Friday, January 6, 2017

Tempering Outrage (the One-Sided Stories, Again)

Outrageous headlines sell clicks and eyeballs.  But what is the other side of the story?  Usually we never find out - or care to!

You see the headlines every day:

"Family Thrown Off of Flight for Wearing Headscarves!"

"Lady fired from Wal-Mart for Giving Hugs!"

"Police shoot unarmed teen!"

"Man thrown off plane for speaking Arabic!"

One thing about all of these stories is they are designed to get you outraged, and of course to click on the story, watch the TV show, or buy the newspaper.   The media doesn't make money from "nothing interesting happened today" or "Things are going fine!"

They make money from controversy and discord.   They know if you can be outraged, your blind fury will drive you to do things against your own self-interest, such as sitting through ten ads for new SUVs so you can see the rest of the story they teased you with.  They want to cultivate a carefully crafted sense of outrage in people, to keep them on-edge and nervous and angry all the time.  Because this makes people depressed and depressed people are excellent consumers.

Because the way our legal system is structured, often people on the "other side of the story" in these matters can't comment right away.  They can only raise arguments in court cases, which are often not reported by the media (the initial outrage is always reported, the follow-up, if any, is never talked about).  So we hear only one side of the story in most of these cases, and really can't figure out what really happened, other than to blindly believe what one side says.  And often this one side wants to sue someone, so they are trying to generate public support for their cause.

So for example, someone claims they were fired "for no good reason" or because they were wearing a hadjib or whatever.   The employer can't comment on the matter without creating a new grounds for being sued.   So all you hear is one side of the story.  Until the person actually sues their employer for wrongful termination, you won't hear the other side of the story.   For example, maybe they had a history of showing up late, being rude to customers, or whatever.

But of course, the people who "try their case in the media" rarely end up suing.    They are trying to damage the reputation of their employer with unfounded claims.   If they had a real case, they should file suit.  What they want to do is create a PR nightmare, then offer to settle for a nominal sum quickly, to make the story "die" in the press.   

If the company doesn't fork over the blackmail money (and that is what it is, in many cases) they promise to keep stirring up a shitstorm again and again in the media, until the company's reputation is damaged.

What is really interesting about this type of story is that if you research it on the Internet you usually find the original story - but can never figure out how it was resolved.   Did they settle out of court?  Did they sue?  Was the company found at fault?   You see the initial story and then - vapor.  It makes you wonder what was really going on and what really happened. 

Sometimes we never hear the other side of the story.

In some instances they do sue.  And these cases are often settled for trivial amounts - less than the cost of attorney's fees the company would incur by going to trial.   Rather than spend $250,000 trying such a case, it is easier to just pay off these folks, issue an "apology" and say you are "retraining staff" and move on with life.

The problem with this model is that it creates special rights for certain groups of people.   Don't look sideways at me or I will sue!   So everyone has to walk on eggs around certain people, lest they be acccused of something.   Meanwhile, the rest of us get shit on.

I recounted before how after September 11th, I was flying to California and had to change planes.  As we boarded the plane, three of us were pulled aside at random for bag searches and personal searches.  They picked me, wearing a business suit, an old grandmother, and a guy with a briefcase that said in gold letters, "Oklahoma State Insurance Commissioner".  We were a real rogues gallery of would-be terrorists.

But we took it all in good humor and let them dig through our luggage, wand us with beepers, and we emptied out pockets.   It was a pretty stupid security precaution, but after 9/11 they were still grasping at straws.

The point is, and I did have one, is that life isn't always "fair" and yes, people are going to hate you for who you are and what you believe in or who you sleep with.  I get this all the time.   My sense of outrage is quite dulled at this point.  I know and understand how human beings work.  They are fallible and weak.

But I also know how evil people can be and how they like to play "victim" in order to get attention or make money.

I am not sure what the real story is behind the links I have above.   It appears one of the "victims" is actually known for making prank videos where he claims to be "discriminated against" for being Arab.  It remains to be seen whether this was one of his pranks - according to other passengers he was shouting loudly.

The point is, to be skeptical about these one-sided stories.  Temper your outrage until you hear both sides of the story and also try to fill in the blanks and think about what the other side of the story could be.

Because in most cases, people are not being jerks in throwing people off a plane for no good reason.  In most cases, cops are not just shooting people for the hell of it.

And one sure way to tell if a story is one-sided and probably full of holes is if someone wants you to be outraged by it all.  The more they try to get you outraged, the odds are, the story is probably false, incomplete, or one-sided.   It is a pretty good metric for spotting fake news, too!

There is usually - but not always - another side to the story.   Save your outrage for when both sides are known.

Don't be a pawn in someone else's game.  Don't be baited.  Don't squander emotional energy.