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Friday, October 28, 2016

This is how a Dec. 8 editorial of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board began:

“For the next two months, we are turning off the comment function on all editorials, columns and letters in the opinion section.



Isn’t it something how we know immediately what the writer meant? Our inherent understanding suggests something sad, even soul-numbing, if we aren’t vigilant with ourselves.

This year, the deaths of three black American males at the hands of white policemen are forcing us to consider what we really believe about race in this country. Just the mention of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York or 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland is teaching us things about ourselves — and often more than we wanted to know about some of the people in our lives.

And then there’s the Web. These deaths and the enduring aftermath are bringing out the worst in all kinds of people we hope never to meet, but we increasingly fear they’re everywhere. That’s the problem with many social media sites, where hatemongers roam free. After a few hundred comments, it’s all too easy to believe such vitriol rides a prevailing wind.

Tony Messenger suspects otherwise. He’s the editorial page editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the author of the piece I quoted at the beginning of this column. He has written about 40 editorials on Ferguson and waded into one cesspool after another of overt racism in the comments threads.

“So much vitriol,” he said in a phone interview, “and a willingness of people to say things online that you’d hope they wouldn’t say to someone’s face in polite company.”

They were getting in the way of meaningful dialogue.

“You know, we as journalists avoided over the years saying we need to talk about race, because it sounded cliché,” he said, “but it’s clear that’s it’s true, that we do need to have this discussion. Saying that — and announcing that comments would be suspended — resonated much more than I realized.”

Including in his own newsroom.

“I didn’t know until I proposed it to management that they’ve been having the same conversation in the publisher’s suite,” Messenger said. “I’m pleased that we’re trying this, and I hope it encourages more people to reach out to us with letters to the editor.” He will also host a weekly online discussion.

As a journalist, I’ve made no secret of my disdain for many news organizations’ comments policy. Anonymity and lack of any moderating create a forum for the worst among us and drive away so many of the decent people who make up the majority of our citizens.

It’s catching up with us, too.

“Someday, a decade or two from now, there will be an academic report about this,” Messenger said, “and it will show how we mishandled the public trust in this public conversation.”

He’s right; I’m certain of that. But we can earn back that trust, and in St. Louis, Tony Messenger is leading the way.

I try to avoid those toxic online threads, including the ones on my own columns and essays, but sometimes that’s not possible. On Monday, for example, I posted on my public Facebook page a link to a New York Times story about Tamir Rice’s mother, who had held her first news conference. Samaria Rice said that Cleveland police had handcuffed her distraught son and daughter and forced them into the cruiser after they discovered their brother, who was alone on the ground and dying.

The story on my wall got enough traction to earn what I am learning is the dreaded “trending” designation on Facebook. Suddenly, people who had never visited my page before began flooding my Facebook page with bile.

I spent hours deleting and blocking. That is not a complaint. It is a privilege to host a forum where the participation of so many good people draws the attention of those who most fear them. That is, after all, what drives racists. They fear whom they refuse to understand — and must also hate those who are trying.

I say all that now, but on that evening by midnight, after deleting all those awful comments, I was feeling depleted, until I started reading private messages from regular commenters. So many good-hearted people feeling despondent, but not defeated.

To despair is to surrender. This is what the racists want, of course, and it is why they will never win.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Photo: Protesters and police face off at the intersection of University and Sixth as protesters demonstrate against police violence in Berkeley, CA, on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

  • GraceAdams830

    I know it would be more work for those managing the website, but maybe moderating the comments would be a compromise that would allow weeding out the worst racist comments without stopping accepting comments altogether.

    • Whatmeworry

      Not to mention the liberal nonsense

    • Daniel Max Ketter

      I would agree with that

  • sigrid28

    Some of us who once posted items on NM comment threads have taken a break, I see. Maybe it’s good to hear other voices, especially because it seems that no one was listening to ours.

    • charleo1

      I’m still listening! I hope you, and yours had a great Thanksgiving. The wife, and myself have been visiting family, and friends. Traveling across the Southland, clear to the Rio Grande. Then, back North, across OK. to Missouri, and finally back home thru the heart of Dixie, Mississippi. It always recharges my batteries, and provides new perspectives. To get in touch with this Country, we both write about so much, and care about so deeply. The thing that struck me most profoundly, is how parts of the rural Southland, are being devastated. And how plain it is to see, how much of it is intentional. When the political Party in control, is willing to do anything to gain unchallenged power. And when anything seems to include making life as tough as possible. For example, in the poorer States of OK. and MS. the price of gas was .30 to .40 cents higher, just across the State lines of TX. into OK. Or, coming South out of AK. into MS. The roads are a mess, in OK, as well as MS. Entire front streets of what I can see, were once prosperous small towns, are closed up, and abandoned. And always for me, the same question. How many dreams died here? And, always, the ubiquitous, Wal-Mart. Always, placed conveniently just outside the dusty downtown’s, jurisdiction. For tax purposes, I’m sure. As we drive down the center of the State of MS. this is the scene, mile, after mile, in one sad, failed town, after another. And I wonder too, is this what is to become of the entire Country one day? The people are mostly confounded, oblivious, and of course, widely blame the President for their misery. Which I suppose is typical. Even as they mostly support most all of the things he’s called for. Increasing the minimum wage, supporting small businesses against the corporate steamrollers, like Wal-Mart, and Home Depot. They want their home town banks, and their good jobs back, and their roads fixed. But don’t believe their Govt. can help. And so are at a total loss as to where to turn, except to God. So you keep posting my friend. As you can see, I’m still around, and as gabby, and opinionated, as ever. And I, for one can’t wait to read your next comments!

      • sigrid28

        Fascinating account of the South, which is not, as was widely rumored, rising again, it seems–but failing block by block and town by town. Thank you for taking the rest of us on this trip with you and your wife and sharing your insights. If you keep posting on the NM comment threads, so will I, but my heart is not in it.

        • charleo1

          It is definitely false, what they say about the hardscrabble, South. Man knows so little about his fellows. In his eyes all men or women act upon what he believes would motivate him if he were mad enough to do what the other man or woman is doing.

  • Whatmeworry

    What nonsense. These so called protests were orchestrated by Holder and Barak. The decisions made by the grand juries is how our legal system functions not by these communist agitators

    • Daniel Max Ketter

      Nope, these protests occurred when a white racist cop brutally killed an innocent colored boy with his hands in the air, and was acquitted by a secret jury of fascists. The feds will get to the bottom of this I’m sure

    • Charles Evans

      Same thing was said about us during the civil rights movement. Verbatim!

      • Whatmeworry

        It a nonsense then and its nonsense now

      • Whatmeworry

        It a no nonsense then and its no nonsense now

  • Charles Evans

    Quelling the hatemongers and racists will not change the fact that there are racists and hatemongers. We can finally dispel the notion that racism is dead and that haters are only in the south. It’s about time America woke up to the true reality of Americans. No more finger pointing at other countries for how they treat their citizens because America is no better. Never has been in my opinion. Social media has finally shown that the emperor has no clothes. And now the powers that be want to muffle the press and blind us. America! Home of the selective free who are not really so brave. Which is why they want to hide the truth……..