Longtime 9News anchor Gary Shapiro is among the most likable and congenial presences on Denver TV, which helps explain why the morning show he helms has been a ratings juggernaut for decades. But yesterday, December 11, he showed the steely side of his persona in response to Twitter attacks claiming that he was passing along fake news — and his response, he acknowledges, "caused a tweetstorm."
"Today I had to mute 20 people on this thread," he wrote. "Just a reminder, we do not report fake news. If all you have to add to the discussion is 'fake news,' you are off the thread. Really, that's all you can add? That's all you have to say? It's like a bunch of 6th graders."
On Twitter, Shapiro hardly comes across as a flamethrower. "My approach is very simple," he says. "I get here, figure out what we're reporting on TV, and tweet out some of the top stories of the day."
Shapiro avoids editorializing in his tweets. "I just try and report the news, and I believe we do that in a neutral way," he allows. "Unfortunately, many times these days, the news is about President Trump, and a lot of it isn't what President Trump's supporters see as a neutral position. I just report the facts, and they don't always take the facts that well — and they tweet back at me."
As the reactions come in, Shapiro generally takes a few minutes during commercial breaks to reply to comments — one of his favorite things about social media, he stresses. "It's hard to do it some days, depending on the news flow. But if I have time and it's a sensible reaction, I will discuss it with viewers. If it's just crazy, I'll usually ignore it."
Yesterday, however, he turned to muting after he prompted a barrage of negativity with what he calls "a pretty mild-mannered tweet. It had something to do with President Trump interviewing three new people for chief of staff. But for whatever reason, there was a lot of reaction."
His subsequent muting announcement generated even more. Of the dozens upon dozens of messages that came flooding in, many were supportive, including this one:
I agree with you! This is a free country for now, and Twitter does have a function called block. If you don't like what someone tweet's you hit that block link. I watched 9News when I lived in Denver, and continue to. You've got my support. pic.twitter.com/mMZypEDkh4— Lady Dee (@diane_spicer) December 11, 2018
But a lot of the others sounded the same kinds of themes that had prompted Shapiro's mute-fest in the first place. Some examples:
Way to alienate viewership by rt 9News! What a big fat baby! Teach em a lesson big man! They may be 6th grade equivalents, but I’d peg Gary’s arrested development at 4 years of age. Recently potty trained and schooling ALL in his success! Oh and he can READ!
Fill in the blank. _ _ _ _ news.
What about news extremely to the left?
So you get to decide what is "adding to the conversation"? And if the words "fake news" are used in the conversation, you block someone? You make all the rules and decide what is honest and true? Hmmmm.... That should go well giving you all the power.
How bout put some effort into the reporting. Lazy biased reporting. Can’t remember the last nice thing you said about trump Nd he’s doing a hell of a job.
Grow up Gary! Fake news = biased news, since none of you at @9NEWS can figure that out.
Of the tweets that were muted, Shapiro says many of them simply consisted of "#fakenews," which makes him wonder if the senders were bots — "especially if it's a person who doesn't have a picture up, and if you click on their Twitter handle, they have six followers or something like that. I think most people on Twitter know more than six people."
He adds that these days, people across the political spectrum "consider something 'fake news' if they don't like the news of the day. I got barraged by Trump supporters today, but we get it from the other side all the time. That's why we work really hard to make sure what we put on TV, and also on Twitter, is accurate."
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Given the divisiveness in all aspects of American society right now and the way it's mirrored on social media, Shapiro isn't surprised by the Twitter attacks — but there are occasions when he's disheartened by them.
"Time just named its person of the year," he points out — a reference to the magazine honoring murdered columnist Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists threatened with violence for their work. "You've got to remember that people have been killed for what they posted on social media or Twitter or newspapers and TV, and that's scary. I think most people on Twitter are harmless, but you never know about that one who could actually be dangerous."
These concerns "kind of worry you a little bit," he admits, but not enough for him to quit Twitter entirely. And his use of muting has been endorsed by none other than Shapiro's 9News colleague Kyle Clark, the acknowledged social-media master of Denver media.
One time, Shapiro remembers, "I told Kyle I'd muted ten people, and he said, 'I just muted about fifty!'"