Editorial: Civility, and keeping it real

NORWALK, Conn. – Facts are the natural enemy of partisanship.

Facts don’t lie, although partisans often lie about facts. They make them up. In fact, they yell them from the rooftops until they become, in the minds of other partisans and those previously undecided on an issue, the truth.

One of my earliest examples of becoming aware of this was during the 1988 presidential election: the infamous, racist Willie Horton ad, blaming Dukakis for creating a prisoner furlough program that allowed Horton, a convicted murderer, to have weekend furloughs. Horton escaped and, a year later, committed a brutal assault and battery and rape in Maryland.

The program was, in fact, created by Dukakis’s Republican predecessor, Frank Sargent. A similar furlough program was created by California governor Pat Brown, a Democrat, and continued by his successor, Ronald Reagan, who, according to an Associated Press report in 1988, touted the program and ended it under pressure after two furloughed inmates were charged with murder. And then there was the federal prison furlough system under the Reagan-Bush administration.

Once again, never let facts stand in the way of a brutal partisan attack, be it personal or professional.

Which brings us back to Norwalk, and 2013.

In 10 days, NancyOnNorwalk.com will mark its one-year anniversary. During that one year, we have seen the site grow from a couple dozen unique visitors a day to as many as 1,000 (we did have 3,155 unique visitors one day, when we broke the Brawl at City Hall story, which drew statewide and national attention).

Also during that year, we have seen some of the best and worst Norwalk has to offer in terms of online behavior. We tout our readership for its intelligence and high level of discourse compared with other news sites. We have tried to moderate comments, first gently, then more attentively, and, more recently, with a heavier hand. Still, there persists a tendency, especially as election day nears, for folks hiding behind, as one commenter so aptly put it months ago, “the cloak of anonymity,” to smear, insult, distort and just make things up as if they were fact.

Commenters do this to each other, and to us. The most highly and viciously partisan commenters attack us frequently to try to discredit the site. This is not a Norwalk phenomenon.

It is interesting – to us, at least – to note that there are people in Norwalk who believe we should end the policy of allowing anonymous comments. Those people include, not surprisingly, Mayor Richard Moccia, who railed against the policy before NoN was conceived, casting aspersions on the integrity of a news site that would allow anonymous comments; mayoral candidate Harry Rilling; and sometimes contributor Bill Dunne, a noted communications professional and conservative active in local politics. There are many others who decry the policy as well, and some brave souls who use their real names despite the policy.

We even disagree in-house. I have come to side with the mayor, Rilling and Dunne; Nancy and our son, Eric, who have votes equal to mine, disagree. The reasons? Using one’s real name has a chilling effect on some people who fear retribution from others in the community and from people in power. There is also the potential for prospective or current employers to find posts offensive. Another reason to be against insisting on real names? There are people who, under the shroud of secrecy, return to the site several times a day to post comments, jacking up site traffic numbers that encourage advertisers.

Before you accuse us of being dishonest about traffic based on that, consider this: Come to the site, click on a story and read the whole thing. Hit your “back” button and pick the next story. So that is one click per story. Go to The Hour and see how many times you have to click to find the story and to read it from beginning to end. Go to The Daily Voice and click on a story, then just try using your “back” button to return to the home page. These sites, like many others, are designed to make you click several times to enhance their page view numbers.

But I digress.

While we are not, at this time, going to insist on real names to comment, we are going to take a heavy hand to moderating comments. Frankly, we are tired of opinions being stated as facts. We are tired of people who ascribe motives to others based on nothing but partisan or personal bias. We are tired of the name-calling. And, frankly, we are tired of having to defend ourselves from partisan attacks by people who haven’t a clue as to who we are or what we think.

We will not respond to any more charges of bias. No amount of facts will change a partisan’s mind. We will not allow gratuitous accusations impugning our motives or integrity. Want to say the site shows a bias and cite examples? You are entitled. Want to say we support all Democrats and liberals and we are working to get them elected? Dead wrong, and that won’t make it onto the site. Want to call us out on facts? Please do. We want to be accurate.

