Update: The Herald posted a story update to its website at 6:45 p.m. today. Read it here.
By Billy Liggett
Visible as the most recent posted photo on The Sanford Herald’s Facebook page on June 2, 2014 — right below the patriotic cover photo from the previous week’s Memorial Day ceremony in Broadway — you see Sam Watson’s mug shot photo from May 29, taken moments after Watson was arrested for accessory to murder for his brother’s alleged stabbing death of a thrift store clerk in Sanford.
Click on that photo — one that shows a man whose eyes are heavy with sadness, brows curving upward in confusion — and you can read accompanying comments such as “Both high on something!” from Frances Godfrey and “They killed a wonderful lady” from Dina Owens.
Scroll down to two posts announcing the arrests of Sam and his brother, Christopher, and the name of the victim, Carol Chacon, and you’ll come across more than 100 comments — the ill informed calling for both brothers to be hanged … friends and family of the victim offering condolences and prayers … friends and family of Sam Watson urging the public to learn more about the case before tossing stones.
Urging the public to understand that maybe Sam Watson didn’t help in the murder.
Maybe he didn’t try to hide his brother. In fact — as many have pointed out — maybe he’s the guy who turned his brother in. Perhaps if the public knew this, a potentially innocent man’s mug shot wouldn’t be a lead photo and there wouldn’t be dozens and dozens of commenters calling for his head.
It’s been four days since the stabbing death of Carol Bowling Chacon, and Google searches of the parties involved still lead to the initial stories announcing the arrests and very few details beyond that. There’s a reason, of course. They’re going solely on police reports from the Sanford Police Department. Were this a more “high profile” incident, possibly the larger television stations and newspapers would have folks “on the ground” getting the details, but there’s little need — aside from getting a story right — for the big boys to do much more beyond an arrest report.
The Herald, however, is another story. The majority of people with an interest in the case locally are blocked from their story online because of a paywall (available only to subscribers and those who pay for online access). Most of Sanford’s knowledge of the case is a social media blurb and a pair of mug shots, combined with a slew of comments. The result is a lot of this …
Scientists will never truly understand the mind of an internet commenter. There are millions of them out there who scan stories looking for the perfect opportunity to show the world they want swift justice or they think your music sucks. They see “murder” in a headline and their reflex is to spout off “eye for an eye” or “they need a bullet in the head” comments, because often, they’re well received by the rest of the commenting hoard.
I was in newspapers for 12 years and an editor for The Herald for over four. I developed a thick skin over those years to where “You suck, Liggett” and “Your family sucks, too, Liggett” comments only hurt a little. Who needs a soul, right? I bring this up because, in the Herald’s defense, it’s tough to monitor them. Unless you just completely turn comments off — a luxury you don’t have on Facebook, I believe — you’re at the mercy of a sometimes idiotic public.
But a strange thing did begin to happen in those Facebook comments on The Herald’s Facebook site. After the initial swarm of unintelligence reared its ugly head, some began calling people out for being trolls …
Then, little by little, others hopped aboard to paint a clearer picture of what happened on May 29.
Wouldn’t you know it … some even showed signs of level-headedness.
Take the time to read all the comments on both of The Herald’s posts, and you come away with the mindset that possibly — just possibly — Sam Watson’s arrest was a mistake. Then again, maybe it’s not.
What’s troubling is that four days later, there haven’t been any updates — not counting a few posts on this site here and here. The Herald does not publish on Mondays, so it’s possible we’ll see something in Tuesday’s edition. If not, then that’s another day of ignoring details to a story that’s been hand delivered to them through the power of social media. They’ve also ignored their own report — the paper featured Sam and his wife’s daughter in December for using money she’d saved all year for a doll to buy Christmas gifts for a needy child instead.
A false or mistaken murder arrest can ruin a man’s name, his reputation and his life. Getting Sam’s story right is just as important as getting the murder details correct.
Thankfully, he’ll get his day in court if it makes it that far. And if then a jury decides Sam Watson was somehow involved in this horrific crime, then I suppose the egg will be on my face and the others who’ve stood up for him.
At least our approach was “innocent until proven guilty.” I believe that’s a thing in the country, right?