Veteran journalist Stanley Roberts broke the story over the weekend of a North Beach cafe refusing to seat on-duty police. The right-wing blogosphere wrongly reported that Roberts actually owned the restaurant, and he’s been served heaping helpings of online harassment ever since.
Longtime SFist readers know that former KRON4 correspondent Stanley Roberts founded the wildly popular recurring news segment “People Behaving Badly,” where he busted Bay to Breakers revelers peeing in the streets, documented people trashing Hippie Hill during 4/20, and shamed SF's most selfish traffic scofflaws. True Stanley fans know that he’s now running an independent version of his beloved series called Caught Misbehaving, under his new self-founded media company Mr. Badly Productions.
And true Stanley fans know that Roberts certainly did not open an avocado toast-serving, all-day brunch spot in North Beach that recently refused service to on-duty police officers. But that version of events somehow got published on a right-wing blog Sunday, and Roberts has been on the wrong end of a torrent of harassment on Facebook and Twitter for about the last 24 hours.
This is why people need to support reputable journalism! I never thought I would become a victim of misinformation but I have. @hotairblog your poor journalism is disturbing, libelous and unacceptable! I woke up to a barrage of hate hail based solely on your sloppy reporting. pic.twitter.com/VFBjWMfzfD— Stanley Roberts (@StanleyRoberts) December 6, 2021
“I’m still getting messages from people telling me how effed up I am, and ‘I’ll never eat at your restaurant.’ I don’t even own a restaurant!,” Roberts told SFist Monday afternoon. “All I did was break the story. But it’s like I’m responsible for the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, apparently maybe I set the Christmas tree on fire in Oakland, I created smallpox. I get blamed for everything.”
First, a recap: Roberts broke the story of North Beach cafe Hilda and Jesse asking on-duty police officers to leave on Friday, because the officers' guns made staff uncomfortable. Roberts then obtained the email apology from the restaurant (submitted to him by a tipster), and published it to Twitter shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday.
Official response from one of the owners of Hilda and Jesse pic.twitter.com/veshjMekxc— Stanley Roberts (@StanleyRoberts) December 4, 2021
The apology story went viral, and was picked up by USA Today, the New York Post, and of course Fox News. It was also covered by a conservative agitprop website Hot Air, what was started in 2006 by then-popular wingut Michelle Malkin, and still apparently has some cachet in the right-wing ecosphere news today. But the Hot Air report incorrectly identified Roberts as the restaurant’s “co-owner,” apparently merely because he tweeted a copy of their apology email, which he had obtained from a source.
Well this is nuts, this @facebook article is telling people that I’m a “disgrace to the human race” not because I broke the story.— Stanley Roberts (@StanleyRoberts) December 6, 2021
Wait for it…
Because I’m the owner of #HildaandJesse. 🤷🏽♂️
You simply cannot make this stuff up. 😳💀 pic.twitter.com/9MkJd8XMpp
Roberts tells us that on Sunday, “At about four o’clock in the afternoon, I see a message on Facebook that says Stanley Roberts, something to the line of ‘He’s the scum of the earth,’” he tells us. “So I’m like, ‘What did I do now?’ I read the whole story and it lists me as co-owner of the restaurant.”
So I’m getting crazy messages because @hotairblog did very little research and released a report to over 700,000 subscribers that I own #HildaandJesse restaurant. https://t.co/CR8S2YRkhI pic.twitter.com/KjZVqRu7AW— Stanley Roberts (@StanleyRoberts) December 6, 2021
“They literally wrote to 700,000 people on Facebook that I was the owner of the restaurant. It was funny at first, it was hilarious.
“It was funny until it wasn't funny anymore. I woke in the morning and they were trying to get my verification deleted from Twitter, people were saying ‘eff you,'” he said. “Every nutcase in the world was starting to hit me up on Facebook and Twitter.”
Roberts did ask for and get a retraction on the story, but the site has not honored his request to do a separate post saying that he was not the restaurant's co-owner. “The people who’ve already read that don’t care, they aren't looking at the correction,” he tells us. “They’ve already got their mind made up. They’ve already put me on a bot list.”
The harassment has been pretty bad, but it’s more seeing his story get picked up nationally, without attribution, that is particularly bothersome. “I am so used to having what I do taken away from me," Roberts says. "It happened with ‘People Behaving Badly’. People take away things that I do. And I’m always doubted. I’ve always been doubted. No matter how many times I tell a story that is 100% researched and legit, I am doubted.”
You see, Roberts is currently working without compensation on his independent website documenting bad behavior. “I’ve been trying to build a business over the last year and a half, almost two years,” Roberts says of his new Mr Badly Productions, currently funded by a Patreon and GoFundMe campaign. “I can’t just go [to San Francisco] with a sign that says ‘Will shoot for food.” I need people to understand that I can’t do stories for free.”
Is it to early to start drinking?— Stanley Roberts (@StanleyRoberts) December 6, 2021
I’m asking for my invisible friend.
But the latest Stanley Roberts skirmish is an example of how bottom-feeding news sites in the current news landscape not only co-opt the work of actual news-reporting journalists, but also drive harassment campaigns against them with inaccuracies. “Perception is the new reality for 2021,” Roberts tells SFist. “It's not truth, it’s just perception. And perception can be whatever you want it to be.
Image: @StanleyRoberts via Twitter