Opinion » Shredder

Yellow underbelly


I feel like I’ve been drunk wandering the streets of downtown San Luis Obispo in the dark. Everything is blurry, and I can’t quite define what hard object knocked my “A” key out of alignment, I’m just going to say it was a random homeless person because it makes for a really good story

What if I told the story to New Times, the paper writes about it, everybody finds out that I actually lied about it, and New Times gets in trouble for printing an untrue story?

Sounds familiar, right? It happened to Rolling Stone magazine, which printed a false story about alleged sexual assault at the University of Virginia. People were pissed! The magazine got sued for defamation and libel—and now has to pay up.

Speaking of false truths: The Santa Maria Police Department sent out a false press release to local media outlets earlier this year as part of Operation Matador in an effort to protect the lives of a couple of individuals and their families and hopefully capture members of the MS-13 gang. Local media outlets took the bait, not asking any additional questions of law enforcement officials because they’re perceived as “trustworthy.” 


SMPD Police Chief Ralph Martin recently told the Sun (that’s New Times’ sister paper from the same mister) the operation was successful on both counts. Yay! Liars! The Sun actually broke the news about the false press release on Thursday, Dec. 1. Super sleuth Staff Writer David Minsky likes to sift through court documents, thus he found the affidavit describing the incident.

Local media outlets are, of course, appalled and feel a little dirty because the SMPD used them.

This is the same police department that four years ago had several scandals involving then-Chief Danny Macagni, among others. There were allegations of corruption, cover-up, and ineptitude at the top. And lies. The revelations resulted in the turnover of the department’s upper echelons, which is why Chief Martin is even in Santa Maria in the first place. 

People are pissed, right?

Nope. Some folks are blaming the media for even having the gall to be offended that a public agency would lie to the public through them.

Add to that the fact that like a game of telephone, this news that started at the Sun has made headlines for The Washington Post, the Associated Press, The Guardian, and Vanity Fair! And like a game of telephone, the facts have changed a little since the initial story. It’s one little detail: a news site reported that the Santa Maria Times—not the Santa Maria Sun—broke the story! The Times couldn’t break its way out of a paper bag without a press release. 

Basically, the same story with misinformation in it got repeated in major news outlets from California to the U.K. because nobody checks their own facts anymore. What if the initial news article was wrong? It’s not, but it could have been. That’s how the false press release got air in the first place! Nobody bothered to double check what was said.

Remember William Randolph Hearst—yes, the castle guy—and yellow journalism? Sensationalism, twisted facts, and deliberately false statements in news print in the late 1800s. It’s been credited with helping to incite the Spanish-American War. Hearst used his media empire to ply the yellow trade and famously said, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.”  

Well, welcome to the new age of yellow journalism.

False statements can become fact with a simple tweet from stellar-example-of-humanity President-elect Donald Trump: If you’re wondering who started the 4 million fraudulent votes charge, it was Trumpy! The facts say different, but people still believe it’s true. Anybody who disagrees was duped by mainstream media! 

A false online story about Hillary Clinton’s supposed child sex ring being run out of Washington, D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong pizzeria recently caused “self-investigator” Edgar M. Welch to shoot a gun in the restaurant. That’s not to mention the death threats directed at the restaurant and it’s employees because of #pizzagate.

And now I have to write about that stupid “alt-right” rag of a website called Breitbart News because somebody started a petition on change.org challenging the format of a planned speech at the Spanos Theatre by Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-styled advocate for being “politically incorrect,” which is actually just an excuse to not feel bad about being a racist xenophobic sexist brat. He’s speaking at Cal Poly in January thanks to the Cal Poly College Republicans.

Breitbart “journalist” (not) Dan Pringle calls SLO Solidarity a “group of radical progressive students,” in the Dec. 3 Breitbart article. They’re really not that radical. Pringle also calls Santa Margarita resident Heidi Petersen, who started the petition, a member of said group. Petersen isn’t even at student at Cal Poly. Petersen is asking the university to make the speaking engagement a panel discussion—in the interest of free speech. 

Pringle finishes his “article” (opinion piece) off by saying “administration officials are looking for any solution to muffle Milo’s free speech and detract from his overall impact.”

Nothing the university has said indicates that is the university’s intent. But I guess Pringle just makes things up when it’s convenient—once he popped he just couldn’t stop. And I guess you’ll believe whatever you want, so I’m heading to McCarthy’s for some whiskey. 

The Shredder thinks you should stop drinking the yellow Kool-Aid. Send comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com


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