Updated: 5:24 p.m. Aug. 7
The Missoula Independent is reporting that Baken pleaded guilty in court today to filing a false police report.
“Joseph Baken pleaded guilty this afternoon in Missoula Municipal Court to charges of filing a false police report. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and a $300 fine. The jail time was suspended.”
Pardon me? They did what? In Missoula?
It just didn’t make any sense. A gay man being beat up in Montana’s gay capital?
Well that’s what 22-year-old Joseph Baken, reportedly from Billings, told the world Sunday and Monday. Baken called Missoula Police Sunday after 4:00 a.m. to report a beating based on his gay sexual orientation outside the Missoula Club, a notably Griz Nation-oriented bar.
The story was perfect for a viral firestorm.
First there was the early online reaction. A picture of Joe in a collared shirt paired next to an extreme close-up of him with raspberries on eye, cheek and chin circulated in classic meme style across Missoulian’s Facebooks and on the page “Wipe Out Homophobia“, which has almost 500,000 fans.
Next, the Missoulian reported the man’s story with a short story lacking a byline that explained what the man told police. Gwen Florio later wrote a story that Baken may have been beaten because of his sexual orientation.
The story, if true, would have been a serious shock in an already nauseated and tired town that has two federal and an NCAA investigation happening just three weeks before the start of school at the University of Montana.
But a conflicting report came from the Missoula Independent, Missoula’s largest weekly, when it reported on its website that Missoula Police were considering charges against Baken for filing a false police report, as a video allegedly showing Baken fail an attempted backflip off a Missoula curb and landing on his face.
So he didn’t do it? Well, it’s not yet for sure. The Independent’s web post (and rather accusing headline) hopefully indicates they know more than the public does yet. But within about two hours, the web community hit the brakes and pulled a 180 to reverse the reaction from sympathy to antipathy toward Joe.
Wipe Out Homophobia’s Facebook page issued another post around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday warning fans that the report may have been untrue: “Looks like we have all been had…” it wrote before posting the Independent’s video.
As of 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Missoulians have reverberated quickly around the video and potential false report. Stay tuned for updates from Big Sky Country News.
Updated: 3:45 p.m.
People have long since started posting reactions to the conflicting reports. A reminder should be noted that this is only preliminary, and that police haven’t yet charged Baken with anything.
Chad O’Brien, who said on “Wipe Out Homophobia’s” page he was from Missoula, wrote this:
“I’m a resident of Missoula, and the events surround Joseph Baken are a shame to my beloved city. I am also gay, so the story of the crime committed against him really struck a chord in me. That said, this article needs to be seen, in the spirit of an honest, intellectual debate.”
O’Brien’s last comment reverberates what state Rep. Ellie Hill was quoted as saying in the second paragraph of the Missoulian’s updated story on the beating:
“It’s time, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on,” said state Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, who said she’ll introduce such a bill in the January 2013 legislative session. “What occurred over the weekend in Missoula evidences it.”
Her comments were like many others nationwide, that the attack definitely happened. It shows the speediness of news spreading these days. And it also obviously shows the potential quick spreading of false information.
Still, the Missoulian’s five-year veteran Gwen Florio is a solid cops and courts reporter, and only wrote what was said to have happened, not what happened.
Remember, it didn’t not happen, yet.