Another Outrage of the Day Turns Out Not To Have Happened

The “stiffed lesbian waitress” fake story is one in an endless series of untrue “outrages of the day”

Remember the lesbian waitress who didn’t get a tip from a couple who hated her “lifestyle”? Remember the story going viral and all the talking heads and bloggers nattering on about what it “really meant”, sometimes adding in various details that made the story more vivid with each retelling? People taking sides against the couple, against the waitress, or against our culture that turned the couple against the waitress?

As is so often the case with these little tempests in a teapot, the incident never really happened. But that is unlikely to generate as much attention as did the original, juicy-but-untrue story.

Tomorrow there will be some other outrage of the day, because the 24-hour a day media and commentary beast is always hungry. Did you hear about the 4-year old boy who was thrown out of school by anti-harassment Nazis for kissing a little girl? The Rhode Island governor who told a 5-year old child that only bad people say “Merry Christmas”? The woman in an Afghan immigrant community who was stoned to death for wearing blue jeans? The African-American mail carrier who was sent to prison for wearing a pro-Obama badge at work?

I don’t know what the next outrage of the day will be, but I know that the fact that so many of these turn out to be distorted or fabricated outright will not stop many people from believing it and commenting on it as if they had personally witnessed it.

Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. And so it goes.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

36 thoughts on “Another Outrage of the Day Turns Out Not To Have Happened”

    1. Got that right. I sometimes suspect the media blow up the fake outrages to avoid having to report the real ones.

      1. Brett, given your record of failing to see anything wrong in real outrages (i.e. the lack of any investigation by the cops when Treyvon Martin winds up dead) and obsessing over absurd and concocted outrages (Obama was born on Alpha Centauri! The Feds did the Oklahoma City bombing! The Illuminati stole my yogurt!), you might not be the very best person to opine on this topic.

        And yes, I concede that I made up the Illuminati taking your yogurt. I don’t even know whether you like yogurt. The rest is all you.

          1. Gnostotutti!

            Those are little potato dumplings that come with pasta tubes full of cheese, right?

  1. I can see why that one caught on, though. It fits with the cultural stereotype that evangelicals are cheapskate tippers with a boatload of self-righteousness, which the fraudster in question no doubt knew when she concocted the story.

    1. To be sure, that stereotype is apparently founded in some reality, in that there actually do exist a group of people who flamboyantly engage in similar behavior, in sufficient numbers that they’ve pre-printed material for use in their jackassery. This particular purported victim is apparently a habitual liar and a serial fraudster – but like most good cons, her complaints made use of the plausible.

      1. So a stereotype is “founded in some reality” if at least a tiny number of members of the group in question behaves according to the stereotype? On that logic, just about every stereotype on Earth is “founded in some reality.

        One can, after all, find examples in this world of white southerners who are racists, black men who are violent, Jews who are selfish, etc. Does that then mean that all of these sterotypes are “founded in reality?”

        1. No, dear. There actually exist in this world people who make a point of being assholes when called upon to leave a tip, and do so in order to promote their idea of their religion. Since these people exist (and their particularly special brand of offensiveness attracts notice and comment), to claim you’ve been the recipient of one of their actions is not automatically implausible. These ingrates’ peculiar practices do not reflect on the broader and far larger community of professing Christians, but they are out there leaving little indications of their particular kind of hatefulness in their wake.

          Now, you have read what I’ve written, about a weird and distinct group of people that demonstrably exists, one whose members are quite demonstrative of their abhorrent traits and are only representative of a wider community in that they share with some parts of that larger community certain hatreds – and you have sought in that comment a license to yourself engage in rather lazy and despicable forms of stereotyping, some of which have in the past been used as excuses for horrific actions. Or maybe you’re merely reflexively retreating to those notions, and absurdly accusing me of supporting them. Either way, what it all says about you doesn’t much bear inspection.

          1. Yes, there exist nasty people whose actual behavior is similar to the claimed behavior in this particular hoax. But why make a point of mentioning it? Because it makes it “plausible?” I suppose in some literal sense it does just that.

            The examples of other stereotypes that I mentioned have indeed in the past been used as excuses for horrific actions. One species of which is to casually dismiss false accusations against members of such groups because other members of said groups actually sometimes do the things that are alleged. Many a racist has greeted the news that a black man, previously accused of some crime, has been shown to be innocent with some variant on the argument that “well, if those people didn’t commit so many crimes then fewer of the innocent ones would end up being suspected of something.” Which is exactly the sort of thing you say to pat yourself on the back for how fair you are when you really aren’t.

