Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Wendy's Chili Finger Psych-Out

Norm's piece (below) got me thinking a little more about the blame game that erupts when a story falls apart. Who's to blame for oopsy-daisy journalism? The crappy source, or the hasty journalist?

Plenty of finger pointing but--hey, speaking of pointing fingers, you know the finger that the lady in San Jose said came up in her cup of Wendy's chili? Well the story now is that she lied, a hoax that is said to have cost Wendy's millions in financial losses, and according to CNN, "authorities" are going after the woman for grand larceny.

So why isn't CNN quaking over this development? It's because I'm just picking on them. Really, I am, and totally out of the blue, because every other news outlet you can think of also picked up the story, which means that unlike the Qu'ran toilet story in Newsweek, there is no singular news outlet to attack. They're all guilty this time. Across-the-board, they ran an under-researched allegation that cost one company millions of dollars because of the attention these media outlets gave it. They went on a single source, as Newsweek did, though this source clearly saw money to be made with her claim (there's no other reason not to resolve such a matter quietly). Had news outlets verified the source of the finger before reporting the story, as was done in a surprising subsequent dismembered-finger-in-my-food story, they would have discovered, as the police investigation found, that this claim was a lie, and responsibly not reported it.

This story wasn't timely, it was just strange, you can wait to read about it until it's true or not. It was an allegation, but unlike other suspiscious hoaxes, like those of Susan Smith and more recently the "runaway bride" there was no benefit to assuming this one was true. Nobody will mobilize a rescue squad for a severed finger that has already turned up. In fact, this allegation is sure to harm at least one party.

So here's where Crazy sets in. The mistake that the news outlets made in reporting the unfounded story cost Wendy's millions of dollars. The desperate woman with the anatomical condiment gets charged with grand larceny now because Wendy's has actually lost millions of dollars as a result of the media reports pertaining to her claim. So from the reports on the finger, Wendy's loses millions and a woman faces up to seven years in prison, while systemically irresponsible journalists that didn't investigate details about the harmful allegations before reporting them slink away without reprimand, to report now on the mess they so casually created.

So why isn't CNN quaking over this development? It turns out everyone's got better things to talk about. Like the guy with the finger ice cream in his fridge. Oh yeah, it's real--so unless that woman is going down, Wendy's finger stories are so over.


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