Breaking News! Well, perhaps that is a tad overstated, but please watch the story aired here.
Yes, go ahead, watch it again. Does it strike you that there is nothing newsworthy about it? It certainly struck me that way. Does it strike you that we still don’t know the story of what happened in the restaurant? It certainly struck me that way. Let’s recap the bare outlines of this purported news clip: a small restaurant owner asks a customer not to bring her children back, which apparently humiliates the customer, and then posts a picture to her business Facebook page. You can be forgiven, my imaginary friend, for wondering why this should warrant a ‘news’ story; why what is essentially a private action should be given the full nighttime news treatment. And I do mean treatment… The reaction to this is thousands, yes thousands, of comments both on the restaurant’s Facebook page, and that of the TV station, most of which appear (I did not count) to be negative, vulgar, and threatening.
It is self-evident that all these commenters were not in the restaurant at the time this story unfolded, given their sheer numbers, so their comments – including threats to boycott the restaurant – are based completely on the ‘news’ story. It takes little effort to see the ‘hooks’ that have been built into the story: a restaurant owner that doesn’t like kids! A military mom whose husband is deployed, sob! How could anyone be so callous as to berate a military mom! The truth appears to have been lost in the edit, or perhaps the questions simply weren’t asked. Just off the top of my head, here are some questions that might have been asked: did the customer make any attempt to clean up after her kids, or to offer an apology? If she was humiliated, why did she cross-post the restaurant’s Facebook post to her own page? Did that have something to do with revenge? Was the owner respectful in her request to the customer in asking her not to bring her kids back? Was it really a confrontation? Is there something more to this story?
There are really no words to describe professionals who consider this journalism, and the unthinking hordes that dutifully follow along and turn this into a muckraking scandal. The piece is nothing but gossip mongering, in my view, and I could leave it at that, except for two very salient reasons. First let me make it clear that I do not know the restaurant owner, nor the customer, nor do I even live in the same country. I happened to see this ‘news’ clip in my own Facebook news feed, and I simply couldn’t figure out why it should be news, though I quickly figured out it might have the potential to destroy a few peoples livelihoods. And when I investigated further, it became clear that there is a knee-jerk reaction to this story that paints an awful picture of the culture we live in. Consider this: a few days prior to this story, the restaurant was accepting donations for a back to school drive for needy children, which would seem to indicate a business owner that is a pretty good citizen. The point being that the TV station didn’t choose to run a story on this, why not? Or even a story on the hardships of running a small business, or the difficulties in being a military mom? They could have made this into a piece that truly reflected some of the agonies of living through these challenging times, instead of this worthless and harmful piece. Of shit.
In the final analysis, which is more harmful: the ‘journalists’ who troll Facebook looking for ‘news’ stories, or their viewers who dutifully follow along and perpetuate faux journalism by their failure to ask questions, or to demand in-depth stories? It is a rhetorical question, I suppose, but it is not rhetorical for those who face losing their livelihood. And it is not rhetorical for us, the citizens in free and democratic countries, for the very idea of democracy relies on informed citizenry. We are not being served by news outlets that both decide what we see, and how we see it. The way to change this is to start asking the questions that the news outlets are not asking, to demand that news is presented completely and without biased editing, to stop fomenting and spreading gossip masquerading as news. To begins acting as citizens worthy of freedom and democracy.
One final point: it has been suggested in a few Facebook comments I saw that this is a triumph of social media, in outing the restaurant owner – it is not. At best, through social media, this private incident would have been confined to a few hundred people, who might have talked it over and represented more than one side. No, it is a sad triumph of mainstream media that seeks to boost rapidly declining views, no matter what truth may be obscured in the process. And you might ask yourself, my imaginary friend, what else is being obscured by this same mainstream media, for your future in a democracy depends upon it.