Something needs to be cleared up. Two weeks ago, WW freelancer Jason Simms wrote an article about a clash pitting a few online commentators at Portland Independent Media Center (portland.indymedia.org) against the members and fans of a band called Wolfgang Williams and the Punk Rock Faggots (see "Punk Rock Faggots Come Under Fire," WW, March 8, 2006). But what started as a story about an honest debate has turned, at the hands of a few Indymedia contributors, into a rather dishonest debate.
Here are the basics: I assigned Simms to write an article about an incident described in an Indymedia article written by a contributor named "Topher." Topher claimed that he had been ridiculed and called a "faggot" by crowd members while protesting the Punk Rock Faggots at a music festival held at Reed College on Feb. 25.
In an attempt to get Topher to comment for the story, Simms emailed an early, unedited draft to Topher (ed. note: bad idea). Simms says his aim was to show the activist his reporting was not biased. Topher chose not to speak with WW, and posted Simms' unfinished story on the Indymedia website on March 5. It was followed by the shorter version that appeared in WW three days later.
Twelve comments followed the posted stories, most of which carried sentiments similar to those posted by a friend of Topher's named "Salaud," accusing Simms of siding with the Punk Rock Faggots, and deriding WW, asking how "twisted and lost corporate media can be."
But what about Salaud's own twisted sense of truth? There are flecks of distortion throughout the comments on the Indymedia site, but the most egregious instances come from Salaud. In order to illustrate WW's supposed bias against Topher, he identifies this as being from the "final version" of the WW: "A [sic] innocent local band of high school punks was targeted only by activists who only work online at an event put on by the altruistic promoters www.PDXPress.net (click here!), but why?"
Sounds like we love the fest's organizers, doesn't it? Well, WW never ran that sentence. Salaud also identified another quoted sentence as being "how it went in draft": "Our friends at PDXPress.net (click here!) tried to save a charity on the verge of ruin, some activist named 'Topher' gave a speech, he was heckled, thank you for your views activist, now let's move on to the music."
This incredibly biased, poorly written sentence would never have made it past my desk and into the paper. But I didn't have a chance to fix this sentence, because I never saw it and Simms never wrote it. Salaud was just quoting his own slanted "summary."
What really ran in WW was this: "On Saturday, Feb. 25, PDXPress.net sponsored a benefit concert at Reed College that raised $900 for Oregon Books to Prisoners. A product of the punk website's altruism, the event hardly seems objectionable. So how did it become a flashpoint for online social activists? Seven words: Wolfgang Williams and the Punk Rock Faggots." The story goes on to focus on the debate that took place at the event and continued online.
Salaud probably believes he was just paraphrasing (I have to assume because he refuses to go on the record). But that doesn't change the fact that these "quotes," filled with falsehoods wrapped in cynicism, appear to be attributed to WW. At a time when websites have as much reach as traditional media, this distortion is dangerous.
It's time for Salaud, and some other Indymedia posters, to accept the accountability that comes with being a legitimate news outlet. And it's time for the site's administrators not just to expect contributors to write in a "thorough, honest, accurate manner," as stated on the website, but to demand it, and censure commentators like Salaud.
For Portland Indymedia thread about the WW article, click here (www.portland.indymedia.org/en/2006/03/335542.shtml). To see what was really written, click here (http://www.wweek.com/editorial/3218/7299).