10 Disgusting Non-Stories The Media Shamelessly Flogged
We’ve talked before about the media’s penchant for ruining lives and making stuff up. But they’re so darn good at it that it deserves another look. For every Edward Snowden or Pentagon Papers case, it turns out that there are literally thousands of hacks, churning out articles that are empty trash at best and downright dangerous at worst. From flogging non-stories to ruining careers to driving teenagers to suicide, it seems there’s no low the media won’t stoop to in exchange for a quick headline.
10 Mitt Romney and the KKK
Remember Mitt Romney? He was the runner-up in last year’s elections, and while he may have had many, many faults, he was clearly not a racist supporter of the Ku Klux Klan. But that didn’t stop MSNBC and the Washington Post from trying to portray him as such.
The problem arose when Romney was recorded using the slogan “keep America American.” Within hours, MSNBC gleefully ran an item on it, pointing out that the phrase was originally used in the 1920s as a rallying cry by the KKK. Not long after, the Washington Post picked up the story and launched their own offensive, triggering a media backlash against Romney and his accidentally-racist ways. Too bad the story was complete bunkum.
That video MSNBC referred to? Romney actually said “keep America America”—a slogan used by precisely zero racists because it’s totally meaningless. Yet that didn’t stop MSNBC broadcasting Romney’s picture with the letters “KKK” emblazoned across the screen. Because who cares about facts when you’ve got a hot story?
9 Gore Vidal—Pedophile
Gore Vidal was an American intellectual, flamboyant bisexual, and award-winning novelist. He was also a staunch defender of convicted abuser Roman Polanski and frequently vacationed in Thailand, a country famous for its sex trade. And, according to headline writers around the world, that makes him a pedophile.
A few weeks back, two of Vidal’s estranged relatives began suggesting Vidal may have had sex with underage men. Rather than looking into these claims or seeing if any hard evidence was on offer, newspapers from The Telegraph to The Guardian instead cheerfully repeated the accusations—turning the speculation of two angry nobodies into a story that swiftly consumed the entire world. Type Gore Vidal into Google now and you’ll be greeted with little more than inflammatory accusations, demolishing the reputation of a dead man.
Now, Vidal may turn out to have been an abuser. But no one in the media has any evidence that he was. And if there’s one thing in life that never ends well, it’s a speculative media witch hunt.
8 The “Best Friends” Ban
But it’s not just when slandering politicians or dead celebrities that the media behave like total jerks. Sometimes they’ll simply grab a total non-story and distort it to fit some ridiculous agenda.
Case in point: Earlier this year, Fox News reported on the “controversial decision” of a school in England to ban children from having best friends. Like the Daily Mail before them, their report painted a picture of a world where political correctness had gone so mad that children weren’t even allowed to be children anymore. It was a big, bizarre, unbelievable story—for the very good reason that it was also complete nonsense.
In reality, the headmaster of a school had given an interview to The Telegraph where he had echoed comments made by other teachers the year before, suggesting children should have “lots of good friends” instead of one very close one. He repeatedly stressed this wasn’t school policy and never would be, but something he merely thought was a good idea. In fact, his interview comes across as sensible, insightful and thoughtful . . . exactly the opposite, in other words, to the journalists who reported it.
7 The Pentagon Hates Christians
In April this year, Fox News reporter Todd Starnes found the scoop of a lifetime. According to reports he’d received, the Pentagon was preparing to allow the court-martialling of Christians who engaged in proselytizing. Starnes wrote up his report and published it. Then right-wing website Brietbart got hold of it, and things went into stupidity overdrive.
Running the story under the headline “Pentagon May Court Martial Soldiers Who Share Christian Faith,” the website claimed all Christianity was under attack—a claim dozens of right-wing bloggers picked up and ran with. The resultant furor produced the narrative that anti-Christian extremists had turned the Pentagon into a hotbed of violent political correctness.
It wasn’t until the Pentagon issued a clarification printed in several newspapers that it finally became apparent the whole thing was a load of nonsense. The original “shocking report” simply re-stated rules that frown on forcibly converting fellow soldiers. These rules explicitly state that it’s okay to evangelize or share whatever faith you have, so long as you’re not a jerk about it. In other words, the same non-controversial policy they’ve had in place for years.
6 Transgender Bathroom Harassment
A month or so ago, sworn enemies of political correctness got the story they’d been waiting for. According to Fox News, “a male student” at a Colorado school who “claims to be transgender” had been “harassing” girls in the bathroom. They further reported that “when parents complained, school officials said the boy’s rights as a transgender trumped their daughters’ privacy rights.”
If you’ve noticed the absurd number of quotation marks in the paragraph above, that’s because we’ve taken care to quote Fox directly on the parts of their report they simply made up. When Salon and a transgender advocacy group investigated the claim, they found that a female transgender student had actually used the girl’s bathroom—being, y’know, female and all—and no one had complained.
The school’s Superintendent explicitly stated no harassment had occurred, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading like wildfire. So, basically, Fox News turned a random teenage girl into an international hate figure for no other reason than “because.” Well, that makes it all okay then.
5 The Homophobic Tip
In 2013, most of us are deeply aware that public homophobia isn’t exactly cool. So when ex-Marine-turned-NJ-waitress Dayna Morales received an anti-gay rant in lieu of a tip, plenty of news sites jumped on the story. They were a little bit too hasty—reports now indicate that Morales made the whole thing up.
