Talk of the town: The 2012 stories that got the most online comments

Tim Peck’s letter to the editor advocating free-market capitalism garnered more responses than any other post on the Xpress website over the past year. The local blogger and former Asheville City Council candidate also posted far more comments on the site than any other registered user.

In keeping with Mountain Xpress’ long-standing goal of promoting community dialogue, our website proved to be fertile ground for a wide variety of lively discussions over the past year. Here’s a look at the posts that generated the most online comments (note: Xpress’ tracking system doesn’t include comments made via Facebook).

A letter to the editor by Tim Peck titled “People and Profits Are In Harmony” drew more responses than any other post. In the piece, the local blogger and former Asheville City Council candidate argued that, “In commercial transactions, two parties profit: the seller and the buyer.

“The buyer acquires a product and the seller gains financially,” he continued. “This peaceable, voluntary transaction of value for value to mutual benefit is an exercise of the rights of individuals to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. It is the proper and moral exercise of economic and political freedom.”

Most commenters disagreed, however, saying that sometimes, corporations’ pursuit of profit can lead to negative economic and environmental consequences for consumers.

“Your letter assumes a true free market, where transparency allows the consumer to know how workers are treated, how products are made, how pricing structures and other legal policies are created and so on,” wrote commenter “sonipitts” (Xpress policy allows aliases and anonymous online comments).

“However, in our current world we don’t have a free market,” sonipitts continued. “We have a market dominated by a few large corporations in each field operating with the wealth of small nations and using that wealth to silence whistle-blowers who would expose dangerous or unethical practices; who use their money and subsequent influence to get laws passed specifically aimed at preventing information about such practices from being exposed (or to simply make them legal); who use that same influence to make competition impossible beyond a few small ‘industry leaders’ and to avoid any but the most trivial consequences for breaking the law.”

The online article, “Moffitt Talks Politics at Town Hall, Touts Success of Forced Annexation Law,” received the second-most comments. Reporting on state Rep. Tim Moffitt’s June 30 event in Leicester, staff writer Caitlin Byrd quoted the controversial freshman legislator saying that a bill he’d sponsored to allow referendums on forced annexation was designed to protect “us county folks from enrichment of those in the city.” He also said he considers himself to be “a practical person” rather than a “political person.”

But in a series of responses, Heather Rayburn slammed Moffitt’s legislation and statements as hypocritical, asserting that his support of fracking amounted to a denial of private-property rights, and his opposition to a referendum on the county voting system amounted to a denial of local control. The local activist urged readers to volunteer for Democrat Jane Whilden’s campaign (Moffitt went on to defeat her soundly in the Nov. 6 election).

Staff reporter Jake Frankel’s “Moffitt–Sponsored Bill to Allow Referendums on Forced Annexation Becomes Law” earned the third spot, dealing with some of the same hot-button issues and eliciting additional criticism. “Neighborhoods like Biltmore Lake benefit tremendously from Asheville city services but don’t pay their fair share in taxes,” wrote Parker Sloan, who chairs the Buncombe County Young Democrats. “I get it: Everyone wants a free lunch, but this shortsighted bill drastically limits the ability of our state’s small towns and larger cities to stay financially stable and to grow. Moffitt’s no hero: He’s an opportunist.”

But Moffitt supporters also spoke out strongly, with local political operative Michael Muller declaring, “The thing is, Parker, a government annexing property outside its borders without the consent of its citizens is simply wrong. It’s tyranny, it’s immoral, it’s undemocratic and it’s un-American.”

Next in line: “Differing Views at Downtown Asheville BID Meeting” by Xpress reporter David Forbes. He described the July 17 public-input session as “tense,” with residents wrangling with a proposal to establish “an independent nonprofit to provide extra services downtown, funded by a special tax district.”

Most of the comments, however, questioned the motivations behind an effort to get about 15 homeless people to attend the meeting wearing “ambassador” sashes to poke fun at the plan. Commenter “glolady” took responsibility on the website for offering them cigarettes as payment, though she said the idea came from Muller.

“This is just another example of how badly the homeless are treated in Asheville. Some of them are willing to work, even if it is just for a pack of cigarettes. Let one of them ask someone for money and they get a few days in jail,” wrote glolady. “My suggestion is to interview the homeless who want to work, and then hire them to pick up trash.”

The fifth-most-commented-on item, “Live From Tampa: Video and Updates from Local Delegates at the Republican National Convention,” included a series of posts by Gary Shoemaker, one of a handful of Buncombe County delegates who joined thousands of others from across the country at the August convention in Tampa. Not all of them supported their party’s nominee for president, Mitt Romney, and Shoemaker was outraged by what he saw as disturbing rule changes and the mistreatment of Ron Paul supporters. Likening the experience of attending the convention to “spending three days in the RNC Gulag,” Shoemaker worried that leaders were trying “to make eunuchs of future delegates.”

Most of the online comments also criticized the party under Romney’s leadership, with “Dionysis” charging that the candidate wanted to “take our country back … to the 16th century.” In a later post, Dionysis added,“Ron Paul’s supporters have been played like a cheap violin.”

The top posters of 2012 (User name/ Number of comments posted):

timothypeck 1,825
Ken Hanke 1,446
bsummers 535
Dionysis 437
Xanadon’t 364
Jeremy Dylan 335
bill smith 240
Me 233
Orbit DVD 198
D. Dial 175
mat catastrophe 141
Edwin Arnaudin 130

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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3 thoughts on “Talk of the town: The 2012 stories that got the most online comments

  1. mat catastrophe

    And in over 1800 comments, Tim Peck produced zero good ideas, most of them not even his own.

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