Published on Friday, 24 September 2010 14:31
It has been an interesting 24 hours for the Tribune-owned blogsite ChicagoNow
and the the website/blogsite of Time Out Chicago
The sad story
really starts on the wee hours of Saturday the 18th, when CTA Red Line employees called the Chicago Police Department informing them of a man with a gun on their train. When the Chicago Police officers approached and tried to arrest this 19 year old Chicago male, a struggle supposedly occurred, the end result of which was the young man being shot by the Chicago Police officers. The victim, George Lash, died later in the hospital.
The following day, a ChicagoNow blogger who goes by the name Joe the Cop wrote on his "Arresting Tales"
page a blog
about the reporting of the story and how the media handles stories like this. The day following that, he wrote a much longer blog
talking about the recent shooting incident and others like it in the past. The blog talked about a predictable pattern of events that almost always seem to happen in cases like this -- from eyewitness accounts saying the Police shot an innocent man, to eyewitness accounts from people who were not eyewitnesses, to family members saying how the victim was about to turn his/her life around, to the media's willingness to blame the Police first, to the civil lawsuits that sometimes come from a victim's family.
In the very long blog that was written from a true insider's perspective, there were three parts in it that set off a firestorm. He called the predictable chain of events that come after a police shooting within the inner city as "urban kabuki theater." He then detailed out the steps that happen after a shooting as a "ghetto shooting template." The last fire-starter was when he was discussing how in many cases, the families of the CPD shooting victims will often sue the City of Chicago. The City most often will settle out of court because it is far cheaper and less embarrassing to do so than to fight the case publicly in court. Joe the Cop wrote: "In some demographic groups, having a family member shot by the police is like winning the lottery. The harsh reality is, George Lash will be a better provider for his family as the subject of a civil lawsuit than he was ever going to be in his adult life."
Three things should be pointed out:
1. Joe the Cop (obviously not his real name) is a near-suburban Detective Sergeant, who has been a police officer for 21 years. He has been blogging for a few years and joined ChicagoNow soon after it began. His blogs come from his insider view of how police life is. He is very quick to jump to the defense of police officers who may be getting unfairly treated in the media (in his opinion), which is to be expected of a long-term police officer.
2. George Lash, the 19 year old victim of the shooting was African-American. He was a high-school dropout who already had a pair of felony convictions. No matter what, it is always a tragedy when a young man loses his life senselessly.
3. ChicagoNow does not pre-edit or pre-review any blog postings. The bloggers themselves are 100% responsible for their own words, their own work, and the posting of it.
Joe the Cop's blog caused 57 responses in its Comments section below the blog posting, some of which were supportive, some of which were furious with the writer, especially with his poorly written line about Lash being a better provider because of a lawsuit. Joe the Cop calmly & intelligently addressed each of the complaints within the comment section. He posted up a subsequent blog that again defended his previously one and showed how every one of the "ghetto shooting template" items came true in the days following the George Lash incident. At no point within Joe the Cops three blogs on this incident or with the comments section did he use any insensitive, prejudicial racial term or blanket generality about one race. There were lines that may not have been written as well as they should have been. There were some that may have been a bit too brutally honest. There were lines written that clearly came from the mind of a hardened police veteran and not from a sensitivity coach. However, "Arresting Tales" is his blog, with his words, his opinions, and his outlook on the world. It is for readers who may want to get inside the head of a cop and see what they think in and about certain situations.
A few days later, about 24 hours ago from the time this blog was started, Joe The Cop's blog was brought to the attention of Time Out Chicago's President and Editor-in-Chief Frank Sennett. Sennett read the blog and was immediately incensed by it, calling it racist. He took to his Twitter account
and and let loose an avalanche of tweets blasting the blog, blasting Joe the Cop personally, blasting the Tribune and blasting ChicagoNow. In the 24 hours since he first took to Twitter, Frank Sennett has let loose 159 tweets about this.* He not only called for the removal of the blogs, but demanded the removal of Joe the Cop from ChicagoNow and demanded apologies from the Tribune. Sennett then called out WFLD's Carol Fowler, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Reader's Michael Miner demanding that they do a story on this. When none responded to him quickly, he slammed them in the tweets. The Chicago Reporter and their blogger Megan Cottrell came out in defense
of the Joe the Cop blog, calling it insensitive, but by no means racist. Of course, that set off a series of tweets by Sennett slamming the Chicago Reporter.
It gets worse. Frank Sennett went farther than just calling Joe the Cop's words racist -- he started called the man a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He wrote
on Twitter yesterday: "I will say it was nice of Joe the Cop to pull the white sheet up onto his forehead so we could see his eyes in his blog photo." Other KKK references were posted up as well.
Of course, the Ku Klux Klan, is the ultra-conservative, hate-filled, domestic terrorist group who publicly advocate and have participated in the brutal murder of non-White and non-Christian Americans. Seems like a harsh thing to call a proud civil servant, whose job it is to protect us all from those who would break the laws, and who simply wrote a blog giving readers an insight as to how to better improve relations between the Police, urban youth and the media.
