Don’t Blame the Lying Receipt Waitress; Blame the Media

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


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The media long ago stopped reporting the news. It still does it here and there. An earthquake in Guam. The price of soybeans going up. That sort of thing. But its main stock in trade is “narrative”.

That means it tells stories. Stories have heroes and villains. They have dramatic arcs. The main characters rise and fall.

Life however is a lot messier than the artificiality of a three-act structure. But that doesn’t stop the media for trying to make it fit anyway. And that means the difference between Reality TV (partly scripted) and the evening news (partly scripted) is tenuous.

In both cases, troubled people come forward looking for attention, and then the media decides how to cast them, whether to turn them into sympathetic characters or villains. Or then flip them around for more drama.

And here’s the other thing. The story has an agenda. It tends to have a moral.

Liberals are good. Conservatives are bad. Corporations (except theirs) are evil. Non-profits (except conservative ones) are good. Gay people are victims. Black people are victims. White families (except theirs) are evil privileged scum.

Politically correct receipt victims became a thing. A number of them were exposed as frauds, but that didn’t stop the media from publicizing these cases because they were dramatic personal anecdotes, which liberals use as an effective way of bypassing structural values.

So the media championed the case of the lying mentally unstable waitress. Now that her case has collapsed, they’ll tear her to shreds, even though they’re the guilty party.

There are plenty of crazy people who will come forward to tell all sorts of lies if they find a niche to do it in. The media provides the niche. And it has very low verification levels. And if it gets defrauded, it plays innocent even though it’s really to blame because it didn’t bother to do the kind of fact checking that it would have done if a religious waitress claimed that a gay couple refused to tip her because of her beliefs.

But that kind of story would never run. It has the wrong moral. It doesn’t fit the larger political narrative.

The media doesn’t worry that the story is fake. They know that empathy is a powerful tool. And people will empathize even with things that they know are fake… as screenwriter Robert Avrech points out.

A few months ago, a high school girl and aspiring screenwriter came to me for advice. She mentioned that she loved the hit TV series Modern Family and would “love to write stuff like that.” This girl is from a solid Torah family. She’s active in Bnei Akiva and volunteers with Bikur Cholim—an admirable young woman in every way. I asked her what she thought about gay marriage. She knew exactly what I was getting at. Smiling self-consciously, she said that she knew it was wrong, but she really loved the gay characters on the show and would feel as if she were betraying them if she came out against gay marriage.

“They’re not real,” I chided gently.

“They’re real to me,” she said.

The gay characters on a fictional TV sitcom have become real to this fine young woman and to millions of viewers around the world.

People can rationally distinguish between “fake” and “real”, but they’re not that good at making emotional distinctions between real and fake. Something that they know rationally is fake can still have a great emotional force that is stronger than reason.

That is what Hollywood and its “Fake but Accurate” cousin, the news media, are counting on when they tell their stories. They aren’t trying to win a rational argument. They’re trying to create emotional identification and turn that into identity.

Along the way they exploit amateur actors like the liesbian waitress. But she’s just a player. Don’t blame the player. Blame the director.

  • TheOrdinaryMan

    Would this admirable young woman be supportive of gay marriage if she knew how many in the gay community are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic? Shows like Modern Family are propaganda, pure and simple.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      but people buy into the propaganda

    • tickletik

      The silly little fool would eat feces with sprinkles if a proper ad campaign came out for it. This is why a TV should not be in the house. I don’t care if someone believes in the Torah or is an atheist. A family with a tv is just walking meat.

    • Gerry X

      While it is true there are some misguided leftist anti-Israel gay individuals (queers for Palestine), there are just as many pro-Israel gay people (Michael Lucas, gay porn star/director is one of the prominent activists). Just because someone is gay, doesn’t automatically mean they’re rabid leftist anti-semites. I refuse to be pigeonholed like this with the rest of “the gay community”.
      This “admirable” young lesbian’s opinions are of no importance, and by the way, Bruce Bawer who writes for Front Page Magazine stated in one of his books that gay marriage is a CONSERVATIVE option, whether you like it or not.

    • Tim N

      I just watch it for Sofia Vergara.

    • http://www.clarespark.com/ Clare Spark

      I suspect that many gays are on the left and that explains their anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, if such a generalization even is valid. Such views are about identifying with underdogs.

  • A Z

    Great Essay. You are going to attract attention from the MSM before long.

  • laura r

    daniel, i just left a comment on the original artical, blaming the media. you are 10 steps ahead, beat me to it. i remember when TV was entertaining, now its just one fake “queen for a day”

  • http://www.clarespark.com/ Clare Spark

    I’m not sure that the line between Real and Fake is all that clear to us. See http://clarespark.com/2013/08/09/melodrama-and-its-appeal/. “Melodrama and its appeal.” I am not against gay marriage, by the way. But I do agree with DG that “stories” about “compassion” rule and are turned into “Identity.”

  • Donnell B

    interesting article about about manipulation in media. Lets visit an example from this very article. Which of the two following words would you say has a more positive association with: “People” or “Families”

    I think most people have a generally positive response to the word “Family” whereas the word “People” is relatively neutral.

    Now lets look at the wording employed by the article:
    “Gay People” & “Black People” Vs. “White families”

    This is the exact wording as it appears in the article

    “Liberals are good. Conservatives are bad. Corporations (except theirs) are evil. Non-profits (except conservative ones) are good. Gay people are victims. Black people are victims. White families (except theirs) are evil privileged scum.”

    If, the article wanted to be completely fair, it would not have favored the term “White” by associating it with the family, which in turn leads one to consider white children while associating the words “Black” and “Gay” with People or adults.

    are we to assume that black families don’t exist?
    are we to assume that gay families don’t exist?