Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Investigative reporting you can laugh at

In probably the most asinine news coverage since Balloon Boy, the media has taken to claiming that attacks on red-headed kids in Calabasas yesterday were inspired by a 5 year old episode of South Park. A few articles even claimed that South Park actually made up the word "ginger."

After some hearty lulz and helpful cluing in by commenters, more thought out stories were published by the end of the day that included mentions of the South Park episode as a satirical episode using Cartman's prejudice against gingers to ridicule general prejudice against given groups.

Even if this story wasn't an earth-shattering mega-important world news story, it's just yet another point scored against proper investigative reporting. It's easy to blame a show like South Park for the creation of the alleged catalyst Facebook group "Kick a Ginger Day," because on the surface South Park has always remained a crass and offensive (to those with delicate sensibilities) show. And because not all of the episodes are trying to portray a specific message, it's not hard to imagine that many might have just seen one episode of the show and written it off as simply crass and offensive. For those of you who are just tuning in to South Park for the first time, here's a big clue in how to analyze the show: almost anything that Eric Cartman likes, or advocates, is NOT meant to be taken seriously and in fact usually is the focal point of the satire. Therefore, in this instance, because Cartman was the one encouraging violence against gingers, the intended message is NOT to agree with him.

Journalists need to stop relying on what the most sensational headlines and stories will be when they're covering what is obviously a very real problem, wherein middle school kids think it's actually okay to beat up red-headed kids. This is just another example of "Blame the Internet!" and "Blame that television box!" when the reality is that those children have parents that have failed to teach them right from wrong. It's one thing to laugh at a ginger joke. It's another thing to think it's okay to actually beat up on gingers, and it's not the Internet or South Park that stripped those kids of their morality. So reporters - I beg you - when you're doing your fancy investigative journalism, I know it seems like the most important thing to get your story up on the internet faster than everyone else, but don't employ the same trite media cliches of blaming the TV because it's the first thing that came to your mind when you were racking your brain about why on earth these sweet little kids would do such a horrible thing. If you think South Park is the reason, I can tell you unequivocally that you are wrong. The reason is that those are not sweet little kids.

At least one blog that my Google News dug up seems to have gotten it right.

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