It’s a bawdy, raucous and, at times, a repulsive place. People talk trash, call each other names like ‘retard’ and ‘liberal puke’, dish sarcasm, spread rumors and spew hate.
It was supposed to be more like a coffee shoppe than a neighborhood bar, more a place for erudite discussion, than a place to vent the dregs of a dark mind.
But, that has not been the case with Shout, the community forum on The Press Web site.
Shout is a popular place to see comments from the neighborhood. In the last three months, 2,153 visitors followed two popular ‘threads’, blog slang for topics, and left 174 comments. Oregon politics was the hottest topic.
That’s nothing new. Oregon is a city with a rich history of mud slinging. In the nasty 1991 election, the Democratic party ousted four of its members for their refusal to snap to. Two of them, Marge Brown and Mike Seferian, ran for mayor this election. Brown made amends with the party long ago and has been the endorsed candidate the last three mayoral elections. Seferian never sought to rejoin the fold and last week won the race as an Independent.
Two years later, another rebuked Democrat, former mayor James Haley, declared himself an Independent and won a write-in campaign collecting nearly 3,000 votes beating another former mayor, endorsed Democrat Leonard Wasserman. Haley had done what no other politician in Ohio had done--win a municipal mayoral election as a write-in.
Fast forward 18 years later. The names are the same: Brown and Seferian, once teammates as Democrats, then teammates as Independents, then rivals in the 2001 and 2009 mayoral races. Naturally, the long-standing acrimony in the community is evident on Shout.
Just like in a neighborhood bar, the loudest yappers are the most obnoxious.
Here’s a couple of samples from two threads about the mayor’s race: This from Concerned, “She (Mayor Brown) is a coward that hides behind Law Director Paul Goldberg and takes him to every event so she doesn’t put her foot in her mouth.”
And this from someone claiming to be Josh Stevens, “Dump the b**** and make the switch.”
Or, this from Gene S, “Ask Mike (Seferian) about his scandals when his wife was dying…This is the guy you want running our city? A criminal?”
Where did civility go?
This tone drags other Oregonians into the gutter. Here’s one from someone calling herself ‘Bad Teeth’ commenting on the Mayor Brown’s son, Jeff Brown, recently suspended for improperly using a police computer to harass a former girlfriend, “So her son had some innocent fun--who hasn’t? What happens in private stays in private…Everyone lies, has sex and uses computers. Hypocrites. Heathens.”
Well, ‘Bad Teeth,’ a dispatcher in Northwood resigned to avoid criminal prosecution for improperly accessing a police computer and Helen Jones-Kelly, the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, was suspended for a month by Governor James Strickland for using a state computer to access personal information of Sam Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber.
While most visitors have refrained from using profanity--one of the rules before posting comments--there’s no such restraint on name calling. Consider these used by the man who calls himself Josh Stevens—‘retard,’ ‘fat tub of lard’ and ‘liberal puke.’”
My bet is that Josh drinks alone.
Interspersed among the rancor, rumor and raucousness are intelligent, thoughtful people who actually want to know the differences between the two candidates and what their neighbors think about the issues. This was the hope when The Press launched Shout. We had hoped to appeal to the best in you, but we appealed to the worst. We have attracted those who want to exact revenge, ridicule public officials, or spit bile. But, just when you find yourself fed up with the nastiness, a sane visitor tells someone to knock it off or they’ll track down their Internet provider address and put a real name to the fake name they are using. And, more impressively, a heroine sometimes appears. Like this poster who calls herself Kathy Burgess, “This is to Josh Stevens. I just have one thing to say to you and that it is extremely hard to take anything you say seriously when you lower yourself to call someone “retard,” or any names for that matter. I think it is time for you to grow up and be respectful of others including yourself. I invite you to spend the day this Saturday with me at the Oregon rec to volunteer your time for Special Olympics.…If you are not willing to do that than all I can say is shame on you for your bad choice of words…I would find it hard to vote for anyone who would support such words out of their citizens.”
Kathy Burgess is not the only hero on Shout. Others also try to rein in obnoxious posters. That’s encouraging at a place where anonymity, not alcohol, loosens the tongue to talk faster than the mind thinks. There are a few rules, however, and I encourage you to read them before you join the fray and see what your neighbors are really like.