In the fourth grade, I sent one of those “Do you like me? Please check the box for yes, no or maybe” notes to a boy named Jereme I liked. I don’t think I really “like, liked” him. But my girlfriends had already gotten their fourth grade boyfriends in this same manner, and it seemed like I needed one too.
I think the typical fourth grade courtship consisted of nothing more than just saying you were boyfriend and girlfriend. And Jereme with an “e” was available. I think Jeremy with a “y” was taken. Ahhh, the ‘80s.
Unfortunately, when I slipped the note to Jereme with an “e,” he did not follow the instructions of checking the answer box and politely returning it to me. No, instead he stood up and announced to the whole class I had slipped him this note, read it aloud, and then said, “My answer is this …” followed by him running around the whole room pretending to puke on my letter.
So I guess his answer was a definitive no. You could have just checked the box, Jereme. Geez.
Of course, everyone laughed and it was/is one of my core traumatizing memories. I never sent a note like that again, I can tell you that.
But I often think about that memory when I make the gigantic mistake of logging on to the world’s biggest dumpster fire known as Twitter.
Because really isn’t it just a bunch of Jeremes running around the world wide web puking on a news story or another tweet or vomiting out some carefully crafted comment designed to make you look so smart and so awesome, while also shaming someone else?
Yes, yes it is. At least to me. I absolutely hate it. I rarely get on it. And when I do, it is just to look around; I almost never Tweet myself. I learned how much it hurts to be “puked on” in fourth grade. I ain’t got no time for all those Jeremes with a keyboard (instead of a note folded into a perfect triangle) in my life right now.
But sadly, I feel like the mob mentality and shaming so popular on Twitter has influenced today’s media in a very negative way as well, especially on cable news. It has essentially just become the live action version of Twitter, with anchors and commentators and even some “news” reporters acting as trolls instead of journalists.
I see this with print reporters too, adding snarky comments to their own “straight news” stories. It’s one thing for an opinion writer to do that, but for a reporter who presents himself or herself as an unbiased, hard news reporter, well, I just don’t see how those two universes can exist at the same time. They really shouldn’t. But they do.
A perfect example of shaming was the past weekend’s Memorial Day weekend coverage. It was if all the major news networks sent out their reporters to every beach or lake in America (but especially the South) to see if they could find a group of beach-bathing hicks to mock and shame for going outside.
I was one of those beach-bathing hicks on Dauphin Island this weekend. I imagined what would have happened if one of the cable news reporters was out on the beach interviewing me. I would have carefully explained the group of six I was with contained my family and close friends who I had already had contact with and we were at least 15 to 20 yards (not feet, yards!) away from any neighboring group of strangers.
But I wondered if it would be packaged in an entirely different way with the chyron reading, “Woman refuses to let Memorial Day partying stop as death toll nears 100,000.”
And the breathless reporter would add as she tossed it back to the anchor, “And I will say, no one in her group was wearing a mask, Brian.”
We were on the beach … by ourselves … not in Publix or Costco, Brian!
But it wouldn’t matter. The news clip would end up on Twitter and a bunch of Jeremes would call me a dumb Karen.
(Note to fellow middle-aged people: A “Karen” is a term for “an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman.” I just learned this one recently when my 10-year-old son asked me if I was “a Karen.” I Googled it and then said, “Well, I am a middle-aged white woman, but I am not sporting a ‘Can I speak to your manager’ haircut, so I am going to say no … for now.” I will admit the “Karen” thing makes me chuckle.)
No such reporter did that to me.
But CNN reporter Gary Tuchman, of course, found some people in Gulf Shores in and around The Hangout to give him the exact quotes and video clips he wanted to make us all look like a bunch of rednecks with a death wish. Of course, no images of the many, many, many, many people following social distancing guidelines and enjoying the beaches and weekend responsibly. (Although, I suspect even some of the people Gary interviewed for his piece were following distancing guidelines but it was hard to tell because the shot was so tight.)
At press time, it had been retweeted 1,383 times with a bunch of Jeremes shaming Alabama. I am sure it would have been more, but thankfully people at a pool party in the Lake of the Ozarks, who looked like they were in just as much danger of dying from drowning in other people’s pool urine as corona, stole our opportunity to be shamed even more.
Thank you, Lake of the Ozarks!
I am sure Gary could have crafted the same story at any beach in America this weekend, including ones in New Jersey, a state with a MUCH higher death rate than Alabama, but we are just a much easier target. We know how this works.
As you may have heard, we are in “unprecedented” times. And we are. But this whole new genre of “shame journalism” created — or at least amplified by — the granddaddy of modern public shaming, Twitter, is just grotesque.
We are here to find and tell all sides of the story and present the whole picture, not create a narrative and then go find shirtless dudes in Alabama to support it and then admonish them. If Gary had just gone a mile down the beach in either direction it would have been a totally different story, but then he and Anderson Cooper couldn’t shake their heads in disgust as they discussed this, and an alarmed and concerned Anderson wouldn’t have been able to tell Gary, “Stay safe.”
I am not saying what Gary presented wasn’t part of the story, but it certainly wasn’t all of it. And that is precisely why people are so fed up with the media right now.
If someone slipped me a note reading, “Do you like the modern American media landscape right now? Circle yes, no or maybe,” I would have to pull a Jereme and run around the room and puke on it.
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