The strangest thing he's ever eaten? Crow

Dateline: Thu 26 Nov 2009

Better late to the table than not at all.

In that spirit, here's a review of an incident that started as a "water-cooler topic of the day" at the blog St. Louis Today, the web site for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. The subject was: "what are the strangest things you've ever eaten?...loosely based on a story about deer meat."

Dumb topics get dumb results, and worse -- another subhead for this story could be: why newspapers don't get it. Or in a more conciliatory vein, "are newspapers too rigid?"

Along with the expected answers to the dumb question --- bird's nest soup, octopus, cow's brains --- some guy posted a reply crudely referencing "a part of a woman's anatomy."

According to Post-Dispatch editor Kurt Greenbaum, director of social media for the paper, the comment was there for "only a minute" before a colleague deleted it.

But then it appeared again, right away. Greenbaum again hit the delete button, but noticed that the response was coming from a local school (read the original stories at links at the end of this post for an explanation of his sleuthing). To cut to the chase, Greenbaum actually called the school, sent them the email, and six hours later, the school's headmaster informed Greenbaum that he had confronted the culprit and the guy resigned on the spot.

Nice holiday touch -- the guy quit his job a week or so in advance of Thanksgiving. Over a word. On a website.

Then comes the fallout from readers, many of whom were pissed off at Greenbaum's heavy-handed tactics -- he was accused, he said, of using an atomic fly swatter to kill a gnat.

The followup story, in the second link, is his attempt to justify and explain his actions. While he sounds like a reasonable enough guy -- and one who does a good job trying to monitor what is an increasingly nasty readers' comments portion of most newspapers -- most readers are not buying it.

I am reminded of what former Star exec editor Frank Caperton used to say (in the wake of the Star running a feature story on a local strip-tease artist that bombed badly with readers): "We are a family newspaper...people invite us into their homes, and they still trust us to have standards of decency."

Maybe they do, but the web -- once again -- is a whole new arena.

I personally think Greenbaum way over-reacted. Just delete the stupid, vulgar, racist, sexist, homophobe comments, as quickly as possible. But human nature being what it is, the Thought Police will always lose, they should.

As for the poor slob out of a job ... better luck next time, and keep your smut to yourself.

As for Greenbaum and the strangest thing he's ever eaten? Crow it is.

Here are the links if you want more info on this....




Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Some wanker is auto-posting a sophomoric, obscene, sexist remark...he works for a school...and critics of the editor say he was heavy handed for outing the guy!?

The poster clearly has a screw loose and probably should not be allowed in a school, much less be employed by one.

I don't think Greenbaum over reacted as it turned out, given the circumstances, school thing and all. Might even surmise the guy was guilty of more, and quit because....

2009-11-26 21:48:37

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Wow, Tom....remind me not to put you in charge of anything remotely related to civil rights.

This guy was squirrel hunting with an atomic bomb.

Maybe he should've tried an e-mail to the offender, and said: "I've tried to be polite. This post is inappropriate. If you post it one more time I will trace it and if it's from work, go to your employer."

2009-11-27 04:06:15

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Come on, T3, at least give equal attention to the culprit's deeds, which not unjustly cost him his job.

If Greenbaum was overzealous, that's one issue. The idiot pussy poster was another issue, and the squirrel deserved to be sacked. (Posting what he did may have been sypmtomatic of other poor choices. The school may have been aware of other egregious behavior and this was a Final Straw. When you drop your pants in public, the excuse that your belt broke won't work...especially because it likely aint the first time. It isn't a question of free speech, freedom of expression, or even bad taste: it is a matter of somebody employed in a school, having contact with impressionable youths, and not having enough sense to realize the ill advisedness of what he is doing.)

2009-11-27 08:02:27

hendy [Member] said:

This topic has been reverberating through the blogosphere for some time now. A lot of it surrounds free speech and the effects of the Communications Decency Act.

One tenet of that act holds ISPs harmless for madness that is transported over its wires or servers. Moderate things, and suddenly you have at least some culpability for the content. Leave it alone, and it's a public place with all of the craziness that this implies.

I was a forum moderator before the CDA and have been doing something along those lines for more than 20 years. My personal judgment on the matter boils down to this:

1) the moderator can take the responsibility of maintaining decorum. He did this.

2) we (fortunately or not) hold teachers to a higher level of character than others. But they're human like the rest of us. Sex issues, however, are a really touch subject.

3) anything you say on any Internet forum, no matter how seemingly private, isn't. By being here, your privace is largely given up. Ruth can in short order track anyone visiting here to their very street address and computer. There is no trick to this; to do so is child's play. One can use anonymous proxies, but the very use of them makes you suspect to people in Black Suburbans.

4) The teacher messed up. Greenbaum was within his sense of responsibility to out this person. It was up to the teacher to resign. Carl Brizzi's just been outed as a board member in a vastly strange financial corp that's now under investigation. Will he resign his current positions? Nah. He's made of teflon. Teachers are not.

2009-11-27 08:32:43

nat [unverified] said:

"It isn't a question of free speech, freedom of expression, or even bad taste"

You're right - it's none of those. But it remains an idiotic move. Newspapers CRY for interaction then hunt down those that might have offended and get them fired...oh right.."resigned". This guy was lazy and wanted revenge instead of just doing his job - his justification article is laughable and basically says "I was too lazy to do x,y,z"

2009-11-27 08:42:15

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"This guy was lazy and wanted revenge instead of just doing his job - his justification article is laughable and basically says "I was too lazy to do x,y,z"

What does Greembaum's "laziness" have to do with school guys' bad judgement?

I don't exactly see how Greenbaum was lazy in what he did, but that is unimportant in context.

And yes, hendy, Brizzi ought to resign and I wait with bated breath to see what else surfaces, now the water has been chummed.

