The Drudge Report is prone to hyperbole. It was birthed on it. Exaggeration and obfuscation with splashy headlines and duplicitous links are just part of the hype machine that has propelled the site since its early days in the 90s, keeping tabs on then President Bill Clinton's sexual habits. Despite the reputation, though, he can still shock, such as when Peoria, Ill. made the front page of Drudge last Friday due to blog reports of roving gangs of violent black youths shouting "kill all the whites." The city and its residents had no idea what kind of hype machine they were getting tossed into.
One of Drudge's favorite past-times is hopping on a story (any story really) that involves black people targeting or attacking white people. Earlier this year Salon.com reported on Drudge's new found interest in youth violence when it involves African Americans. It's a racially tinged "If it bleeds it leads," ready-made for the Obama Era, exploiting the most rare crime of all -- black-on-white violence.
Now Peoria is getting its shot at Drudge-fueled internet infamy, with a link to a one-source story about bands of black youths shouting, "Kill all the white people."
According to reports in The Peoria Journal Star, on Friday police were called to the West Bluffs neighborhood of Sheridan after reports were made of about 50 or 60 youths wandering the streets at 10:50 p.m.
The police were called on the kids who are a common nuisance in the area, but the story took a turn for the racialized when Sheridan resident Paul Wilkinson sent his account of the incident to several city council members and one local blogger -- The Peoria Chronicle.
The original page has since been taken down, but here is a Google cache page of The Peoria Chronicle (bold emphasis is mine):
Tonight, around 11 p.m., a group of at least 60-70 African American youth marched down one of the side streets (W. Thrush) to the 4 lane main drag (Sheridan). They were yelling threats to white residents. Things such as we need to kill alll the white people around here. They were physically intimidating anyone calling for help from the police. They were surrounding cars. Cars on the main drag had to slam on their brakes to either avoid the youth blocking not only all four lanes, but a large section of the side street as well. fights were breaking out among them. They were rushing residents who looked out their doors, going on to porches, yelling threats to people calling the police for help.
Cars were doing U turns on the streets just to avoid the mob, mostly male. One youth stated his grandfather was white and several assaulted him on the spot. One police officer answered the call. The youth split into two large groups, one heading north, the other south. They were also yelling racial threats to the police officer but he was outnumbered. Another police car did not show up until after the youth finally dispersed and the patty wagon (van) also eventually showed up.
From that solitary blog posting, Drudge picked up the story and it went national over the weekend with Drudge readers nationwide flooding the newspaper and Peoria blog sites, fuming about out-of-control black youths. More than 600 people "liked" The Peoria Chronicle's blog post and a blog that usually gets 10 to 30 comments per post had 78 comments on the East Bluffs youth violence story. While some, reasonably, discussed whether Wilkinson's story was true or not, others, tongue-in-racist-cheek, painted this as the result of a "diverse" America.
A group of Eric Holder’s “my people”, huh – the ones who according to the Justice Department are entitled to any and all racist actions.
But the whole thing was a gross exaggeration.
Local blogger and stay-at-home mom, Stephanie Brock of East Bluff, Peoria said the roving kids have been a problem in her town for some time, but that this is the only true thing about the allegation. Brock said Drudge presented it as "racially motivated" with only an unsupported blog post as evidence.
"It's a local issue, a problem we've been dealing with for a while now, (Drudge presented) that it is all racially motivated when it really is not," Brock said. "I have seen these large groups of kids before, coming down my street, pushing cars. It's never been anything racial. There are some problems with youth roaming the streets, but there is so much fear of black children in this community now."
Others have come forward to counter Wilkinson's claims, including City Councilwoman Barbara Van Auken who was "outraged" by the stories. She claims Wilkinson has a history of exaggerating racial incidents in his neighborhood and that the police are aware of this, telling the newspaper, "We have some very gullible new council members who were dumb enough to believe him."
From The Peoria Journal Star:
Some residents, unaware of the media attention, confirmed Sunday there was a crowd in the street Friday, but said that race was not involved. A police report on the incident does not even mention the word race.
Police responded to Thrush on Friday night on a report of fireworks and fighting but found neither of those activities occurring, a police report stated. The group dispersed in multiple directions when an officer arrived. No one was arrested.
Khalid Davis, who lives on Thrush, said the group blocked a few cars but was very orderly. He witnessed no fights and called the racist allegations a "heck of an exaggeration."
"If I heard them screaming any such thing, I would have called police immediately," said Davis, 62.
The Journal-Star also reported that police responded to the scene in the neighborhood on Friday amid reports of fireworks and fighting, but found neither.
Still, despite the fact that the allegations proved to be unfounded, Brock said the Peoria police have returned to the Sheridan neighborhood with cameras, armored cars and are now patrolling the neighborhood regularly, but during times when she's called the police for the same issue --rowdy teens pushing cars -- the response was less than enthusiastic.
"If it's racial it's because a whole lot of white people got together and said what black people have been saying," she said. "Crime stats (in Peoria) are terrible."
I spoke with Brock, a mother of two, on Monday were she explained both Wilkinson's history of exaggeration and her own fears that the "hype" surrounding the teens is really about getting a conceal-carry law passed in Illinois.
"The people who are bringing these issues are mainly Tea Partiers," she said. "Now the talk is we need 'Conceal Carry,' so we can start handling these things ourself. I think it has a lot to do with gun control laws."
Brock has chronicled the fall out from Wilkinson's claims and Drudge's sudden interest on her own blog "Emerge," a site dedicated to reporting and commenting on stories coming out of inner city Peoria. She cited the Salon story that took at a look at Drudge's new interest in black kids committing crimes.
This is the narrative that Drudge is trying to create, especially on slow news weekends when there's nothing real to aggregate and post: The blacks are rising up and attacking the whites. If that sounds a bit crazy, in a Charles Manson way, then you're obviously not paying attention. Black people are angry and they're taking over! When Barack Obama was campaigning to win Chicago the Olympic games, Matt Drudge led with a terrifying photo of (black) gang violence and the breathless, all-caps headline, "OLYMPIC SPIRIT."
The violent death of a young man is definitely news ... in Chicago, where it happened. It had very little to do with whether Chicago is a suitable venue for the Olympics. Violent murders happen in big cities and small towns across the nation every day. But only some of them can be used to stoke paranoia about emboldened, angry black people rising up.
It all came to a head, as John Cook noted, this Memorial Day weekend when Drudge posted 10 separate headlines -- including the massive, above-the-logo one -- related to violent incidents involving "urban" people at venues like "Black Bike Week" in Miami and "Rib Fest" in Rochester, N.Y. There was an "Urban Melee in Charlotte," for example. Do you know what makes an "urban melee" different from a regular "melee"? It's not that it takes place within the city limits of a major metropolitan area. It's that it involves the world's most obvious code term for "scary black people."
Statistically, you're way more likely to be robbed or harmed by someone who looks like you, than by someone of a different ethnicity. But those stories don't move Drudge's needle. He's actively looking for stories like the one out of Peoria to exploit to further his "black kids are coming to kill you" narrative.
And this is what disturbed Brock the most. She said was worried about how Peoria and its youth were being portrayed, disturbed by the glee others felt in exaggerating the actions of some out-of-control teens. It's a big leap to go from being an annoyance to being potentially violent and threatening.
"Nobody is standing up for these kids. Granted, that doesn't mean you go out harassing folks, but there really is so little for black youth to do in this town" she said.