ANATOMY OF A RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION CIRCLE JERK

The media industry is profit-driven like any other, and for the media profits are synonymous with eyeballs. The more eyeballs they can train on their product, the more of your attention they have to sell to advertisers. There is a particular type of story we're seeing repeatedly on the internet lately, one that is specifically crafted to go viral. The target audience for most online-oriented media outlets is the 18-54 group, and if there is one thing we love it's the sound of our own voices. If we have room to love anything else, it is getting righteously indignant in Facebook comments when our friends share news stories designed to provide us with maximum opportunity to get righteously indignant.

For all the whining that Americans do about media bias, they are endlessly capable of overlooking it or simply ignoring it when it suits their preferences and beliefs. If (political) media bias is the act of framing a story in a way that reflects unduly positively or negatively on one particular side of an issue, then I am not sure I have seen a more blatantly biased article than this popular Facebook share item from last week regarding the fast food stroke. Originally from the Detroit News, it was syndicated and widely distributed via Huffington Post.

As the authors are skilled at their craft, the text of the article is mostly bland and inoffensive. Then they quoted one of the professed strikers:

Shaniqua Davis, 20, lives in the Bronx with her boyfriend, who is unemployed, and their 1-year-old daughter. Davis has worked at a McDonald's a few blocks from her apartment for the past three months, earning $7.25 an hour. Her schedule varies, but she never gets close to 40 hours a week. "Forty? Never. They refuse to let you get to that (many) hours."

Her weekly paycheck is $150 or much lower. "One of my paychecks, I only got $71 on there. So I wasn't able to do much with that. My daughter needs stuff, I need to get stuff for my apartment," said Davis, who plans to take part in the strike Thursday.

She pays the rent with public assistance but struggles to afford food, diapers, subway and taxi fares, cable TV and other expenses with her paycheck.

"It's really hard," she said. "If I didn't have public assistance to help me out, I think I would have been out on the street already with the money I make at McDonald's."

Talk about a healthy serving of red meat. What doesn't this quote have? It tells you she's black ("Shaniqua lives in the Bronx…"), that she's an unwed mother, that her boyfriend is unemployed, and she's on what people who like to bitch about this sort of thing generically call "welfare." Best of all, she's poor and she says she has cable TV. See? SEE? This is something everyone can enjoy; right wingers get to fly into a pant shitting rage about how the money they work SO HARD for (never too hard to prevent them from commenting on this story on Facebook at work) is going to Welfare Queens to buy cable TV and twerking and Big Screen TVs and the hip-hop music. Centrists and the more patronizing left wing types get to enter Paternalism Mode to explain that we need to teach The Poors to make better choices with their money.

I wrote this post after reading the HuffPo story and seeing it moralistically debated on Facebook numerous times. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see the original version and, I shit you not, this is the very first comment on the Detroit News online story:

Capture

Thanks for making my point, Phil Koprowski, proud graduate of Anchor Bay High School in the coastal resort town of New Baltimore, Michigan!

How many people do you think the writer(s) interviewed? How many people do you think they could have interviewed? That is, what is the population of New York City fast food workers? If that group isn't 500,000 strong I'd be shocked. How many of them did they have to interview until they found Shaniqua Davis, unwed single mom of the Bronx, who is on public assistance but tells the reporter that she has cable TV?

This. This is biased journalism. This is cherry-picking a quote out of the sea of possible interviewees and quotes to make an ideological point. As a journalist, you don't go into a laundry list of what someone spends their monthly paychecks on unless you're grinding an ideological ax. You don't accidentally choose a subject for your story that fits the prejudices and caricatures in the minds of newspapers' target demographic (white people with disposable income) so cleanly. The story may be about the fast food strike, ostensibly, but 90% of readers are going to take exactly one thing away from this story: Here we go again, more black inner city single moms looking for more handouts to support their Cadillac lifestyles.

It's not hard to read a news item and tell that the writer has gone on a fishing expedition to find the most outlandish, stereotype-reinforcing quote to portray a group of people in the most negative, unsympathetic light. This story is written to produce the sound of screeching tires in the reader's mind as soon as the words "cable TV" appear, and everyone's too busy pontificating on their own industriousness or taking the White Man's Burden view of Those People (If only we could teach them our middle class values!) to think at all about media bias let alone connect the dots to this story.

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46 Responses to “ANATOMY OF A RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION CIRCLE JERK”

  1. c u n d gulag Says:

    Look on the plus side, Ed – they didn't search to find a "Blah" unwed mother on Welfare, who talked about not being able to even afford a nickel or dime bag.

    PROGRESS!!!

  2. Arslan Says:

    Nail hit on head.

  3. cromartie Says:

    It wasn't called the Nixon News for nothing. Still full of RWNJ columnists. If it didn't have the only decent sports section in the state, it wouldn't be worth reading at all.

