Fresh fish for sale: The media and the gullible public

I don’t know when the trend began, but many newspapers (and later, radio and television media) discovered that ‘juicy’ headlines and intriguing stories sell better than dull headlines and mundane stories.

Now, the world isn’t full of juicy stories and intrigue. So, when newspapers find something interesting to report, they will focus on the juicy and fleshy part and draw us in.

When you read ‘Boy pats dog and gives him a bone’ next to ‘Girl rides pony over cliff’, I’d hazard that you read about the girl and pony before the boy send dog story. Of course, we’ve livers of boy-dog stories, who can’t resist just one more. What the media also know is that most people are happy to take what they receive and not question that much.

Papers which have a reputation for extraordinary stories, such as National Enquirer, know that reporting on peeping through windows, or always being where aliens have landed, is not likely to be challenged by the few others who do the same and hardly at all by anyone else. That gives them time to run with bits of stories and by the time some think they smell a rat, they’ve moved on to reeling in other fish.

Many juicy stories have a grain of truth. So, the girl and pony did ride off a cliff, but it was part of a staged stunt to test a safety harness.  Other times, stories seem juicy because only one side of the story is presented, maybe with vague confirmation or denials from other parties. The reporter runs with the herring and the scent is strong and followed all the way. By the time the principals hear of the reports, the press, like a con man, has changed jackets and is not selling Rolex watches cheaply, but Cartiers.

The media know that public focus shifts fast and ability to press for facts is low. Even well-educated and well-read and well-connected people are prone to being caught by a scent. They may even help drag the fish, because they ‘know’ how the bodies involved operate. But, they forget that no matter how well they knew Adam and Eve, as tennis partners, they were never in the same bedroom. So, when Eve bought apples for the first time from Whole Foods and offered one to her beau, who took it, the press got wind of it. But, even in a garden in Paradise of only two people that’s no story. Enter the snake, invented by the fresh new cub reporter, Lucifer, who got the core of his idea of the apple being an evil offering accepted by his editor, Gabriel. The rest is history, or is it fiction?

Though not what sparked my thoughts on this, yesterday’s papers had elements of this. ‘Girl gangsters booted! screamed the Gleaner front page headline. We were taken along the trail of violent and intimidating behaviour at the all-girls Queen’s School. Shockingly, we were told it was an all-girl gang, and dubbed ‘Mafia gang’ by a teacher. I grabbed my coffee cup and peered at the poorly smudged images of girls from the school–not necessarily the gangsters, which begged certain questions.

Not gangster girls from Queens School (courtesy The Gleaner)

But, sip on.  I noted that the paper stressed that the school had refused to comment. I noted that there was no mention of police reports. I noted that there was no reference to any child protection agencies. I noticed a few gaps in how the story ‘tied together’. It may all be true, but, then again, it may not. Will the Gleaner run a follow-up? Will parents or school administrators comment? Will the JCF give some insight, as the chasers of gents and gangsters? In nine days’ time will we remember the story? Wait! What’s this? Head of Love March found in… 😳

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)