To that end, if the “facts” in a comment are suspect, we will, if we have time, fact  check them. If you have a link, please include it. If we are short on time, or cannot confirm the statement, or find it is inaccurate, the comment will be disallowed.

Lest we encourage animal rights groups to descend upon us, we will no longer allow commenters to beat dead horses. Make your point and move on. In the interest of maintaining sanity of the majority of our readers, we will decide when enough is enough and stop allowing repetitious comments.

We want to elevate the discourse to something more than playground sniping and bullying and name-calling. We want to stop the incessant carping about the same thing with no new information. We don’t want to be like other sites that cater to the lowest common denominator. We do not believe the vast majority of our readers come anywhere near that category.

We welcome all political persuasions, all points of view. But keep it civil, keep it on the issues, and keep it based in reality.


20 responses to “Editorial: Civility, and keeping it real”

  1. Anon

    Thank you, NON, for redfining, highlighting and remiding us all, that we are adults and should conducts ourselves accordigly, especially in public. It is welcomed that some non-sense, that only encourages more non-adult public tantrums, will be steered towards more mature, reasoned, respectful behaviours in this, respected, free speech public forum. Other news sites have the same issues. We have a large segment in society that has slipped through the cracks of our education infrastructure and unfortunately and sadly we are witnessing the results. Did you ever notice, that the ones
    that draw the most attention by throwing the biggest tantrums and making the most and loudest racket are the ones that have little to absolute nill knowledge about the subject/issue or even life? Far as (anon) postings, two sides to the coin. That said one side shines brighter with truth than the other. Many other publications have struggled with the commenters policies. When Quaddaffi wasn’t allowed to set up his tent in Jersey, after the local residents found out he was coming and raised hell, Trump stepped in, after Qudaffi was refused service by every hotel in NY, Trump allowed Quadaffi to set up his tent at Trump’s Westchester resort.
    So, Qudaffis could make his famous last UN speech, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKMyY2V0J0Y runing some 98 minutes, speaks for itself as to the need to moderate mentally off minds in public forums. Anyway, Word got out and Hearst papers were inundated with nasty comments about Trump. Trump threatened to sue Hearst and guess what, HEARST succumb to pressure and caved, closed down the comments and reopened with registered accounts only. When asked in an interview after Quaddaffi was killed,”why he allowed Quaddaffi to stay at his sprawling Westchester resort”? Trump responded ” hey it was cash and I ripped Quaddaffi off and kept Quaddaffis deposit.” Those factual eveants an in themselves strong reasons why we need to allow anon comments. If power can squelch free speech with money, than whats it all about anyway? If a guy like Trunp can control Hearst what does that say about where we are? Whats distnguihes an independent journo site from a state controled one, or, in our case a corporate controlled press and yes government. It increasing the workload to moderate carefully to keep it real and halfway sane but hey we need jobs right? People can get off track and loose focus posting anon occasionally but thats why we have mods. To close off all windows of outside fresh air from vulnerable ones, inside with no air, well to many journos its a no brainer. We desperately need the checks and counter checks and balances that are forefathers designed and built into this fondation we call a democracy. They understood how all corrupting governece can be, if unchecked. Our system, what we call a democracy, can not flourish, no less survive if we close the windows on what checks we have left and stiffle the voices of truth and wisdom. Manning, Assange, Snowden are designated enemies of the state. What state are we in anyway when someone is trying to shine a light on something wrong and we designete them enemies? Let us all be inspired by 16 year old Malala Yousafzai
    and heed the vitally important lessons of her story, her voice, her maturity beyond many adults. We can not and must not let those voices like Malala and so many others including journos that have sacrificed so much, be silenced. We must carry the torch of truth, forward for all. If we fear the truth, if we cower to power, than what do we have left? And what has all that blood, been shed for?
    There are reasons why we have witness protection programs and ethical journos will go to jail to protect vulnerable sources. We need to protect and yes promote voices of reason and clarity that are vulnerable to retalation. Voices that need to be heard and not muffled by the megaphones of manipulation of the masses with the distraction of propaganda.
    That said, its no easy responsibilty and task for mods and editors. No clearly defined foul lines. So the need for referee’s (moderators) should be seen as simply part of the overhead and investment in the service/product in a society that promotes and inspires protected free speech and checked power/governence.

