Friday, May 08, 2009

Prodigal Son

The complexities in posting certain kinds of news stories online, when reader comments are also displayed, may be obvious in cases of rape, racial discrimination, and police brutality items, where anonymous bigoted cranks may post comments supportive of abuse or even violence.

But it can be difficult to predict what kinds of stories will stimulate heated commentary and online flaming. An AP news story entitled "Missing 3-Year-Old Found In Woods After 2 Days" seems to demonstrate that even an innocuous and even uplifting child-rescue story can generate angry exchanges. Specifically, several readers took offense because the toddler's father's expressed a belief that the outcome proved the existence of divine intervention, while others tried to defend an interpretation based on God's will. Here is the offending sentence:

"It's undescribable how grateful we are," Childers said. "I mean, you doubt if God's actually with you for awhile, and then something like this happens, and you know he's there."

Irritated atheists offered several retorts to the father, including these two observations:

As much as the god of the Middle East likes to kill babies, the Flood, Jericho, the murder of the first born in Egypt, it is a wonder the little boy made it home at all, if indeed, the christian god had anything to do with this little man's return home.

Good news: the kid was found and he was okay. Hooray for the evolved resilience of young humans!
Bad news: god didn't save him.

Still other readers took issue with the quality of the reporting itself and the unflattering light in which it depicts the parents elsewhere in the article:

The way this story was written: "...while his father slept and his mother talked on the phone" left the parenting skills open to interpretation.

Local coverage does a slightly better job of telling this story, here's a quote from KSDK, a St. Louis based news station: "Police said Joshua disappeared as his father, who works nights, was asleep, and the little boy's mother was on the phone, for a period of about five minutes. The family spent about 45 minutes searching for Joshua before they called authorities."

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