  4. Hazy Davy Says:

    You're completely right.

    Still, in an article about wages, I'd hope the article discussed how far those wages stretch. So, I think I'm ok with mentioning that FF Worker needs government housing assistance, because the McDonald's pay is insufficient. That…one…thing.

    You're chapped about the story slant (as am I). What's really amazing about the first comment you linked to, is how many additional assumptions the commenter had to make about FF Worker (that her boyfriend is the father of her child, that her boyfriend has been long-term unemployed, etc.)

    The larger point is dead on—what was news is now "media outlets", and increasingly, they play to their target audience.

  5. Jason T. Says:

    There's your left-wing liberal media.

  6. Jason T. Says:

    Reporters long ago stopped sympathizing with the working classes, because they are now Educated, Elite Professionals, who Pulled Themselves Up By Their Own Bootstraps … "their own bootstraps" being a synonym for "federally backed student loans to attend journalism school at a public land-grant university."

    Media sympathies now lie with celebrities, politicians and the wealthy. Reporters hang around the tables of the rich, basking in the reflected glory, convincing themselves that they, too, belong there.

    They should learn to be nicer to people who make $7.25 an hour, because the way corporate journalism is going, they'll be slinging burgers soon, too.

    Or, hey, maybe they can write for free at the Huffington Post and see how far that gets them.

  7. Prudence Says:

    "Reporters long ago stopped sympathizing with the working classes, because they are now Educated, Elite Professionals, who Pulled Themselves Up By Their Own Bootstraps

  8. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    When I read that story, it says to me that (1) you can't fucken live on $7.25 an hour being held down by McDonald's to part-time hours so that you don't get benefits and (2) McDonald's is a fucken parasite on the taxpayers, relying on taxpayer subsidies to keep its employees fed, housed, clothed, and medically cared for so that it doesn't have to spend more money paying them a livable wage.

  9. Jason Flynn Says:

    Since when is an single mother attempting to live on minimum wage an unsympathetic caricature?
    Yeah, that writer went out to find a quote from someone whose story would best fit the mold for the piece (which is stupid and inherently inserts the writers viewpoint)
    But this isn't an instance of some one creating a Mammy figure or a Carter-era Queen trading food stamps like Apple stock.
    This is a group of people latching onto the couple of things they can rant about within their narrow minded universe, because they can't go around telling people that a cycle of poverty is just peachy and "those people" are doing fine with half of a living wage because they're in the same neighborhood as the "urban element" selling crack boulders and jazz cigarettes.

  10. John Danley Says:

    Koprowski appears to be living up to his avatar. This mindset is nothing more than justification for slow suffocation via economic genocide of those who prepare Phil's freedom fries without reciprocity.

  11. Andrew Says:

    Ironically, the people who want you to wait for two good jobs before starting a family don't want you to have access to birth control. "Why don't you wait until you both have good jobs before you have sex?" is what they're really saying, because they're a bunch of sexually hung-up mama's boy geeks who wouldn't know a vagina if it sat on their tiny dicks.

  12. E* Says:

    I'm with Comradde PhysioProffe on this one. When I first read the excerpt, my first thought was, "Goddammit, why the hell are we spending our hard-earned tax dollars on subsidies to McDonald's, effectively giving them carte blanche to underpay their workers?" Not because I'm not racist of course, but because I'm so blinded by my hatred of the fact that large corporations can externalize all of their costs and pocket the difference.

    Koprowski, when you enjoy that cheap-as-shit burger, you should understand that your tax dollars subsidize its price. Does that make you the welfare recipient? Maybe you should have waited until you had a good job to start eating.

  13. Bob Says:

    But why should I pay taxes to help twerking poor people go twerking every night and then twerk while watching their cable TV and leaving their illegitimate kids alone while twerking and coming home high on drugs after twerking all night and just generally twerking while twerking.
    That's an argument I am proud of and will stand behind 100% until next month when the next cause de jour on the right comes along and then I edit accordingly.

  14. Dick Nixon Says:

    I have often noticed that right wingers use the term "hard earned" to describe their income–particularly when they try to justify their niggardly ways with the poorest and weakest among us.

    I'm so glad my dollars were "soft earned" –they must have been in that I don't particularly feel bad about redistributing money to the lower end of the social curve.

    Maybe if I had put my "nose to the grindstone" and pulled at my bootstraps
    I'd have those "hard earned dollars" that people talk about. They must be fundamentally different from the ones I have.

  15. Stephen Says:

    1) The Detroit News link isn't the same article as the HuffPo link.

    2) As much as they tried to spin Shaniqua, she actually gave them a solid quote:

    "Her schedule varies, but she never gets close to 40 hours a week. 'Forty? Never. They refuse to let you get to that (many) hours.'"

