Racism Central

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, our oh-so-proper daily newspaper of record, the politically correct Tribune Co.-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 and editors but from the readers. This summer, the newspaper began allowing readers to post unchecked comments beneath each article on its website. Almost immediately, the hatemongers stormed the gates, and they haven't let up since.

Here are a few of the gems that appeared on the Sun-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."

— "N.iggers are apes!"

It goes on and on. You'll notice that all the uses of the n-word are irregular, usually 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 that the racists can come up with.

Those particular comments were posted under a story about a white Fort Lauderdale fire lieutenant who was suspended for using an ad featuring two chimps in business suits to make fun of a black fire chief. The lieutenant, Dave Carter, insists he meant nothing racist by the joke, but black firefighters felt he should have gotten more than two months' suspension without pay for it.

There can be worthwhile debate on this issue. My initial reaction, for instance, is that Carter's joke was exceptionally unwise but very well might have had no racial intent. Chimps in suits have often been used as symbols of corporate or bureaucratic incompetence to represent people of any color.

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's obvious why black firefighters would be so sensitive about the joke.

The racists have all but ruined what should be a good thing, and it's getting more and more obvious that the newspaper needs to monitor the boards a lot more closely.

"We don't condone offensive comments, and we're not sitting idly by, without any review of the content," Sun-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 comments boards. While we are eager to provide a forum for readers to voice their opinions and reactions to stories on our web site, we're very disturbed when we see insensitive, racist and offensive messages that some feel compelled to post."

Maucker was reacting to a reader who was naturally appalled at the racist crap on the Sentinel site. "Isn't there some form of regulation on the comments posted? I literally clicked the 'Flag for Review' button 50 times!" the unnamed reader wrote. "If you plan on allowing comments to the articles, you should have someone who is responsible for reading the comments before they are posted."

The editor explained in his column that a software filter "eliminates comments with some of the more obvious profanity, racist remarks and other offensive language."

OK, we've already shown how easy it is to subvert those.

Then he writes that staff at the newspaper's Internet partner, Topix.net, "constantly monitors" these messageboards.

Oh really, Earl?

That's not true, and either he knows it or he really isn't paying attention. Topix.net runs comment boards for dozens of newspapers. It may have people who are constantly monitoring the sites, but they aren't watching the Sentinel all that much, as the comments above illustrate so well.

Consider this: The reader that Maucker was responding to was upset about racist comments regarding the shooting of Broward Sheriff's Deputy Brian Tephford last month. Two weeks later, another story about Tephford appeared on the website. And the racist clatter, despite Maucker's lip service, continued unabated.

A message from someone calling using the moniker "The Police" wrote: "Fry them or better yet... a tall tree like the old days."

Another reader 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 the 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 referred to black Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Carlton Moore, 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. Friday, there was a story about Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena, who was found liable in a civil suit but wasn't forced to pay any damages.

"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."

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 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 comment capability to just a few stories, so it has largely been able to avoid the problems faced by the Sentinel.

Maucker might want to start taking note of his competitor's strategy — or really get his newspaper to start monitoring the website instead of just promising in his column to do so.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman