Only the problem is that, before video of his actual quote surfaced, what he said was purportedly something along the lines of, "Women, ya'll are getting date raped more frequently than you were last year. Wise up, ladies! Don't be going out and drinking that firewater around a bunch of men who can only respond to their natural, biological rapey urges. Geez, wominz. Come on! Help us out a little!"

The headlines summed up his quote as, "Dallas Police Chief tells women to not drink so they won't get raped." Now obviously, that would be grounds for immediate dismissal followed by torches and pitchforks. But would Chief Brown say that? Surely not. I mean a lot of public figures have said a lot of dumb stuff in their time. So it's not outside the realm of possibility.

Oh, but it turns out he didn't say that. In fact, what he said was:

"A little bit of known offenders. Date rape primarily. Where alcohol is involved. We're needing to create a message to the victims of these types of crimes, on a prevention kind of component, related to you know, first date, second date, someone you don't know that well, but you're at a club, you've had a little bit too much to drink, having friends or someone help watch you, and maybe have someone that doesn't drink in the group."

"We're finding that these are people that you may go on a date with, and have a little bit too much to drink. You don't know them that well. And it ends in a sexual assault. We're needing to do quite a bit of awareness education campaign to that victim's group. That's causing this spike."

To report that quote as the Chief in any way victim blaming or slut shaming is wholly irresponsible in my humble little blogger's opinion. The analogy has already been made dozens of times that, "This is like saying to not leave valuables in your car and to lock your car. If your car gets broken into whether you took these preventative measures or not, you are still the victim of a crime, you did not bring this upon yourself and you are in no way a guilty party." And they're right.

But let's use a different scenario, since car burglary is not a violent crime unless you consider inanimate objects potential victims of violence. Let's say that instead of the inflammatory topic of rape, this had been a meeting about people, specifically women, getting jumped in parking lots near bars after closing time. They are beaten, robbed, mugged, threatened. It's a bad scene. Now let's say that Chief Brown advised potential victims of these attacks, specifically women who are probably physically smaller than their attackers and therefore more likely to be attacked, to try to be more aware of their surroundings. Maybe being drunk dulls your reflexes or allows you to let your guard down, right?

Now the Chief should not have to preface that reminder with, "But before I say this, let me ease your fears by reminding you that we do still consider aggravated assault and burglary illegal and even if you are shitfaced, that doesn't mean it's your fault. You still should not have been attacked in the first place." We're all adults and know what is legal and what is not. Ergo, I know that Chief Brown is not insinuating that me having too many kamikazes at karaoke night equals open season on me for any predator, criminal or violent offender to attack me and go unpunished.

The idea that anyone is implying that the Chief Brown is only concerned with chastising women for going out and having fun is so absurd to me, I feel like it's been written for a sketch comedy show. So when people say things like, "he should be worrying about preventing rape instead of telling people how to avoid it", my response is: and how exactly does one, in a city council meeting, introduce a "don't rape people, rapists" initiative? Suggest mandatory talks between parents and their sons about how not to rape? Pass out "How Not to Raise a Rapist" literature at PTA meetings? Maybe, though that seems as absurd as the original, hysterical reporting of the quote that started this whole thing.

Should he have prefaced his quote with a long list of the initiatives and steps that DPD is taking to make sure that they catch rapists, a plan to get the funding to process the backlog of cold case rape kits, a reminder of the jail time a convicted rapist faces or a display of some newly updated sex offender database website that the public can access? Sure. But it seems like he was answering a specific question that was asked of him about the rise in rapes, which are increasingly date rapes.

You can report this story one of two ways: you can use common sense, which seems to be the boring mousey blonde stepsister of the much foxier journalistic angle, SHOCK! HORROR! OUTRAGE! My common sense tells me that you don't become Chief of Police by not knowing that rape is a crime perpetrated upon a victim not enabled by one. My common sense also tells me that a Chief of Police with a rising number of rapes on his watch isn't cool with treating the people who are committing the assaults with kid gloves.

Chief Brown is right. As a woman (and I might add, one who has more than one friend who has been raped), I know that he's talking some sense. My parents taught me to not get in cars with strangers, to not leave my house unlocked, to watch out for myself. If anything bad happens to me, they know that I am the victim even if I forgot to lock the door or accepted that ride. And no, I've not always followed my parents sage advice on these matters. But I also don't begrudge them for teaching me those lessons, whether or not I choose to adhere to them, because I know that they are trying to help keep me safe.

Sharp upticks in page views are awesome for any publication. National exposure is pretty great as well. But twisting a completely innocent comment into something sinister, misogynist and offensive is not cool. That's sensationalism and while it is what seems to get the most eyeballs on the story and garner the most comments, it's anything but right.

But you can be the judge:

The original reporting of the quote and the context and the defense of the way it was originally reported, post-video and post comments from the council member to whom he was speaking (A WOMAN!) which deny that the quote should be seen as inflammatory or degrading to women.

The video