2009-11-27 09:49:35

nat [unverified] said:

He was too lazy to deal with the problem on his network so he tattled to a school to take care of the problem for him.

If it was the written policy of the paper to "out" people who may offend by contacting places of employment - and they practiced it - then I wouldn't care.

But this guy took it upon himself just to show some little punk kid a lesson (in his mind) and got a stupid idiot adult in trouble - and doing it by clearly violating his own site's policies.

The ends justifies the means to you all it seems - I disagree.

2009-11-27 10:28:08

nat [unverified] said:

Regardless of your position on this, you have to laugh when this guy says he "can't believe his fellow staffers haven't shared this with you"

May be a reason for that, bud. You gave a warning but will be that be enough? Video has "f" word in it at 1:19 - God help us all

2009-11-27 11:08:45

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

What if school guy had written expressly creepy posts, for example about what he likes to do to puppies and kitties, without using any specifically obscene idioms?

And school guy was found to be employed at a school?

Wouldn't this change the opinion of him from merely stupid, to threatening? (And wouldn't it be in the school's best interests to remove him from proximity to kitties and puppies?)

I was a card carrying member of the ICLU when the organization was even less popular than now, but I still don't see where Greenbaum is the villain in this scenario.

2009-11-27 11:23:27

ruthholl [Member] said:

There is some question as to whether Mr. Greenbaum violated his own employer's privacy policy. I will get into that as soon as I've read up on it.
This is a complicated issue, perhaps more so than meets the eye....
I am sure Greenbaum was as surprised, even shocked, as anyone, that the employee was fired.
I doubt if it was a teacher, since they are usually protected by unions and tenure, etc. I would be surprised if a teacher was fired on the spot.
For all we know, the person fired may have been on probation and/or had a history of troublesome issues.
I know the Star has been criticized, rightfully so, for some of the inane and insulting and even perhaps libelous comments on its web site. It's an old story that those sites are not well monitored. Greenbaum "did the right thing" by deleting but I still wonder if he over-reacted by contacting the source...again, I'll review the policy in an upcoming post.
Many thanks. Good comments as always, lively discussion...and this won't go away for awhile...

2009-11-27 13:08:50

nat [unverified] said:

Good luck Ruth

The privacy policy and terms of service of the site are clear to me but if I'm wrong I will admit my error.

Burning innocent people with the "Save the children" mantra doesn't settle well with me - I guess it takes all kinds...

2009-11-27 17:39:47

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"Burning innocent people"
And in this instance, that was...?

2009-11-28 20:51:40

John M [unverified] said:

I think it's unlikely that Greenbaum violated the privacy policy.

Greenbaum did not use information that identified the poster specifically, but used the IP information that allowed him to determine where it came from. Here's what the P-D's privacy policy says about how the P-D uses IP address information:

"Our web servers automatically collect limited information about your computer's connection to the Internet, including your IP address (but not the e-mail address), when you visit our sites. Your IP address does not contain personally identifiable information, nor does it identify you personally. <b>We use this information to deliver our web pages to you upon request, to tailor our sites to the interests of our users, and to measure traffic within our sites.</b>"

Obviously, Greenbaum was using the IP information from something other than delivery of web pages, tailoring the site to the interest of its users, or measuring traffic. So, does the P-D purport that the privacy policy describes the full extent of how the P-D will use information gathered? I think so:

"Welcome to the web sites of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, LLC. We (which includes our parent company, Lee Enterprises, Incorporated) believe in your right to know what information is collected during your visit to our web sites and how that information is used and safeguarded."

I think the clear implication of that introductory paragraph is that the policy is informing the reader, fully, of how information will be used. But there's more. In a paragraph misleadingly labeled "Compliance with legal process," the P-D says:

"We may disclose personal information if we or one of our affiliated companies is required by law to disclose personal information, or if we believe in good faith that such action is necessary to comply with a law or some legal process, to protect or defend our rights and property, <b>to protect against misuse or unauthorized use of our web sites or to protect the personal safety or property of our users or the public</b>."

In other words, if Kurt Greenbaum had a good faith belief (i.e., not even a reasonable belief, but merely a sincere belief) that disclosure of personal information would protect against "misuse...of our websites," or would "protect the personal safety...of...the public," then he was entitled to disclose "personal information." Of course, there is no definition of "personal information," and it could be argued that the IP information, which is not "personally identifiable," is not "personal information," but that seems to be a thin reed. In sum, perhaps the big story is that the P-D's "privacy policy" is almost completely illusory.

This seems like a bad decision. There is a clear distinction between a single-word vulgarity and a threat. A single-word vulgarity doesn't indicate that this person shouldn't be in contact with children.

2009-11-30 08:11:08

hendy [Member] said:

Greenbaum did not fire the teacher. The school system did not fire the teacher. The teacher *resigned* as a result of the disclosure of the 'deed'.

There was no threat. There was an utterance of a vulgarity. If you curse on this site, you can't post, because most vulgarities are subject to a filter here. If I use a word about a little blue pill that treats a certain condition in men, that word also prevents posting. My sites have a similar filter mechanism to prevent spam.

Would I have 'outed' the teacher? Probably not.

2009-11-30 08:39:22

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"Would I have 'outed' the teacher? Probably not."

Nor I, hendy.
But the issue was, should Greenbaum be castigated because he did. And I still say he should not.

2009-11-30 14:49:50

nat [unverified] said:

Thanks for the excellent rundown on the policies John M.

I think Greenbaum took an unusual detour on normal procedure so he could set a student straight and it went somewhere he never imagined. His company had a weak policy that wouldn't hinder him in the least so he's all clean and shiny good.

The profane poster was an idiot and so was Greenbaum imo. Fun discussion though, folks!

2009-11-30 15:26:44

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