Emily Yoffe: OK, I have a question for my Seattle-based newspaper readers. Did either of you see a story I found in Science Daily about an amazing new computer program? University of Washington computer scientists have come up with a Mission Impossible type of program that will make our electronic communications self-destruct after a certain amount of time—our e-mails, tweets, etc.—which means embarrassing Facebook posts from high school won't ruin a job search years later. It's called Vanish.
Tim Egan: The answer is no, I never saw anything on this cool new computer erase feature. Chalk one up to the Web side.
Sam Howe Verhovek: I'll answer Emily's question about this program if she'll answer mine about Gates-gate in Cambridge. Is "everybody" "talking" about this, and, if so, why am I getting only 400 words at the bottom of the national news page in the NYT? Maybe the details of the case don't belong on the front, but if there's water-cooler conversation everywhere, that could be on the front. This is a strange byproduct of being chained to the dead trees on this issue. My gut tells me this story is a big national conversation-starter, while the NYT old-fashioned newspaper suggests otherwise. Am I right? I have to guess if you polled this one you'd have a lot of white people who would say, Look, the cop was just doing his job, responding to a 911 call, give the guy a break,while a lot of black people would say, You can't begin to understand—this cop went way over a racial third rail on this one. I'm dying to know: Do people care about this story? Please? Can anyone tell me?
Memo to NYT, from a loyal reader stranded by the paper's lack of a Gates-gate material: Find a way to get the national conversation out front, even if you're a day late. Hello?!! This guy is a nationally known African-American Hah-vuhd scholar, and he basically gets arrested for breaking into his own house (OK, yes, technically, for mouthing off to the cop). That's a story. And as serious as it is, and with apologies to both Skip and the cop, it does not seem without its Bonfire of the Vanities humorous elements. I want to know more. Random afterthought: Back when I was allowed to watch television, I've channel-surfed through those chase-scene cop programs where there's a camera in the police car. Maybe we should put Webcams right in the officer's caps? Are there any independent witnesses to the Gates-cop exchange? The limo driver? The lady who reported the burglary? A neighbor? Inquiring minds want to know.
Yoffe: I'd like to know how the Washington Post handled this. I agree with you, Sam, that this is a national water-cooler story that should have been on the front page. It was almost every place I looked: NPR, Bloomberg, The Root (natch)—even CNN had pieces. This is a story in which the comments are really fascinating—people, black and white, are writing about their own encounters with police. White people are saying, Come on, don't you want the police to come if it looks like someone's breaking into your house? Black people are saying, White people don't know what it's like to get pulled over randomly by cops. It's sparked a lot of commentary on what having a black president really means as far as becoming a "post-racial" society.
Egan: I agree that the Skip Gates story seems to show a difference between Web and newspapers. Both USAT and NYT have sober, fact-based stories, which leads me to believe that the cop overreacted, and there was certainly some profiling. (Would this happen to Alan Dershowitz?) But also Gates comes across like a pompous elitist, talking about his solidarity with those millions of blacks in jail. Come on! I imagine the Web is full of what-does-it-all-mean parsing, which is what bloggers are very good at. It goes to Sam's earlier remark: We can't have a conversation, as a community, without common facts. And for that you need reporters. And for that, you have to pay for it. And for that, well ... You see where I'm going on behalf of my poor, struggling industry.