The family who supposedly left the note came forward with a credit card statement and customer receipt showing they really did leave a tip. Fast forward a couple of news cycles, and Morales was suspended from her job after other employees revealed she repeatedly made-up victim stories as a way of getting attention.
At time of writing, this story still hasn’t dragged its sorry carcass into the grave and died, but events seem to indicate Morales’s credibility is taking a bashing. But on the bright side, if it turns out that she did fake the whole thing then she’ll have struck a real blow for equality: by proving that LGBT people can be equally as jerky as everyone else.
4 Pushing a Teenager to Suicide
Imagine you’ve just heard that a 16-year-old girl has been stabbed to death by a classmate. What’s your first reaction? If you said “smear the memory of the dead girl with allegations of bullying,” congratulations: there may be a job in media for you.
In 1991, Barbara Glover put a knife through the heart of Diane Watson during a fight at their Scottish school. Diane died almost immediately and Glover went to jail, leaving their families to deal with this horrible tragedy in peace. Wait, did we say “peace”? We meant the opposite.
Around 18 months after Diane’s death, two Scottish newspapers published a hatchet job on the dead girl, falsely labeling her a bully and suggesting she had treated her murderer snobbishly. Since Scottish law says you can’t defame dead people, Diane’s parents could do nothing about this. The articles kept on coming, horrifying the family, particularly Diane’s younger brother Alan.
According to the parents, in 1993, this constant scrutiny over his sister drove 15-year old-Alan to commit suicide. He was found clutching the defamatory articles in one hand, along with a note saying “sorry.” On the day of his funeral, a columnist at one of the papers published yet another column about Diane.
3 The Hillsborough Disaster
In 1989, a series of incompetent decisions and police stupidity led to the Hillsborough Disaster—a horrific incident that saw 96 English soccer fans crushed to death when a Sheffield stadium became dangerously overcrowded. In the aftermath, it was clear someone was at fault. After all, police officers had violently stopped supporters from escaping the overcrowded areas, and ambulances had been routed away from the injured. So reporters for UK tabloid newspaper The Sun took one look at this official incompetence and decided to blame . . . the grieving fans.
Published four days after the disaster, their front page was breath-taking in both its inaccuracy and offensiveness. Despite literally no evidence existing to support their claims, the paper reported that those in the stadium had robbed their fellow fans’ corpses, attacked police officers trying to help, and urinated on emergency service crews. Suddenly, hundreds of people who’d lost friends and relatives in the tragedy found themselves the target of undeserved blame. It was the worst type of non-story imaginable—unfounded, sensationalist and deeply hurtful to many, many people.
2 The McMartin Abuse Case
In 1983, a mother accused the staff of McMartin preschool in California of sexually abusing her child. Police of course had to take such matters seriously, but the mother soon added a series of allegations that were increasingly ridiculous. The family in charge of the school, the Buckeys, allegedly ran a satanic coven. They not only abused children, according to the accuser—they sacrificed babies, drank blood, and taught each other to fly. It turned out that this mother was an alcoholic paranoid schizophrenic.
Faced with such nonsense, the media obviously displayed the healthy skepticism for which American journalism is famous . . . by which we mean they declared the Buckeys guilty without trial and stirred up one of the biggest moral panics in history.
In a post-trial analysis, David Shaw of the LA Times found reams of evidence that local station KABC-TV, ABC national, and the Times itself “frequently plunged into hysteria, sensationalism and . . . a lynch mob syndrome.” Stories presuming the Buckey’s guilt were splashed across front pages, while the damning amounts of evidence supporting their innocence went entirely unreported.
At one point, the media were even happily repeating claims of mass animal sacrifices, secret tunnels under the school, and trips in submarines as fact, despite their obvious grounding in fantasy. All told, this media orgy of gratuitous guff resulted in Ray Buckey spending five years in prison and a trial that wasted over $15 million of public funds.
1 Anti-Roma Hysteria
Just occasionally, you get a racist stereotype so inexplicably widespread that it refuses to die, even in the 21st century. One example is the nonsense idea of a Jewish blood libel. A similar one is the belief that shady Roma families abduct Aryan children.
Earlier this year, it emerged that Greek social services had removed a blonde, blue-eyed girl known as Maria from her Roma family, believing they had abducted her. DNA tests showed she wasn’t related to the family, and there was no way a blonde kid could possibly be Roma by birth, right? So the media dusted off their big book of offensive stereotypes and set about causing a gigantic racist panic.
Amid sensationalist reports like this one in the Daily Mail—which managed to mix racism and anti-pedophile hysteria into a single, offensive column—police across Europe began a hostile crackdown on Roma families, snatching their children away into the night on the flimsiest of evidence. In Ireland, two blonde children were abducted from separate families—only for DNA tests to prove their Roma mothers and fathers were indeed their biological parents. In Italy, government ministers called for the forced search of all Roma camps to identify missing children. According to the New York Times, the media’s hysteria resulted in an upsurge in racist attacks across Europe—despite the original report being completely flawed.
Yeah, it turned out that Maria was Roma all along, her mother having given her to the couple in Greece due to her own crippling poverty. But hey, why bother running a fact check when it’s just so much easier to whip up some race-hate?