Media Technique: Slanting
Senator Target was walking his dog in the park one morning, when he noticed a young girl had dropped her doll’s necklace. He hurried over and picked it up. “Excuse me, young lady,” he said, tapping her on the shoulder, “but I believe this necklace is yours.”
At that moment, the child’s mother looked over from a nearby park bench and saw the expression of fear and uncertainty on her daughter’s face. “Help! Police!” she shouted. “A man is molesting my child!” A park policeman soon arrived, and in spite of Senator Target’s protests, arrested the senator.
After a lengthy discussion at the station, Senator Target was released. However, a reporter assigned to the police blotter recognized the senator’s name. Soon there was a front-page story in the local paper, “Senator Target Charged with Child Molestation.” (The paper did run an “Additional Information” note on page 12 two days later, noting that the charges had been dropped.)
Picking up on the article in the local press, the Big City News ran an indignant editorial that included sentences such as, “Do we have no better people to represent this great state than rapists and child molesters?” and, “Reliable sources also tell us that Senator Target offered the four-year-old a jeweled necklace, apparently in an attempt to seduce the child into who knows what perverted situation.”
Senator Target issued a press release, explaining what actually happened. In response, the Big City News and now several other papers in the senator’s state ran stories with the headline, “Senator Target Claims He Is Not a Child Molester,” and quoting the child’s mother as saying, “Who knows what would have happened if the police hadn’t arrived when they did?” The story concluded with her comment, “I don’t trust that man.”
This comment spurred another, growing round of editorials, in which indignant editors sneered, “Who, indeed, can trust Senator Target, when he so willingly violates a child’s safe space by unlawfully touching her? Indeed, where is the law here?”
A new round of editorials soon emerged, calling for the State Attorney General to take charge of a criminal investigation and to uncover any collusion, bribery, or other prosecutable practices that might have resulted in the charges being dropped by the park police.
Hundreds of postings to social media echoed and further distorted and amplified the “facts” that were being “suppressed” by the newspapers. The papers occasionally noted that the new “facts” were unproven, as in, “An as yet unconfirmed report says that virtually all of the park police on duty that morning are members of Senator Target’s Federist political party. So no matter what the senator really did—which remains unclear—the police were likely willing to look the other way. That’s all the more reason for the Attorney General to get involved as soon as possible, to remedy this gross miscarriage of justice.”
At one point, it was discovered that Senator Target had attended a park fundraiser just three weeks before the incident with the little girl in the park, and that he had donated $400 for “park improvements.” The Big City News was all over it. “While, this donation could probably not technically be considered a bribe,” one of the paper’s editorials noted, “it certainly does smack of a quid-pro-quo inducement, not dissimilar to the protection money that crooked small town cops used to extort from helpless shopkeepers.” The donation was held up as an act of “questionable ethics” and “shockingly tone deaf decision making.”
When it came time for Senator Target to run for re-election, his opponent put up billboards and sent out flyers all over the state. Underneath a photo of the candidate embracing his wife, kids, and dog was printed, “Vote for Joe Doax for senate. He’s not a child molester.”
His political career over, Senator Target retired to a small cabin on a small lake, in a small village in another state.
Years later, two men who had worked at the Big City News when the scandal was hot were reminiscing on it. “You know,” said one, “what happened to Senator Target was almost unfair. Still, I guess, we did get rid of him.”
“Not only that,” said the other, “but we sold a lot of papers.”