  2. Don’t Panic

    Thank you Nancy, Mark and Eric. We look forward to the continued journalistic integrity from you and this site.

  3. M Allen

    I guess we won’t be hearing about the Mayor’s thugs anymore? Or Tim T’s hatred for the police? lol the site will be so bare.

    The loss of anonymity would have a “chilling effect.” That’s funny. Nobody here is blowing a whistle. They are making comments. They just choose to use the terms and language they do because there is no possibility of being found out. The act of being up front about their identity would not have a chilling effect, it would have the effect of forcing the to think about their choice of words before they speak. What a horrible concept. I mean, why join the real world?

  4. Suzanne

    M Allen, while there are many who debate the anonymity of contributors to threads like these, including the Chapmans, I side with those who believe contributors can be more frank and open without fear of retribution while remaining anonymous. While some manipulate this for the “bully pulpit” (as in harasser not as in positive platform) or to harangue and not represent supported opinions, I do not feel I am one of those people. I appreciate the anonymity for the following reasons: I can write what I truly feel is true and correct from my perspective based upon what information I know about the subject; I do not have to worry about personal attacks as a result; I find the vociferous and sometimes rude nature of the interchanges on this forum and others threatening and uncomfortably antagonistic; My privacy and protection from those who disagree with me is very important to me; I do not want to live in a Norwalk where my home and my person does not feel a sense of sanctuary and protection simply because my opinion is somehow offensive to others. Whether an overreaction or not, I do not always feel safe in this world and my anonymity is important to me. Likewise, I would like to be able to participate in the community in a way I know how with as erudite language and thought as I can. My anonymity should not preclude me from this. I appreciate the continued NON policy regarding this and feel comfortable continuing to contribute as a result.

  5. RU4REAL

    I agree with Nancy and Eric, the threat of retaliation under the Moccia regime is REAL, you would most likely lose many commenters on this site, in particular anonymous city employees that give you tidbits of the crap that really goes on behind the scenes.
    Under Rilling you may be able to eliminate anonymous posters, but not with Moccia in office.

  6. D(ysfunctional)TC

    Using pen names goes back to Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson, Andy Hamilton, John Jay, Jim Madison, Aaron Burr. Much of that discourse was hardly flattering. Politics is a blood sport and you need to have thick skin. Retribution from those in power is also something to fear. We hardly have a King to worry about, but some do have customers. Michael Jordan said it best when asked why he isn’t politically active….”because Republicans buy sneakers too.” Sometimes NON seems to confuse sarcasm and wit with personal attacks. Vince Lombardi said it best here…”people who don’t get carried away from time to time should be”.

  7. D(ysfunctional)TC

    You forgot CBS News and Dan Rather who fabricated a story about GWB being awol. The fourth estate is hardly indefensible and very capable of exaggerating where it suits their personal inclinations, even if they truly think they are being completely objective. It isn’t something to be ashamed about, just an undeniable reality of human behavior.

  8. Daisy

    I haven’t got much to worry about anymore, having moved away a while back (not far, but away). BUT, 5 years ago I’d have been terrified of my then boss reading what I had to say.

  9. Daisy

    Forgot to say – he was famous for retribution, putting people on his “list” – and he’s been all over this blog. It is what it is, although that’s obviously not democracy.

