Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bastard of the Day

My life has rarely been enriched by the Chicago Tribune Web site's message boards, but combative commenters have reached a new low arguing about the death of bicyclist and teacher Amanda "Mandy" Annis.

Cyclists and motorists have been duking it out on the Trib's message boards frequently this spring. Every article about bicycling draws hostile responses where each side condemns the behavior of the other. Discussions get especially heated regarding articles about cyclist deaths. Most commenters don't even pay attention to the facts behind each story -- they just trot out a tired litany of reasons the other side must be to blame.

I've grown used to the hatred and ill-formed arguments by now, but the comments about Annis really struck a nerve. For most of the day, the Tribune had a brief article about the incident. Anti-motorist and anti-cyclist commenters faced off in page after page of often mean-spirited messages. Then this afternoon, the Tribune replaced the brief with an in-depth article about Annis -- her kindness, her achievements, and perhaps most heartbreaking, her pending engagement. The Tribune included a photo of the smiling young teacher in her classroom. This was a woman who had already done good things in her 24 years and had an even brighter future.

After the updated story was published, a wave of comments from friends and family remembering Annis appeared on the message boards. Alas, they were interspersed with those of the warring factions who were unable to give up their pointless dispute, people who'd been quarreling all day and probably didn't even know the Tribune had posted a new version of the story. I wish those grieving for her didn't have to plow through such malicious nonsense.

And yet, it got worse. As family and friends wrote of this young life taken too soon, some bastards had the audacity to say, in essence, "Save your remembrances for the obituary. This is a news story, and you can't stop us from fighting about it."

For a sense of the intensity of the debate, look at how many comments were posted and the ID number of the last comment. As of 11:30 PM, there were 255 comments, and the last ID number was 319. That means 64 comments -- 20 percent -- were removed by Tribune editors for crossing the line of decency.

Annis' death is tragic by any measure. Shame on the bickering bastards who can't set aside their conflict for a little compassion.


UPDATE 05/02/2008 - In a Tribune commentary, Kevin Williams offers a suggestion:
...Wheel Freedom Day. No wheels. No skates, bikes, cars or cabs. Everybody's on foot until we all calm down. Because everybody is mad, and nobody is thinking.
Naturally, his commentary has drawn even more argumentative bastards into the fray. Meanwhile, Annis' smiling, young face graces the top of the Tribune's homepage this morning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a very close friend. I thank you for your kind words and perspective. jb