Yesterday, The Independent published a story of their interview with Liam Neeson, where he said that about 40 years ago, he wanted to kill a black person because they raped a friend of his. He said that for a week afterwards, he walked the streets with a cosh (a crowbar-like object), hoping that a person of color would antagonize him.
It was some time ago. Neeson had just come back from overseas to find out about the rape. “She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,” Neeson says. “But my immediate reaction was…” There’s a pause. “I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.
“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could,” another pause, “kill him.”
Neeson clearly knows what he’s saying, and how shocking it is, how appalling. “It took me a week, maybe a week and a half, to go through that. She would say, ‘Where are you going?’ and I would say, ‘I’m just going out for a walk.’ You know? ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘No no, nothing’s wrong.’”
“It’s awful,” Neeson continues, a tremble in his breath. “But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing,’ you know?”
So, to summarize, he:
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1. admits to truly horrific behavior 40 years ago
2. admits to questioning his horrific behavior
2. admits that he was wrong for his behavior.
But of course, #2 and #3 aren’t the stories that you’re seeing in your social media feeds.
Of course, people on the internet seized on the opportunity to be outraged instead, truth and full story be damned.
Liam Neeson: I was racist for two weeks but I came out stronger x
— bolu babalola (@BeeBabs) February 4, 2019
I'm so curious about Liam Neeson's decision to say that instead of, you know, not saying that
— new year, same shrill (@theshrillest) February 4, 2019
Liam Neeson is definitely a reminder that there are folks who walk around hoping to provoke Black people so they can kill us.
A lot of them are in law enforcement and politics.
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) February 4, 2019
(These were a sampling from a truly atrocious article by Woke Sloth)
I honestly think that this is a mixture of laziness and willful ignorance. It’s not all that different from #SmirkGate which I recently wrote about.
What’s happening is that people are forming opinions based on incomplete data. They are hearing that Neeson said things that on their own, are horrifying. So they’re running to Twitter and Facebook to post about it in hopes that they can accrue enough likes that they win the internet for that day. Meanwhile, the truth is this is exactly the type of story we need to be hearing more of.
Isn’t this precisely the type of behavior we want to see? Someone who is thinking about their own thinking, then admitting that they were wrong?
We can’t call for people to change, then harangue them for changing.
If we do this, no one will take us seriously, and we end up being like a snake that has turned into a circle and is devouring itself.
It’s an honest and extremely humanizing story. If you’re an adult who can claim that you’ve never felt blind rage – illogical thoughts due to your brain being clouded by emotion – you’re either lying or are a sleeper agent for the army of robots that will overthrow humanity by the end of the century.
In our rush to be the first of our friends to share a thought about a story, we often assume the worst of humanity and let our personal bias affect our presentation of the truth. That behavior has no doubt been exacerbated by Trump and his administration during his presidency because, duh, you’re probably correct to assume the worst of them.
But what we need to do a better job of is not rushing to crucify people on social media just because we see a salacious clickbait headline that fits comfortably within our personal worldviews.
And look, I’m not saying that the people who bought into the outrage machine are stupid. It’s too simplistic to call someone who falls for something like this “stupid” because even the most well-educated person can be duped by shoddy reporting and hyped-up news.
I’m in the ‘viral news’ biz to some extent, so I feel like I understand why some publishers choose to go down the outrage porn rabbit hole. It makes for great business, you’ll get a lot of clicks on your content, make a lot of money, and in a week or so, people will completely forget all about it and you’re off the hook. I mean, look at the “yuge” BuzzFeed story a couple weeks ago Trump… You know, the one that the Mueller team itself said “nuh uh” to. Nobody is really talking about that anymore, and most consumers of online content don’t particularly care.
Based on the comments, I don’t think I was clear enough about this with my #SmirkGate piece, so I want to make it clear now. I’m not excusing Neeson’s behavior (or the behavior of the kids). I’m not saying Neeson wasn’t in the wrong. I’m not actually saying anything at all about Neeson other than regurgitating facts.
What I’m asking is for publishers and people alike to take more responsibility for their reporting and consumption of news stories. Fully read articles before you re-post them as if they are fully true.
If something seems too good to be true or too perfectly designed, dig deeper. When I first saw the Neeson story or heard about #SmirkGate, my first reaction was the same as everyone else’s – I was angry, and almost wrote a post about both of them for my website. But I paused and tried to look at it from another angle to see if I was missing the full story, which I was.
It’s completely natural to allow our emotions to cloud our thinking, but decisions based on fear and emotion often aren’t representative of reality. (See also: Trump’s border wall.)
If we stop rewarding poor behavior from publishers, they will be forced to change how they cover stories. If they don’t change, they will die. Either way, the world will be a better place.