    2. Any fraudulent story that catches on will almost always either fit a cultural stereotype or be consistent with some genuine observed behavior that did not happen in the particular case.

  2. I don’t know about that. The only previous mention I personally recall of this was of the customers coming forward to contradict the waitress. A Google search of the waitress’ name is heavily dominated by the hoax, not the original outrage. Good examples do occur where the refutation fails “to generate as much attention as did the original, juicy-but-untrue story.” It doesn’t look to me like this is one of them; follow-up and correction worked quite well.

    1. I similarly heard of this for the first time (perhaps a week ago, with some updates since then) not because of the initial purported outrage but because of its debunking, and then subsequently more evidence came out to further debunk the allegations and impeach the credibility of the accuser. I never heard of the original supposed outrage, though I hear it did get some attention.

    2. Ken:

      You are reporting something important. Can you tell whether the refutations are appearing on the same sites which reported the original outrage? Is there a way to track whether the corrections are appearing on the same sites which started the viral outrage, or are they predominantly appearing on different sites?

      This sounds like a good thesis research topic for some grad student. The basic project is to sample stories which have more than a certain number of web appearances and have had corrections or reversals later on. Criteria for site selection would need to be specified, of course, but I would like to know whether the sites which said that someone was disciplined for saying “Merry Christmas” later report the debunking, or if the refutations occur on different sites entirely. If the refutations outnumber the original reports, then necessarily it follows that some of them are appearing on sites which never reported the outrage to begin with.

      Patterns of reporting and correction on the Internet have influence over our political discourse. They deserve systematic study and careful research.

      1. This article might make a good data point for such a study

        It has been linked to/commented/liked a zillion times, both for the original story and then when the story was updated — one could compare the volume and type of reaction before and after the change.

        The original story did get a lot of media: USA today, ABC, LA Times. I may have seen more of the initial reaction because I live in the SF Bay Area where these sorts of things are closely followed. I will be happy to be wrong if the correction draws as much attention, particularly if it slows down the next person who wants to report an outrage (but I also expect Godot to show up to take Laura Wingfield on that date, so am not a good weather vane for realistic assessments of this sort).

    3. Anecdata are not a thing. But FWIW I too heard of this incident only after the debunking, not before. Casual browsing suggests that the debunking has been reported more widely than the original hoax was. But that’s just my subjective impression.

  3. So it was a genetically engineered viral outrage of the day?
    I suppose that doesn’t make it any less real than say…. dark matter.

    All told this is an interesting concept…

    What’s the best way to inflame the infrareds versus the ultrablues?
    What are the best hot button design criteria?

    I’m thinking something with lesbian and guns and sharia and the food police.

    Build it…
    And they will come.

  4. The media only runs these stories to distract you from the one trick they don’t want you to know about that guarantees financial security!!

  5. One clue that this particular story could be bunk: How the heck would the customers in question know the waitress is a lesbian?
    “Hi, I’m your lesbian waitress Judy. Our special tonight is…” Just kinda doesn’t ring true.

    1. I had a waitress in SF once who had a goatee. I think that was some kind of clue to something.

        1. Nah, Battlebots had hired a lesbian catering firm for us contestants. Was kind of weird, but the food wasn’t bad.

        1. Or maybe that she participated in amateur dramatics.

          But, no, let Brett cling to his treasured anecdote of the weird-but-not-bad lesbian catering firm of long-ago San Francisco!

          1. Or maybe I was just describing exactly what happened: They had hired a lesbian catering firm. This was not surmise, many of the competitors found a food tent run by women with facial hair kind of strange, and so they confirmed it.

            Yes, it was a hormonal imbalance. Artificially induced.

            But, continue to be outraged over my relating an instance in which it was possible for the customers to know.

      1. I had a waitress in SF once who had a goatee.

        Reminds me a bit of a Aldous Huxley character in Brave New World:

        “That is,” Lenina gave him her most deliciously significant smile,
        “if you still want to have me.”

  6. To know something is not important. If you feel it to be so, that is enough. And that story just ‘felt’ right. So run with it!
    Truthiness just feels better than the truth, which is often so hard and messy. Real people can be so contradictory, so full of multitudes.

    1. And, FWIW, Colorado’s Fremont County, where this took place, is overwhelmingly Republican; Rick Santorum won the 2012 presidential caucus by a wide margin; Romney was 2:1 over Obama; State Legislature votes were 64-71% GOP; wingnuts like Ken Buck won strongly for US Senate. Legalizing marijuana lost, though.

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