Anonymous comments encourage ‘verbal vandalism’
By Jerry Davich Post-Tribune metro columnist April 11, 2013 10:44PM
Updated: May 13, 2013 6:54AM
The email I recently received was scathing in anger, racial bigotry and inflammatory name-calling.
Prompted by a column I wrote regarding gun rights, its spineless author signed off his lengthy diatribe with “Sincerely, Anonymous.” Obviously, the knucklehead wasn’t aware that his full name appeared in his own email address, next to his cyberspace “handle” — WatchdogNWI.
So I replied to his shameful email, beginning with his full name in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS to get his attention. And also to inform him that I knew who was behind the lame moniker of “Anonymous.” I haven’t heard back from him since. Coward.
This is exactly what is at work behind many of the online comments posted to newspaper stories and columns in local media, including the Post-Tribune. All of the online comments posted to this newspaper’s website are anonymous and must be regularly monitored for vulgarity, racism, name-calling and so on.
It’s an endless and thankless task for our online editor, and at least one other Northwest Indiana newspaper has recently suspended the ability for its readers to post any online comments at all. Such a shame.
I could reach into my writer’s basket of old clichés and pull out the “few bad apples” line to explain the rationale behind this, but it’s obvious that more than just a few knucklehead readers spoiled this for everyone.
Such vile reader comments can be found everywhere on newspaper websites across the country. Maybe this is a not-so-flattering reflection of our mean, vile and spineless society. I hope not.
In theory, the idea seems perfect for our digital age: Encourage readers to join online conversations about countless issues facing our region, state, and country. You would think it would prompt a serious dialogue, but mostly it prompted a serious exchange of hatred, stupidity and cut-throat pettiness. All under the cloak of collective anonymity.
Earlier this week, I received an email from Porter County Sheriff David Lain, who also is fed up with what he calls “verbal vandalism.”
“I promised myself I wouldn’t squander time addressing this, but the utter nonsense that is given column inches in online newspapers vexes me to the point that I can’t hold it in any longer,” he wrote.
“We live in the greatest country on the planet where, thankfully, folks can safely say or write just about anything they want,” he said. “So why has it become so fashionable to hide behind ‘nicknames’ that supposedly show us how witty they are?”
Such wittiness includes comments that are routinely whining, insulting and belittling.
“There is a valid need for people to express their opinions, but if you aren’t ashamed of what you have to say then stand tall and put your name to the piece,” he added. “Criticism certainly has its place and purpose. But nameless sniping is nothing more than graffiti on the page.”
His bold but accurate comments, rightfully attached to his full name, pretty much say it all about this modern-day issue. But can we put this 21st century Pandora back in its broken box? I don’t see how we can.
Sincerely, Jerry Davich, Post-Tribune columnist.
New facts, old issue
Speros Batistatos has never been shy about attaching his name to his comments.
For the record, Batistatos has never turned me down for a comment or information on any subject, nor any request for a meeting.
He called to remind me of this after reading my Wednesday column regarding the lingering disagreements between his agency and officials from Indiana Dunes Tourism.
That column provoked several Northwest Indiana officials to contact me with feedback, the vast majority with positive remarks. But none were as emphatic as Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.
“Jerry, the facts are missing in your column,” he said firmly, later joking that my column immediately got his “Greek up.”
Batistatos reminded me that his Lake County-based agency’s members range from the Chicago White Sox and Blue Chip Casino to Serenity Springs Resort and Fair Oaks Dairy, spanning multiple counties. In other words, not only in Lake County.
“In addition to all the hotels and restaurants that are our members within Lake County, dozens and dozens of others join us from outside our county, and our state,” he said. “And they pay membership dues because our business model increases their profits and occupancy.”
He told me this because my column reopened the touchy issue of last month’s language flap involving Senate Bill 585, specifically the word “region” versus “county,” allowing the SSCVA to change the way hotel and motel tax is distributed in Lake County and possibly in Porter County.
Batistatos said the amendment of the words “within the county” to “within the region” was suggested to reflect the business reality that any large metropolitan convention and visitors bureau regularly deals with.
“Should the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association not pursue the Super Bowl because benefits will cross county lines? Of course not,” he noted.
Batistatos said the existing language in all of the Indiana hotel and motel tax codes is an “antiquated notion of what was drafted 30 years ago,”
“It does not reflect today’s business practices,” he said.
The state association of CVB’s did not oppose this amendment, he said. Only LaPorte and Porter counties did while under the guise of being handcuffed by “Indiana Toll Road” authorities, he added.
“I urged Porter and LaPorte (CVB’s) to adopt the same language with our support and collaboration, but I was rebuked,” Batistatos concluded.
Let the public record duly note these new facts to an old issue.
‘Chris & Lou’ on the air
Today on my Casual Fridays radio show, I welcome into the studio Lou Samaniego and Chris Sulcer, more commonly known as “Chris & Lou,” the local dynamic duo who’ve been entertaining audiences for years.
From noon to 1 p.m., they’ll be entertaining Lakeshore Public Radio listeners with samples of cover songs, their original tunes, and behind-the-scenes insights about their rock ’n’ roll lifestyles with me.
Tune in at 89.1-FM, streaming online at http://lakeshorepublicmedia.org/local-programs/casual-fridays/. Call in with your song request at 769-9577.
Trouble reaching me?
For those readers who’ve tried reaching me recently without any luck, here is how to do so these days.
My new voice mail number is (219) 713-7237, though please be patient while I set up the call retrieval system. My new mailing address is 112 West Clark Street, Crown Point, IN 46307. Email remains the best way to contact me, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am also available via Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and jerrydavich.wordpress.com, proving that I’m nothing if not accessible.