Two months ago, a mom-blogger reported that a redneck in Walmart assaulted her 2-year-old son for wearing a pink headband; last month, a waitress at Red Lobster reported that a customer scrawled the N-word on her receipt; two weeks ago, we heard about a lesbian server who, in place of a tip, was left a note disparaging her “lifestyle.”
What do these stories have in common?
1) They all became social media sensations that trickled over into local and cable news coverage without efforts to independently verify the facts, and 2) they were made up.
I know that liberal bloggers (like their conservative counterparts) have to dream up brand new things to get angry about every day, so that people have reason to read their blogs (and generate ad revenue). And I see how stories of modern racism, homophobia, or religious zealotry make for irresistible link bait.
But ultimately, the failure of most liberal media outlets to operate under even the most basic tenet of journalism (assertion vs. verification) serves to undermine the very causes they ostensibly care about, and diminishes the power of true stories of bigotry.
These simple bigots-in-public anecdotes also distract us from the more complicated, systemic presence of racism and homophobia, from which stories are subtler and harder to tell (which is to say that reporting these stories might require actual journalistic effort).
The media will focus the blame on the people who made these stories up. No doubt these hoaxters have their own problems (best dealt with by a medical professional, not a lowly media critic), but it is never acceptable for a supposed news outlet to merely regurgitate — or reblog! — what someone says without attempts at verification.
Okay, done being a grump for the day. You may now return to your regularly scheduled, totally irrelevant, questionably accurate newsfeed.