Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wal-Mart 'All Black People Leave' Arrest a Media Wake-Up Call

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wal-Mart 'All Black People Leave' Arrest a Media Wake-Up Call

Article excerpt

In the last week, both Toyota and Wal-Mart bore the the brunt of alleged consumer skulduggery. Critics say the media is more gullible than most Americans when it comes to reporting stories like the racist PA announcement or the runaway Prius.

The arrest of a 16-year-old Washington Township, N.J., boy for saying "All black people, leave the store now" over a Wal-Mart public-address system is, in retrospect, in the same family of ill- considered pranks that might've been used by a member of the Brat Pack in a 1980s John Hughes film.

But days after a government statement that at least one report of a runway Toyota Prius was also, if not a prank, at least solely driver error, the Wal-Mart arrest shows that, in some cases of apparent corporate negligence or even racism, the media could use a little more skepticism.

"Journalism schools are supposed to teach that skepticism is paramount," writes Michael Fumento, director of the nonprofit Independent Journalism Project, about a questionable claim of a stuck Toyota gas pedal in California. "Yet comments on Web sites across the country reveal that practically everyone thought the Prius incident was a hoax - though they couldn't prove it - except for the media."

Police booked the Wal-Mart prankster, who was not named, on charges of harassment and bias intimidation, which could land him a year in juvenile detention. Police did not give the race of the boy.

Satuday's arrest shows how consumer pranksters can unfairly kick a company even when it's down, creating a public relations disaster and costing a corporation dearly even when it's done nothing at all wrong.

Many media outlets quickly assumed the worst in the Wal-Mart incident. Gothamist ran the headline, "More racism at Walmart, this time over PA system."

Mr. Fumento writes that the lack of skepticism about another recent claim of a runaway Toyota, this one in California, is "stunning. …

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