Commentary on Published News Articles: Yea or Nea?

An interesting article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch notes how another paper is eliminating story comments. It notes the increased requirement to call for full real names on comments, and how some papers are going so far as to require credit card verification. This touches on a pet peeve of mine (one I’ve mentioned before): the increasingly antagonistic, hateful, and incendiary nature of public commentary. It began with the (to use a Tom Leykis expression) “right wing wackos” on talk radio, and has spread to the commentary on posts all the time (just look at any USA Today article’s comments). The commentary seems heavily skewed to the neocon, Tea Party voices that believe Obama and the Democratic leadership are the cause of every problem in the world, and if the US were just a Christian nation under appropriately conservative leadership, the world would be rainbows and unicorns with balanced budgets everywhere.

It is useful to remember how the world was before the ability to comment on web articles existed: people had to take to write physical letters to the editor (which is more of an effort than tossing off a single paragraph flippant comment). They had mail those letters (costing postage). The editors then reviewed the letters, tossed the ones that were obvious crackpots, and printed the best of the bunch. These tended to be the letters with the most cogent arguments.

Reading the comments on this post demonstrates how that process has been forgotten. For example, “The Underboss” writes: “Why not do away with the freedom of speech while your at it.” Here, he demonstrates as little understanding of the constitution as Christine O’Donnell: No one is restricting his freedom of speech: he can create a website or blog to post his comments as he wishes. What is restricted is his ability to have a private publication publish his words without review and proper attribution.

Consider “JohninStCharles”: “If real names were used, would the PD then be accountable if person A did not like person B’s comments and some sort of physical retribution occurred?” How is this different than old letters to the editor, which required real names. Shouldn’t people be held responsible when they write incendiary speech?

Consider “OhDarn”: “I hate the group think of you libs. You don’t like Rush or Fox so you want them off the air. You are hateful controlling people and I would never post under my real name or I would need 24 hour security.” I think this speaks for itself, and the world view of the poster.

I’d like your opinion: What is the role of open commentary on published news articles? Is it a necessary feature in today’s world? Should it be moderated? Should real names be required, and should there be a means of verifying those real names? [Note to FB folks: Remember you can sign into to LiveJournal with your FB ID to comment.]