    That definitely implies that she WANTS to work full time, but the management won't give her that many hours (probably to avoid possible OT). Then of course the AP reporters go off the rails, but still.

  16. Andrew Says:

    I agree with Dick Nixon. There's a sentence I never thought I'd write. :-)

    I get most of my money from being smart, white, male, and heterosexual, none of which I chose to be, and from having rich and dead grandparents, and very little of it from working hard, which I do anyway.

  17. Tim H. Says:

    Knowing there might be a bible-thumper come across this, I found something relevant: Leviticus 19:13 and Mark 5:4. And I'm thinking y'all need to ignore a LOT of scripture to be right-wingers and go to church.

  18. Well mostly Says:

    Funny how the articles on Chinese, or other third world factory workers are always slanted to gain sympathy for the poor workers and how bad the owners, managers or Western contractors are (not incorrectly). While articles on American factory workers, well, fast food factories, are like the above, with workers somehow becoming the villains.
    Well maybe not funny. Sympathy is easier at a distance. Ed nailed it.
    And kudos to Comrrade – f'in leaches.
    Owners will get away with whatever they can. Always have, always will. When we read "pro business climate" it translates to "come and take what you can – open season. And we don't give a shit." Those three million open jobs we hear so much about….no one qualified…..could be filled in three weeks if owners would pay more. Please tell me why supply and demand doesn't work in that part of the labor market without out exploiting foreign workers on B1 visas. Strange that.

  19. Don Says:

    You're assuming that "Shaniqua" even exists.

  20. Sharper Says:

    What!? I'm appalled Shaniqua isn't getting Mother of the Year. How is she supposed to teach little Tyrese, let alone her shiftless baby-daddy, how the real world works if she isn't allowed to tune in to cable-carried Fox News?

  21. Major Kong Says:

    I'd like to see Phil Koprowski, proud graduate of Anchor Bay High School in the coastal resort town of New Baltimore, Michigan live on less than $150 a week for a while.

    Might teach him a little empathy and humility.

    Oh who am I kidding? It'll just make his seething indignation burn white hot.

  22. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Major Kong: "White hot" being the operative term. I have tried to discern, in all of the coverage, both "impartial" and openly opinionated, some version of the argument against the case of the fast food workers that is not substantially racist.

    I have not succeeded.

    To the contrary, the glee with which the phrase "THESE PEOPLE"–as in "what THESE PEOPLE don't seem to understand is"–has been used has been delivered as the merest of facades covering racial slurs has suggested to me that, once again, America's bigots need to sack up, stop pretending, and say what they really think–that blacks are lazy and irresponsible, that Hispanics are after "our" rightful jobs, etc. Just say it. JUST SAY IT. You're not fooling anyone. JUST SAY IT.

    Because as sickening as your racism is, your smug belief that if you don't say it with total frankness, you cannot be called out for it, is worse. (Well, no–it's not worse. The racism is the worst. The smug smokescreen's just additionally bad.) And whom are you afraid of alienating? Your viewers/readers? Have you READ the comments section? Trust me, you will NOT suffer for your honesty. JUST SAY IT.

    I think they're pissed off because fast food jobs CANNOT be shipped overseas, and Americans are, in fact, unable to do without what the fry-slingers are providing, so this is one instance where, frankly, unionization has got a REAL good chance at succeeding. And what's more terrifying than THAT?

    (Answer: Black people unionizing. That's more terrifying. Because of the racism.)

  23. Misterben Says:

    Just want to take a moment to thank you for this excellent column. Haven't seen this perspective elsewhere, and it needed to be said.

  24. cromartie Says:

    You guys who think New Baltimore is a resort town crack me up.

    It's basically Romeo on the lake. Culturally, Romeo is famous for giving us Kid Rock.

    Three generations ago, white people (along with black people) migrated up from the south to take jobs at auto factories in the immediate Detroit area.

    Their kids didn't want to live with said black folk, fled to Macomb County and turned into "Reagan Democrats". Some of them did well enough to buy boats. Hence, New Baltimore.

    Their kids, with intellectual upside every bit as limited as their parents with the special mix of racism and classism inherited from their parents, get to suffer the consequences of their parents politics without the earning potential. The jerbs that were supposed to be there for them were shipped overseas.

    But they still have the boat, and the attitude that allows them to lob the same tired tropes at the urban poor from 23 Mile Road, so that's something, I guess.

  25. Dick Nixon Says:

    Many years ago I was in an executive meeting on policy–i.e. what everance to give to laid off workers. We collectivily decided on week's pay per years of service with a minimum of four.

    I was young and naive. I asked what the the policy would be for executive lay offs.There was a stunned silence in the room, and I was looked upon as if I had choked a kitten at the table.

    "Executive severance is negotitiated, young man."was the frosty answer from the CEO.

