Friday, January 25, 2019

Portrait of a (fake) Scandal

Those of us who aren't idiots have come to realize there is something really sick going on in the media. Indeed, the noxious cocktail of ignorance, self-importance, and bias has mixed with the "hot take" to create a world where the media have become the worst kind of rumormongers self-righteously spreading hate and disinformation at the speed of Twitter. Here's a wonderful example.

The NFL's Pro Bowl is this weekend. Shockingly, this waste of time will draw more people than NBA playoff games. Anyhoo, as part of the week of hype, they bring together the players voted to the Pro Bowl and let them compete in fun competitions and sign autographs. At one such competition this week, a New York Jet named Jamal Anderson was signing autographs when he spotted the mascot of their hated rivals the New England Patriots. What happened next, according to the video, is that Anderson made some comment about how everyone hates the Patriots and he basically said, "Hold ma beer and watch this." Then he tackled the mascot. The video ends with the mascot rolling over and slowly getting up as Anderson walks away.

The media attacks came fast and savagely. They claimed that Anderson hit the mascot so hard that the guy in the mascot suit ended up hospitalized. This drew a rash of stories, attacking Anderson, attacking the league, and wondering how such a thing could have happened... "what about the children?!" The trial had begun. There was talk that the league would suspend Anderson. There were articles suggesting that he should be kicked out of the league. There were articles about this being anti-Patriot bias (waaaah).

Anderson tried to apologize, saying he had heard the mascot ended up in the hospital, that he didn't mean to hurt the mascot and that he would check up on him. His apology was duly noted as a confession and further point of condemnation.

Of course, it turns out that none of the facts underlying this articles are true. The Patriots have denied that he was hospitalized. What's more, there is a second video which was just as available to anyone interested which shows the mascot getting up and tackling Anderson a moment later. In other words, it was clear that this was all for fun. Yet, not a single one of these "journalists" bothered to figure this out before writing their seething denouncements.

Even worse, Yahoo wrote an article today, now that everything is known, in which they describe this playful (but unintentionally too hard) tackle as "Anderson took out his anti-Patriot frustration on the mascot". They even continue the falsehood that the mascot was hospitalized -- even after the Patriots issued a statement denying it. Anyone who paid any attention at all knows that nothing in that characterization is true... yet, they wrote it.

At the same time, these journalists have whipped up their readers into a moron-frenzy and they are filling the comments sections of these articles with bloodthirsty idiocies condemning everyone involved and wishing death upon them all. Oh joy. Lazy journalists spreading fake outrage based upon lies has found its target market of bloodthirsty idiots.

Welcome to the modern media.

This, by the way, has been the same pattern with the Catholic kids v. the Indian (although journalists there also have been digging for dirt to utterly destroy each side) and every other issue to arise in the last few years. Condemn and scream before you know the facts, snap judgment is king!, never investigate... don't even pay attention, don't let facts interfere with your fire, and don't let the fact your facts are wrong interfere with the narrative. Shameful.



Tennessee Jed said...

I thought the Covington protests were an egregious, but this is even better. It is sad, but I do love your phrase “noxious cocktail of ignorance and self -importance is perfect

Tennessee Jed said...

Messed that up, the gadgets are too small for me, but you get the drift, lol

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jed. That seemed to describe it well, sadly.

And this is just one instance. I'm seeing this everywhere. Our media have become rumor mongers and hate mongers.. facts be damned!

ArgentGale said...

I was expecting the Covington story to be the main focus but the Anderson mess was a great example of this kind of slimy behavior too. I'm not surprised at the amount of schadenfreude aimed at the "journalists" who are now out of work from Huffington Post eliminating its Opinion section and Buzzfeed doing its own layoffs in their National Security and Health Ed sections in light of this and every other piece of dishonest clickbait the media's run with. You can imagine how they reacted when their old refrain of learn to code got turned back on them, Andrew.

Anthony said...

I'll quote what I said last year.

More crucially the media sometimes lies, but it rarely leads people anywhere they don't want to go. People want nuggets of news which confirm their worldviews. If they don't get said nuggets from, A, B, C or D then they go to Z for it. Bias is not a bug, its a feature, one that consumers demand.

Also, social media and forums are major news sources for most people. Companies hire and fire based on such postings. Its worth noting Guardians of the Galaxy and Roseanne were too tremendously successful products which were nuked due to the postings of important people involved.

Last but not least its not formal media sites that make 'White woman calls cops on X' a overcovered trend, its snippets of video uploaded to social media which go viral. Almost everybody nowadays has an internet connected recording device in their pocket. By the time the media reports of stuff like that it is already famous (read: hundreds of thousands or millions of hits). So don't blame the media, blame the world.


The latest layoffs are due to sites (like Buzzfeed and Huffpo) which got good at releasing free news quickly losing clicks and thus revenue to people who produce even more quickly.

It's not inaccuracy or bias that kills, it's being too slow, too boring (hot takes get more clicks than cold takes) or talking about stuff comparatively few care about.

AndrewPrice said...

Daniel, I think it helps to see this in a nonpolitical context. This is the same pattern that is going on all across the media but here the rottenness of it doesn't get clouded by political bias or claims of different perspectives. These are the facts. The reporters ignored them to fake outrage. When caught, they kept right on going.

The same is true in financial reporting, political reporting and even Hollywood reporting. It's just really clear in this instance.

As for the layoffs, I've been following the implosion of the new media of late. Their switch to video reporting was a disaster and that's given them a double punch where they first laid off their writers, thinking they wouldn't need them, and now are laying off their reporters because people don't want videos. It's been fascinating and I think many of these companies will are entering a death spiral.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I don't think the shape and direction of new media is sustainable. They've changed the market by selling quick hits of ignorance, which got stupid people addicted and got them to become incapable of reading longer stories. Hence, there is no long-form market anymore and the short form market won't pay for the quick hits.

At the same time, it seems their solution is to keep pushing the lowest common denominator lower, but that only makes the problem worse.

Anthony said...


Due to public's reluctance to pay for news and dislike of advertising, to a point the media is always going to be reliant on the generosity of billionaires. Happily for the media there is no shortage of such people nowadays (several hundred at least).

I don't think the media is shaping the tastes of the public, I think the public (and technology) is shaping the media. I doubt there is any reversing the trend. People who care intensely about news tend to want consistent narratives rather than facts and they want it quickly and concisely (to put it mildly).

tryanmax said...

Media and the public are like binary stars, each pulling at the other. That said, I don't think anyone truly wants to be misled. What they do want is a way to show that they aren't misled. And that's how playing loose with facts can actually lock-in an audience.

If an outlet apologizes for a false hot-take, they basically tell their audience that they took them for a ride. But if they double-down on the hot-take, not only do they reassure their audience, they also provide the "evidence" that the hot-take was right all along.

Repeat across multiple stories and multiply against a narrative that pre-assigns good guys and bad guys and voila!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Sadly, you're probably right.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, It's never entirely either or, but the media is definitely responsible for giving what they give to the public. It's like a drug dealer saying, "Hey, it's not my fault the neighborhood turned to crap... they took the drugs."

True, but you enabled in a vital way.

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