W.P. Norton

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AFTERMATH: To stand with Comet against fake news, trolls and pizzagate

In pizzagate, standwithcomet, W.P. Norton, Washington D.C. on December 7, 2016 at 11:47 am

The trolls of #pizzagate failed to get anyone killed this time, but they’d sure love it if they could, and the bastards need to know they’re being watched.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dear owners, staff and patrons of Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor: Being new in town, I had no idea you existed until the fake-news-inspired gun attack at your premises on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.

But I live pretty close by, and since that day have taken many walks over to your northwest D.C. block, and talked to folks outside, and discovered the brilliant Politics & Prose Bookstore a couple of doors down from you. And all this has changed my life.

Now, here’s where I ask those with no connection to Comet Ping Pong to give me your eyes, because I’m trying something new and hard for me—which is, to take a stand. When I was a young news reporter, an old-school veteran of The New York Times drilled it into me never to share my politics or positions on issues. Everybody has their opinions, he said, but we in the news business had to strike a public stance of careful objectivity.

It was a sacrament with which I did my best to keep the faith in jobs I worked at papers like The Capital Times in Madison, Wisc., The Moscow Tribune in Russia and the Miami Herald International Edition. And it’s hard for me to break that rule here, even though I swore off newspapering after the February 2016 passing of my gorgeously gifted bride Sarah Kershaw, who for 11 years gave all she could to The New York Times—a job she loved, even if, like most jobs, it never really loved her back.

With the the dogged dedication of my early mentor—who was Sarah’s hands-down favorite professor when we were both at University of Wisconsin-Madison—my wife spent thousands of working days and nights hunting down the details, facts and first-hand voices you need to report news that people can trust. This is called #realnews. It’s a thing we used to think preserved the people’s trust in the stories we reported.

Fabricating stories—that is, writing #fakenews—was the gravest sin to Sarah, our mutual teacher and all the scribblers of that fading breed who saw the work as not merely a job, but a vital public service.

So it’s come to this: the fake news #pizzagate allegations came perilously close to causing bloodshed in a family restaurant 1.6 miles from my residence on Dec. 4. Knowing the intensity of Sarah’s passionate commitment to public-service journalism, I’m certain those brazen falsehoods and that godforsakenly overused suffix (pizzagate? really?) would’ve pushed her past the peak of outrage. Within days of the attack, Sarah would have dug up a mountain of reporting, scored get-worthy interviews from every side, and helped the nation ratchet down this madness.

In consideration of all this and what I owe to Sarah’s legacy I say, if ever in my life there was a time to take a stand, this is it. So here goes: Comet Ping Pong, you and your whimsical name and your friendly staff are awesome. Your street has a supportive and neighborly vibe that makes me feel welcome and at home in a city I’ve never lived before. The trolls of #pizzagate failed to get anyone killed this time, but they’d sure love it if they could, and the bastards need to know they’re being watched.

Anyways. People of Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor, Politics & Prose, please count me among your regular customers and vocal supporters. I stand with you, and urge everyone reading this to do the same.

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