Media’s toothpaste problem

In the past 7 days two stories have illustrated a key issue facing future journalist and any of us who wish to consume news content that we find helpful.

Senator Ted Cruz posted this Christmas parody ad on his YouTube channel on Dec 18th and as of this writing has garnered nearly 2 million views. In the video he is shown reading the “Christmas story” to his children and in kind the Washington Post posted an illustration from Pulitzer Prize winning artist Ann Telnaes on their site of Senator Cruz as an organ grinder and his children as monkeys.

Political cartoons have been an important part of the tenuous relationship of the citizenry and the government dating back to the 1700’s, but this cartoon went one step too far.

The backlash was immediate and hefty enough that the Washington Post pulled the cartoon and echoed the thoughts of some that children should be kept out of the political crossfire, of which I agree. However, this is not the first time — nor will it be the last time a political figure’s children have come under fire by political satirists in any medium. It is after all, a part of protected speech covered by the First Amendment but that is not where I have an issue.

My issue is with the coverage of the cartoon being pulled.

Without fail on every platform, channel, medium, and outlet any time the host or anchor would talk about the story and how we should keep children out of it, they would show the cartoon. The cartoon would show up on hundreds of sites that were not the Washington Post, so they were in the clear. but the damage (if there is some) has been done. A clear case of nothing on the Internet every truly going away because in this report first, get clicks, viewers, or pageviews economy you need this fodder to feed the hungry crowds.

It wasn’t that these stations actually thought there was anything wrong with the cartoon, or the fact that the children were monkeys, it is that this sort of vapid reporting will get people to pay attention for a moment or two and then they go right back to their lives.

What are they paying attention to? The cartoon.

So did pulling the cartoon help? Or did it speed up the way in which the content went viral?

The second story is about Peyton Manning and did he or didn’t he take human growth hormone that was sent to his wife in 2011. The story broke on Al Jazeera Sunday from journalist Deborah Davies and centers around Charlie Sly, a pharmacist who allegedly supplied the testimony that Manning came in for some treatments and had the HGH shipped to his wife in order to avoid suspension.

After the story broke Charlie Sly recanted his statements but most people don’t read corrections. So here you have someone’s career in question using testimony that was recorded without that person knowing and then printed for the world to read on a day where the only thing people talk about, is football.

This story may be true, but it needs more vetting. If it isn’t true, it hardly matters because for 6 hours on Sunday as football fans watched the NFL on FOX getting ready for the early games to start all they heard is that Peyton Manning is a cheater, doubtful they chased down the second part where Mr. Sly says the statements were not true and somewhere in the middle is the truth — but we don’t seem very interested in that these days.

The reality is that the publishers are in love with the sound of a click and the public is in love with the idea of being judge, jury, and executioner. Tell me again the last time the flames and pitchforks went away quietly after a mistake had been made? It was probably the same time you got the toothpaste back in the tube.

Eric HultgrenComment