Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024|
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The Las Vegas Review-Journal published a short story Aug. 18 about a retired police chief who had been killed by a hit-and-run driver while bicycling four days earlier. The headline was, “Retired police chief killed in bike crash remembered for laugh, love of coffee.”
The story, the sort of bread-and-butter journalism that local newspapers produce every day, hardly seemed the kind to ignite brutal online harassment, threats and antisemitism directed at the reporter and the Review-Journal.
But that’s what happened this month — weeks after the story was published — when some social media users seized on the words “bike crash” in the headline to falsely accuse the Review-Journal and the reporter, Sabrina Schnur, of lying about the intentional killing of the retired chief, Andreas Probst, 64.
The attacks were set off by a video that began circulating widely on social media around Sept. 16. The video, recorded by a passenger in the car, showed that the teenage driver had intentionally hit Probst and had then driven off, laughing, police said.
Those attacking Schnur and the Review-Journal were either unaware of or were deliberately ignoring that police did not know about the video and had not charged the driver and passenger with murder when Schnur reported her story Aug. 18. Both teenagers have since been charged with that crime.
Elon Musk amplified the outrage on his social media platform, X, formerly Twitter. On Sept. 17, he reposted a screenshot of the outdated headline from Schnur’s story, with the words “bike crash” highlighted.
“An innocent man was murdered in cold blood while riding his bicycle,” Musk wrote to his 157 million followers. “The killers joked about it on social media Yet, where is the media outrage? Now you begin to understand the lie.”
Schnur and others who work at the Review-Journal were inundated with “obscenities, racist tirades and wishes of personal suffering and death,” Glenn Cook, the executive editor, wrote in a column Sept. 18.
“Such sentiments are, unfortunately, not new,” Cook wrote. “But the volume of filth we’re seeing right now is unprecedented in my tenure. It’s like a fire hose of hatred to the face.”
Schnur told media news site Poynter that she spent much of Sept. 17 crying and then moved out of her apartment, unsure when she would return. She was worried that people were digging through her social media posts from as far back as 2015, when she was a teenager.
“I started to feel genuinely unsafe at that point,” she told Poynter.
Schnur declined to comment to The New York Times. Cook did not respond to a request for comment.
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