Frank Sennett's obsessive campaign to bring negative attention to the blogs worked. Late yesterday, the ChicagoNow staff decided to remove the two most recent blogs by Joe the Cop. ChicagoNow's Bill Adee wrote
that the reason for the removal was due to a violation of the blogger guidelines and gave a link to those very guidelines. The thing is, his blogs that were removed did NOT violate any of those posted guidelines. I guess they need to add a new guideline that says "We can remove any blog that gets us embarrassed obsessively on Twitter." (Note: The link I posted above to Joe the Cop's blog in question leads to the Google cached version of it, since ChicagoNow pulled the blog. Read it while you can before it totally disappears.)
The sheer amount of hate-speech shown by Frank Sennett toward ChicagoNow and Joe the Cop stunned me. He was accusing Joe the Cop of spewing "bile-filled" words, yet the only real "bile-filled" words were those coming from Sennett himself. Accusing a person who has not shown any racist tendencies as a member of the disgusting KKK goes too far. What really stunned me was not the obsessive hate tweets that he did for 24 hours (and still may be doing*), but that it was coming from such a distinguished journalist.
(*UPDATE: I stopped counting at the 24 hour mark at 159 tweets that were just related to the blog. There were a few non-Joe the Cop tweets that were not counted. Also, since the 24 hour mark, Frank Sennett continues to obsess over this situation having done dozens of new tweets since I stopped counting.)
As mentioned above, Frank Sennett runs Time Out Chicago's magazine & website. He received his journalism degree from Northwestern's prestigious Medill School of Journalism. He has been an editor at numerous publications and websites. He has received a pair of Peter Lisagor Awards for his journalistic work. He has hosted a radio show, written columns for publications, and authored seven books. This is a man who not only knows journalism, he has excelled at it. I have read his work in the past and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd like to note that he also is very intelligent and posses a tremendous sense of humor.
So why now would he twist the words and intent of a ChicagoNow blogger, take them so wrong and attack back so viciously? Why would a talented & respected journalist yell "racism" when none was there? Why would a man so filled with intelligence and humor, go on a rant so illogical and humorless? I have no answers. Perhaps Frank Sennett can answer these questions in a few weeks when he can look back in clearer hindsight at the events of this week.
(UPDATE #2: In a message to me, Frank Sennett says what really set him off was in Joe the Cop's "Step 1" of his template, he listed as the most likely candidate for this template as a "young black man with a healthy arrest record." Sennett read that that as a blanket statement condemning the entire African-American race. While, yet again, it could have been written/worded better by Joe the Cop, when taken in context with the entire piece, I respectfully disagree that Joe the Cop made a purposefully harmful or ignorant racist statement.)
Joe the Cop may owe some an apology for the extremely harsh way he wording things, but Frank Sennett owes many an apology, as well, especially to Joe the Cop.
It is one thing to disagree with a blogger's opinion. Blogs are by nature opinionated. There will always be those who will agree and possibly, an equal amount that will disagree. I personally was compared to Mussolini and called a fascist inside of a ChicagoNow blog many weeks ago. The words in that blog were at best inflammatory lies, and at worst, libelous. Did I demand the Tribune give me an apology? Demand the offensive blog be removed? Call for blogger's permanent removal? Of course not. I put on my big boy pants, attempted to reach out to the ill-informed blogger, and moved on. It was his blog, his opinion (as downright insane as it may be), and his right to say what he wished with that blog. Joe the Cop was giving his opinion about police shootings -- what happens leading up to it, what happens at the crucial moment and what happens afterward. To call for its removal, to use bullying tactics to achieve that goal and then go as far to demand that the writer lose his job is wrong. To have that behavior come from a respected journalist is terrible. One would think that a knowledgeable journalist would want to protect the right of a writer to have an opinion on a blog. Frank Sennett should have voiced his disapproval of the what he interpreted Joe the Cops words to mean, but he should have defended Joe the Cop's right to say those words, be they correct or not.
Is Joe the Cop a journalist? Depends on your interpretation of the word. He did not go to a journalism school (to the best of my knowledge) and is a police officer by trade, but does get paid to write for a website. (ChicagoNow pays peanuts -- barely enough to pay for the electricity needed to write & post a blog on the site, but they do kind of pay.) Frank Sennett is the type of journalist other journalists should want in their corner if they are being attacked & pressured to get their work censored or sanitized by group with ulterior motives. Instead, Frank Sennett joined the angry mob, waving the biggest pitchfork and torch.
The fact that Joe the Cop poorly worded a handful of lines in an otherwise terrific blog about police life in an urban environment is disappointing.
The fact that Tribune Company and ChicagoNow caved into pressure from an obsessive Twitter campaign, removing these two blogs is disappointing.
The fact that a highly respected and talented Editor and journalist was behind this obsessive Twitter campaign may be the most disappointing thing of all in these past 24 hours.
ChicagoNow and Time Out Chicago may have had a nasty fight for the last day, but Chicago bloggers and journalists alike all suffer a black eye because if it.