Can we stop doing this?

There’s a disturbing trend in news recently where someone’s accomplishment is mentioned in only in passing but the bulk of the story is dedicated to the fact that Someone Said Something Ignorant About It On Twitter.

When Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, was crowned Miss America on Sunday night, the headlines followed suit. “Miss New York crowned Miss America for 2nd straight year, Twitter reacts,” said FoxNews.com.

Here’s what came up when I Googled “Miss America” this morning.


(screencap, 10:56 AM)

Racist tweets flow?

On Buzzfeed, Ryan Broderick helpfully assembled a list of some of the worst tweets about the fact that Miss America had crowned its first woman of Indian descent.

Yes, these sentiments are problematic. But are they so newsworthy? Do they really deserve second billing? It’s almost a formula now: “[Person of X Background] does [Remarkable Thing], People On Twitter Are Jerks About it.” Followed by the story, “Person Who Did Remarkable Thing Comments on Hateful Comments.” This is the part I wish we’d skip. For decades, in the privacy of their living rooms, people have said ignorant things when something happened on TV. This is not news, even if the second-screen experience means that the living room now includes the equivalent of carving your offhand mutterings unalterably into stone.

I understand that some of the thinking behind this is that publicity will shame these people. But I don’t think inserting their bile so prominently into this kind of coverage is working. Dave with 6 friends said something racist? Does it make a sound? Give me the old way, when the only people forced to know about these things were the unfortunates who were in the living room with him. Now that kind of hateful muttering winds up online and somehow merits a national reaction from its target. And, frankly, it doesn’t.

When we first set foot on the moon, the news article was not “Neil Armstrong walks on moon, numerous Americans in the privacy of their living rooms complain that ‘I don’t like that fellow’s looks.’ ” “John Glenn orbits the Earth, bunch of people complain about ‘that dubious Scotsman.’ ” “Thomas Jefferson pens Declaration of Independence, thousands wonder ‘whether that ginger can be trusted.’ ” This is not the story.

I really hoped, after we wound up making an 11 year-old boy comment on the racist tweets that greeted his performance of the national anthem, that we might have taken a second to think, “You know, maybe the best way of dealing with this kind of comment is not to dignify it by rubbing it in the face of the person who just did a nice thing for us.”

This isn’t the story. It’s the comments. Never read the comments.

“Some People Remain Hateful And Ignorant” could be a tag on almost any story. (“New iPhone unveiled; Some People Remain Hateful And Ignorant.”) I wish that fact were news. But it isn’t.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".