  10. Piberman

    Let’s encourage NON to follow the standard practice of noteworthy media in democratic societies in printing only opinions signed by actual names. Not hiding. What major publication in CT prints comments or articles using hidden or false names ? And let’s encourage NON editors to avoid determining “facts” but encourage enlightened, well written opinions. Let’s encourage NON to bend over backwards to avoid the appearance of partisanship. More than a few readers view NON as Norwalk’s Democratic voice. . Avoiding repetitious series of comments or conversations in print between a few individuals commenting on one topic would be a major improvement. Well written OpEds often have more lasting influence than the latest easily forgotten “news story”.

  11. Suzanne

    piberman, Please see the comment from “DTC” re: pen names. There is a long and storied history for this precedent and no reason not to include that when considering anonymity as opposed to full disclosure of one’s name. In addition, NON relayed in one of their articles this week that NO Republican candidate for City Council would be contributing their platforms via this venue due to “pressures from higher up” not to. That is self selection to not participate in a democratic (small D) exchange of views that diminishes this site not because NON dictated it but because the Republicans decided. That is a shame: I would rather hear more from all sides too, with the expected blow back, people have wide ranging and sometimes difficult opinions in this town, but if the Republicans choose not to participate, it seems like the proverbial lack of a “thick skin” and not the fault of pen names nor a lack of inclusion by NON.

  12. M Allen

    “Using pen names goes back to Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson, Andy Hamilton, John Jay, Jim Madison, Aaron Burr.”
    This is a mainly invalid argument, yet it gets tossed around like these men of substance never used voiced their real opinions in public under any other means. Pen something of substance then come talk about how you needed anonymity to make it happen. Better yet, be like Ben Franklin and publish your own material.
    But don’t worry. There is really little that can be done so all of the ghost posters have nothing to fear. There is always a way around giving up your real name so there is no real point in even trying. There will always be an excuse why people can’t or won’t stand behind their own words. The unfortunate issue is that the trade off for your personal protection from accountability for your words is that the conversation will always be hijacked by the moron who uses their anonymity to, well, be a moron.

  13. Suzanne

    I stand behind my words. I choose to do so anonymously.

  14. M Allen

    Although I am against anonymity (because of the element it tends to draw), I also understand safety concerns. Regardless of the topics discussed here, and their effect on the citizens who comment here, this is nothing but an internet chat room so accepting anonymity comes with the territory.
    What I do find a bit amusing is that the goal of this website, so vehemently supported (for now), is “to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety.” Yet the participants don’t quite want the same light shed upon them for the comments they leave behind. Nothing new about that. Scrutiny is for the other guy, right?

  15. Joe Espo

    Yourct.com went to the same paradigm. Look at what happened to that. But I agree that some of the defamatory 1000-line text-loops posted by a certain disgruntled commenter should have been controlled.

  16. Suzanne

    My words are perfectly available to you to freely and thoroughly scrutinize, M Allen. Not my personal life.

  17. Daisy

    Oh, and if anybody cares – the “boss” I was worried about retribution from is a big time Democrat, not Moccia, never had any problem with his folks and I knew/and still know many of them quite well.

  18. marjoriem

    Hmmmm…censorship? I prefer freedom of speech and let the truth be proven. There are many comments that might, in fact, be true, but seem to be “made up.” I know I am in the minority here, but I believe in freedom of speech. Isv’t that why we are such a great country?

  19. M Allen

    Everyone says that marjorie, but what is freedom of speech? The ability to say anything without the possibility of recourse? I’m fairly certain that when the founding fathers signed the Constitution they didn’t mean the ability to say anything about anyone at anytime without the possibility of recourse. Considering that duals still occurred, I’d say they were pretty OK with someone bringing a bit of recourse to the table. Just not the government. The first amendment was about protecting the right of the people from redress by the government. Not from each other. The dual was always an option.

  20. Norwalk Lifer

    It’s “duel”, and insofar as civility is concerned, Ben Franklin once said, “Don’t point that finger at me, it has a dirty nail at the end of it”.

    Norwalk Lifer

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