    Those, dear freinds, are soft earned dollars. They explain the gulf between Shauniqua and me.

  26. Xynzee Says:

    @Dick: when the pitchforks and torches come out, remember the lesson of Rahab. Tie a scarlet cord to your window and keep your family safely locked inside. I'd feel bad if we accidentally skewered you in the frenzy. ;)

  27. Larry, the Barefoot Bum Says:

    I have seen a more blatantly biased article than this popular Facebook share item from last week regarding the fast food stroke.

    You might want to fix the typo in the last word. I can't describe the brief but profoundly disturbing mental image in a family blog.

  28. Benny Lava Says:

    I also want to commend you for writing this. Great writing.

  29. Gordon Guano Says:

    I'm appalled and disgusted at people who CAN afford it having cable TV. Now, the Internet is a necessity. Plus, it lets you get your Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad without commercials.

  30. Dave Dell Says:

    It's taken me decades to learn to think critically and I still am shocked by my lack of critical thinking skills when the obvious is pointed out to me by a blog entry (and comments) such as this.

    How to teach this badly needed skill in middle school and high school?

  31. don Says:

    Comradde PhysioProffe and E* more or less got what I got from this – "this" being Ed's post and its quote; I didn't go to the article. I assume this means my knee is too old and tired to recognize when to jerk to the rights; I really, completely, utterly did not see any lazy-black-welfare-queen dogwhistles in the quoted bit. Just a woman who wants to work full time and can't, and a corporate oligarchy that knows it can pay starvation wages to its employees because the government it annexed some time ago will supply just enough more food and humiliation to keep them from burning the shithole down.

    McDonald's better get down and pray that its nearly-unpaid labor force can keep the cable tv going. Anesthetic is part of the program.

  32. Tex Says:

    It should be noted that Shaniqua's last name is Koprowski.

  33. Koprowski Derp Says:

    Let's not be too hard on Phil Kaprowski. He's hurting…his one-man iphone app company just shuttered after grossing $4.95 in revenue over the past three years. Seems he's looking for work and Best Buy is not hiring anymore for the Geek Squad.

    But he's a "maker", dammit, not a "taker"!

  34. HoosierPoli Says:

    "When I read that story, it says to me that (1) you can't fucken live on $7.25 an hour being held down by McDonald's to part-time hours so that you don't get benefits and (2) McDonald's is a fucken parasite on the taxpayers, relying on taxpayer subsidies to keep its employees fed, housed, clothed, and medically cared for so that it doesn't have to spend more money paying them a livable wage."

    Yep. Frankly an equally plausible explanation is the reporter is a leftie who though they were showing the plight of the untermensch, without realizing just how many dogwhistles were being blown for the dogs that listen for them.

  35. mbl Says:

    Serious question: I lived in Chicago for a good chunk of my life, teaching in an entirely African-American school, and the school I work at now is about a third black. I have never once in my life actually met a Shaniqua. Is that even a real name? Does anyone here know someone who is actually named Shaniqua?

  36. Nate Says:

    @mbl I think the name Shaniqua is another dogwhistle. Outside of this article, I've heard my brother use it when we were in high school in the late '90s… and I think he was referencing a Jerry Springer show episode he'd seen back then.

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  40. moderateindy Says:

    Use to work with both a Shaniqua and a Uniqua (at different places of employment). Shaniqua (Niq) had a Masters from U of IL and was ridiculously bright and industrious, in fact she was a bit of a work-aholic. The facility manager hated her because he constantly had to harangue her to leave so he could lock-up and go home.
    Uni was possibly one of the worst workers I've ever encountered. In her defense, she was 18, and working as a housekeeper at a hotel, which is brutal backbreaking work, and pretty much everyone under 20 sucked at it, regardless of race.

  41. Tosh Says:

    Trying to ascertain if the subtext was intentional. I read, at least the quote as another sad tome about, on paper, full time workers that cannot and would not survive without assistance or corporate welfare in disguise…

  42. Tosh Says:

    I don't see how young people get by these days, in particular if there is a (far too common) dysfunctional family situation, single parenting, or general lack of resources…

  43. don Says:

    yes, Shaniqua is a real name. It was kind of a flash in the pan, and I think most Shaniquas are in their twenties by now. I find it far more mellifluous and charming than the wackier fringe of Mormon names. Or Nevaeh for fucks sake.

  44. Carrstone Says:

    Come now, it's not all bad! The reported couple clearly know about building solid relationships given their long-term unemployment situation and at least the child knows who its Daddy is.

  45. Stefan Says:

    "This story is written to produce the sound of screeching tires in the reader's mind as soon as the words "cable TV" appear"

    I have to admit thats the first thing that happened when i read the quotet article.

    Thanks Ed. Nails and heads and so on.

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