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Archive for March 2009

McNugget Emergency – Call 911, Sensationalist Journalists On the Loose

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You all know the story, a woman went to McDonald’s and called 911 because they ran out of McNuggets. But that’s not the real story. This woman called 911 because she was being robbed. This is a short analysis of the power of headlines and lazy, sensationlist journalism to change our perception of an event – on the microcosmic scale of a special interest story, it only negatively affects one person, but for more important world events, it can change history, affect the outcome of elections, or start wars.
Another good example of sensationalist journalism where a misleading headline was used to make the story seem more interesting was the case of the pregnant transexual. When a lot of newspapers, notably the Washington Times, always insist on putting the word “marriage” in quotes when reporting on same-sex marriage, suddenly convenience has legitimized this person’s gender identity for the press, just so they could use the “pregnant man” headline.

Recently in other news, a woman in Fort Pierce, Florida called 911 because, God forbid, McDonald’s didn’t have any chicken nuggets. Thankfully the police showed up to give this madwoman an appropriate fine, and we all had a nice laugh.

But we all know the full story – the woman paid for one product, and was later informed that they had run out of that product, and instead of opening the cash register and giving her her money back, they offered her a hamburger and said she could take it or leave it. It demonstrates the power of the headline that this story, a clear situation in which a consumer was robbed during a purchase and didn’t know who to turn to for help, is now so widely seen as the story of a mad McNugget fiend who freaked out when she couldn’t get her fix.

So why was the AP headline “Florida woman calls 911 3 times over McNuggets” rather than “McDonald’s Steals from Customer”, or “Woman Calls 911 During Robbery in Progress, Cited for Misuse of 911 Service”? Apart from the institutionalization of wealth in the United States making McDonald’s automatically right and the irate customer automatically wrong, the crazy McNuggets woman angle is catchier. Just Google the story, and you’ll see the kinds of insults this woman has received for standing up for herself as best she could after being stolen from by a very wealthy corporation. And maybe 911 wasn’t the best option, but I think this woman knew that the minute she left the store, nobody would pay attention and McDonald’s would get away with it.

This immediately reminded me of the 2004 story of a man who was arrested, according to headlines, for refusing to leave a tip. If you remember, it was the case of a person who didn’t want to pay a gratuity fee, and it was all over the news during its 15 seconds of fame. It’s the same issue – to increase their ratings and come up with a buzzworthy story, they manipulate the storyline to make the story seem more interesting than it actually is. They simply interchanged the word “gratuity” with “tip”, although in the context of a “gratuity fee”, this is a bit of a stretch, to say the least. Although the courts did rule that in order to make it a legal requirement, the name had to be changed from “gratuity fee” to “service charge”, but the difference is semantic, and the bottom line is, if it’s listed on the menu, you have to pay it.

It may seem trivial with these small, “In Other News” type stories, as long as you’re not the one being made fun of on every newschannel for being a McNugget addict, but it makes you wonder about their journalistic integrity with more important issues. And the rampant uniformity of these stories may be a reflection of how eager news organizations are to just take the news as fed to them by government and special interest sources, or the AP and Reuters, rather than doing their own investigations and coming up with their own headlines.

By the way, I have my own “beef” with McDonald’s. After working for a short time at Burger King, where I was ordered to handle frozen and cooked meat, back and forth, without gloves or washing my hands, and reflecting on the idea that other forms of nourishment, often more sustainable, are available in modern civilization, it seemed to me that eating meat wasn’t justified and I became a vegetarian. That’s right, vegetarians can be fat too. McDonald’s had some trouble when they announced that their French fries were free of animal products, which turned out to be a lie, and when the truth was revealed it was an unpleasant revelation for vegetarians and Hindus who don’t eat cows as part of their religion.

I come from a town called Lawrence, Kansas, which is a little blue area in a consistently red state. There are more trees in this middle-sized town than in the rest of the state combined, and it would be a safe bet that there are more vegetarians as well. I knew someone in this town who worked at McDonald’s for years. He told me, on the condition of anonymity, that the owner of several different McDonald’s locations told him before this came out that the fries were not vegetarian, but it was imperative that he tell the clients, if they asked, that they were. The thing is that the fries being vegetarian was a major selling point for them, because imagine, if a group of friends is trying to decide on a restaurant, and one or two vegetarians in the group are holding a veto for any restaurant which doesn’t allow a vegetarian option, a lot of them would agree to McDonald’s because they could eat those hot, golden fries.

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Written by Alex (Capitalocracy)

March 18, 2009 at 4:46 am