Newspaper Is Victim of Hate Campaign Over Bogus Reason

Online critics falsely accuse 'Las Vegas Review-Journal,' issue threats to reporter
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 21, 2023 11:20 AM CDT
Newspaper Is Victim of Hate Campaign Over Bogus Reason
The entrance to the "Las Vegas Review-Journal" in Las Vegas.   (KM Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

A Las Vegas newspaper is being viciously attacked online for its coverage of an alleged murder of a retired police chief, with critics guilty of either a misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt to mislead, per the AP. The "firehose of hatred" has led the Las Vegas Review-Journal to sift through email directed at one of its reporters to protect her from the worst of it, says the paper's executive editor, Glenn Cook. How all this unfolded:

  • Original story: On Aug. 18, four days after a 64-year-old former California police chief, Andreas Probst, was killed when he was struck by a hit-and-run motorist while riding his bike in Las Vegas, Review-Journal reporter Sabrina Schnur interviewed his family for a story. The headline: "Retired police chief killed in bike crash remembered for laugh, love of coffee."

  • New development: Then the story took a sinister turn. Video emerged, apparently taken by a teenage passenger in the car that hit Probst, suggesting that it was no accident. Charges against the 17-year-old driver were upgraded to murder on Aug. 29, and judges ruled on Wednesday that the two juveniles will be tried as adults. The video, described by Cook as a "snuff film," began circulating online, and the Review-Journal linked to an edited version of it last Saturday.
  • The attacks: That's when the attacks against the newspaper began. Someone created a social media post about the case, showing the headline from Schnur's Aug. 18 article and suggesting the Review-Journal had covered up the murder of a retired law-enforcement official—even though the article clearly came out before the video emerged.
  • Online mob: Cook said he couldn't speak to the motivations of whoever posted the insinuations, whether or not they knew the original story was published before the video surfaced. "What I can say definitively is the internet mob took no effort to fact-check," he said. "The internet mob was happy to spread the message, spread it and add their own animosity to the stew."
  • Elon Musk: The rush of online hate increased exponentially early Sunday when Elon Musk, owner of the former Twitter site now known as X, sent a message to his 157 million followers: "An innocent man was murdered in cold blood while riding his bicycle. The killers joke about it on social media. Yet, where is the media outrage? Now you begin to understand the lie." A spokesperson for Musk didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on Wednesday.
  • A change: At one point last weekend, to try and stop the flow of hate, Review-Journal editors changed the headline of the Aug. 18 article in its internet archive, replacing "bike crash" with "hit-and-run." That in itself opens up a can of worms: Should a news organization go back in history to change a story based on information that comes out after it was originally published? Cook said he reasoned that replacing "bike crash" with "hit-and-run" wasn't changing anything factually. Unfortunately, he said, "that fed the trolls even more."
  • A killing: It's a particularly sensitive topic at the Review-Journal, where a year ago its investigative reporter, Jeff German, was stabbed to death. One of the people German wrote about, Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, had attacked the reporter on social media and was later charged in the case and is awaiting trial.
(More Las Vegas Review-Journal stories.)

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