Public Editor

June 13, 2013

To expose or to ignore bigotry?

Recent stories about ugly, racially-tinged social media uproars have gotten people talking. But some people also say the media should play an active role — by ignoring the topic.

Two of the most popular stories on in recent weeks concerned essentially the same topic: bigotry in social media. And in both cases, much of it was directed at adorable little children.

Late last month, Features columnist Jenee Osterheldt

addressed the shocking reaction in some dark corners of Twitter and Facebook

over a commercial for Cheerios that depicted a fictional biracial family and their daughter.

“I was especially happy to see Cheerios portray an everyday family that just happened to look like my own as a kid: white mom, black dad, mixed daughter,” Osterheldt wrote, correctly noting that these types of families are hardly rare these days.

The Star’s Tony Rizzo, a white father of black children,

wrote about the commercial too.

Then this week, Lisa Gutierrez wrote about similar

online ugliness over an 11-year-old Mexican-American boy who sang the National Anthem at an NBA finals game

. It wasn’t hard to find all sorts of nasty tweets about the talented young singer from San Antonio, who many people erroneously assumed to be an illegal immigrant.

But despite all the racist garbage, social media also showed a strong outpouring of positivity and condemnation of the hate. And I’m hearing voices now that have criticized The Star for highlighting the bigotry in the first place.

“There have always been ignorant people. Social media has just finally given them a louder voice. So let’s stop spreading their hate by giving them news coverage,” wrote Jody Strauch on

The Star's Facebook page


“Perhaps this story and the attitudes behind it should have been ignored. Instead we're having this conversation,” wrote Darrell Lea. “It’s an endless circle.”

I’ve highlighted similar criticisms from readers for many years, and I think they illustrate an interesting argument.

Yes, it’s a little bit of chicken and egg. I do agree that we’d all probably be in a better place if we didn’t see and hear so much negativity — and especially when it’s in the form of inchoate intolerance.

But I’d argue it’s also important to expose this sort of thing. I don’t hear much bigotry from the readers who contact me, but it does exist. Journalists have to tell the bad along with the good, even when we don’t want to acknowledge it.

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