It’s usually not too difficult to find some way to make the “mainstream media” look like a bunch of fools. Quality journalism has given way to outrageous headlines and media outlets rushing to break the story first instead of getting the story right.
They’ll constantly seize on any story they think will bring them traffic by exploiting our need to often act like a lynch mob with torches and pitchforks when we read something that offends us.
A great example of this happened these last couple days when it seems that nearly every major media outlet and online blogger displayed complete outrage over a “story” that broke in North Dakota. This so-called “story” was about a woman who said she was planning to hand out letters to overweight kids instead of candy on Halloween. The letters would be in an envelope marked for the parents to read, and talked about how this woman thought the child was “moderately obese” and how the parents should “ration” their candy.
And holy hell, you’d have thought she was planning to dress up like Hitler to attend a Jewish Halloween festival.
Headlines like “Fat kids won’t get any Halloween candy” and stories about “fat shaming” flooded the internet based upon the news that one woman, out of over 300 million people in this country, planned to hand out this letter.
The media was “outraged.” And apparently so were millions of Americans who read these stories.
There’s just one problem — the story was fake. It was generated by Fargo, North Dakota’s own Y-94, a radio station known for pulling off pranks. Hell, what sounds like the same woman called in to the same station last year talking about the need to move deer crossing signs so the deer would cross at intersections where there would be less likelihood of a crash with a vehicle.
In the rush to post some kind of shocking headline for cheap traffic, it seems not one of these media outlets thought to double check a story about Halloween — a day known for pranks. Instead, they chose to run the “story” and get people worked up like a lynch mob out for blood over something that wasn’t true.
But the fact of the matter is, who cares? Say this story was true, wouldn’t it have been this woman’s right to hand out these letters? Have we devolved so much as a society that one woman out of over 300 million people would cause such a stir over something so trivial? Not a public figure or anyone with any major influence over anything—just some random woman living in North Dakota.
Besides, childhood obesity is an epidemic.
The accusation that this woman would have been “fat shaming” is completely absurd as well. Bloggers from all sorts of different outlets jumped at the chance to quote “professionals” about the dangers of a child’s self esteem being damaged if they were to read something like this inside their sack of candy. Excuse me? What happened to parents taking the time to look through their child’s candy before giving it to them? The letter was supposedly going to be inside an envelope marked for parents. But either way, it wasn’t real. “Journalists” from around the country simply saw the opportunity to exploit this “story” for the sake of cheap traffic. Maybe this fake woman would have been handing out these letters in an attempt to save lives? Maybe she lost someone in her family due to obesity and she had sworn to do all she could to make people aware of an issue that is plaguing our nation?
It wasn’t as if the story was about some woman handing out condoms, birth control, drugs or alcohol—it was a letter (albeit somewhat presumptuous and crass) about a real epidemic plaguing our nation’s children.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this story was completely made up.
I guess what might have gotten people all worked up was the thought of some woman picking and choosing who she thought was obese. And granted, judging another person’s appearance isn’t something I condone. However, I wouldn’t be “outraged” because one woman took it upon herself to talk about childhood obesity during Halloween. One woman out of hundreds of millions of people choosing to hand out some letters to parents instead of candy — that’s all this fake story was about to begin with.
Which is why I didn’t run the story. First, it seemed highly suspicious. Second, because it isn’t my business to judge what legal item someone decides to hand out for Halloween. Hell, as a kid I remember getting raisins and fruit from some houses. Isn’t that kind of the same thing? One house telling random kids that they should eat healthier by giving them healthy treats?
And again, this woman wasn’t going out on a pulpit to preach something. These would have been kids coming to her door. While you might disagree with what this hoax said she was doing, isn’t that her right to do so? That’s the thing about freedom, it gives people the right to do legal things we might disagree with. People can’t say they love freedom only when it validates things they support, because then that’s not freedom. Had the woman been doing something publicly, or illegal, that’s one thing—but she wouldn’t have been. It would have been her handing out a letter at her private residence.
But even beyond the argument of whether or not this “woman” was right or wrong, the real issue lies with the fact that a whole host of “journalists,” websites and bloggers couldn’t help themselves but to jump on this “story.” Their desperation to jump on a headline (without a shred of fact-checking behind it) that turned out to be fake, shows just how desperate some of these people are to publish anything for cheap traffic and website “hits.” And the fact that many of us continue to play right into it by bringing out the pitchforks and torches on demand is, quite frankly, just sad.