garbage in, garbage out. how bad journalism affects public opinion.

By how you’ve probably heard about the controversy at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, California. Five teenagers were suspended from school by the principal for wearing clothing adorned with the American flag because it was “incendiary” on Cinco de Mayo.

I first saw the story reported by the Bay Area’s local CBS affiliate, via Yahoo News:
S. Bay Students Wearing U.S. Flag Shirts Sent Home

Upon viewing this news segment, I was outraged. I was jumping out of my skin I was so angry. But not for the reasons you might guess. I was apoplectic over the shoddy, paltry, lazy journalism.

Here we have a burgeoning story that will, undoubtedly, gain national media exposure and the on-the-scene reporter fails to ask the most important questions of all: “Why?” This reporter failed to meet the most basic standards of the fourth estate.

All we know is a handful of students were taken out of school because the principal felt they were causing trouble on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday. But that is pure conjecture, isn’t it?

Oh sure, he asks one of the teens, but in such a from-the-hip, winking, “gimme a sound bite” manner, he gets exactly what he was after; a two-second sound bite that says absolutely nothing.

The principal isn’t talking to the media (bad PR move, by the way), so all we have is what these students tell us. And the reporter fumbled by not asking the proper questions. Since the student answered a flippant “why” question with a flippant answer, you have to surround it with more questions.

Was this a coordinated effort between all the students in question?
When did you decide you were going to wear these particular clothes to school?
How did you decide on the date you were going to wear these clothes to school?
Will you do this during other ethnic observances, such as St. Patrick’s Day?

Then I’d find out from eyewitnesses what transpired during the day. Were there altercations? Who instigated them?

As this story steamrolls from local to national, the laziness has remained the status quo; nothing but regurgitation of the same Swiss-cheese details. Opportunity for due diligence and conscientious journalism once again went ignored in favor of cheesy b-roll and two-second sound bites to stoke an already red-hot issue.

For shame.

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