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What does it say about human nature -- and the nature of online comments -- that a story and editorial this past Sunday both dealing with the topic of food stamps were greeted with such vastly different reader comments?
In the story "Mom works hard to keep her boys fed," staff writer Judy Benson writes about the struggles of single mom Wilma Cotto of Norwich to keep herself and her three boys fed. The story noted that Cotto is among the growing ranks of people needing food stamps to supplement their food bills, and many, like her, are working people.
As of Monday afternoon the comments on the story were universally positive. Including:
"She definetly should be commended. What a great mother!"
"Mrs. Cotto, You're very brave to put your story out there, and your photo too. Your not alone in your situation, but few people would do what you've done - and that is put faces to the problem of families being hungry. Thank you."
"This is a great article, detailing the struggles ordinary, hard working people face to feed their families."
An editorial on the same day -- "Food stamps feed unfortunate need" -- touched on the same topic and refers to the Benson story. The editorial argues in favor of the need for a food-stamp program, cautioned against cutting that aid and warned against trying to stereotype the people who receive food assistance.
However, the comments it generated were far less flattering towards food stamps:
"Obama is the food stamp President. He has purposefully grown the welfare state to buy a dependent class of voters. He doesn't want to grow the economy where people are self sufficient.The GOP has always helped the helpless. They also want to grow the economy which will help people get a good paying job so they don't need to rely on the government. The democrat party apparently wants to imprison folks in welfare so they are dependent."
"How many times have you been in line at a store and the person/persons in front of you were wearing expensive brand name clothes buying cigarettes, rattling off their list of numbers for lotto and paying for a few non nutritive food products with food stamps?"
"Until we realize that America can no longer be the refuge for the worlds huddled masses, that feel good educations don't often translate into good paying jobs, that family size has some responsibility that the parents bring into this world those they can support or we will just continue and continue over and over this cycle of fewer and fewer sacrificing for a growing population asking for more and more."
So why the dramatic difference? My take away is that it is far easier to criticize a stereotype -- the welfare mom, the lottery-buying, well-dressed food stamp purchaser -- but much tougher to throw stones when confronted with a real person struggling to get by with the help of food stamps.
Or maybe editorials, by their opinionated nature, are more likely to attract critical comments than a news feature, even if the topic is the same.