Last week, the Huffington Post ran with the story of a banker who, as a sign of contempt for the 99%, crudely tipped a waitress a mere 1% ($1.33 on a $133 bill) and scribbled in a snarky “get a real job” on the bill. A photo of the receipt, posted on an anonymous Wordpress blog entitled “Future Ex Banker” (now removed), allegedly by the banker’s subordinate/dining companion, noted:
I work in the corporate office of a major bank for a boss who represents everything wrong with the financial industry: blatant disregard and outright contempt for everyone and everything he deems beneath him. … Mention the ‘99%’ in my boss’ presence and feel his wrath. So proudly does he wear his 1% badge of honor that he tips exactly 1% every time he feels the server doesn’t sufficiently bow down to his Holiness. Oh, and he always makes sure to include a ‘tip’ of his own.
Needless to say, class warfare proponents everywhere salivated with delight over the story, proof positive of the ‘evil’ 1%. The story was picked up and posted by nearly every major news site. For several days, the story made the rounds, with Yahoo! still posting about it yesterday afternoon, in article entitled “Banker’s Insulting Waitress Tip Incites Class Warfare Between the 1% and the 99%.” [Interestingly, four paragraphs into that same article, the Yahoo! writer switches gears to discuss “a battle between environmentalists and big oil companies” about actress Lucy Lawless’s weekend arrest at a Greenpeace protest. Because, you know, a story about an "evil banker" goes hand in hand with a story about ‘evil oil companies.’]
Subsequent to its initial reporting, Huffington Post breathlessly continued to report on the matter, issuing such Pulitzer-worthy updates on the situation as: “UPDATE II: As many have noted, a true 1% tip correctly rounded to the nearest penny would have been $1.34, leaving this tip just shy of that threshold, mathematically speaking.” Well, thank heavens its readers were on top of that.
A CNN Panel, led by Soledad O'Brien, expressed their horror. "Some of these people (the 1%) really are who the anarchists in Zucotti Park think they are."
But on Monday night, the Newport Beach restaurant in question, True Food Kitchen, released its investigation’s findings. No surprise: the story is a hoax, the product of a photoshopped receipt. The amount on the actual bill/receipt? $33.54, not $133.54 (a “1” was clearly added). The actual tip? Over 20%. And no, there was no “get a real job” scribbled on.
While many of us are rightly relieved to hear this waitress was not demeaned or insulted, the real issue here is … why did the Huffington Post run such an inflammatory, divisive story without verifying or employing the most basic fact-checking? The source was not even the waitress herself but rather a mysterious, anonymous blog post. Alarm bells should’ve set off in Huffington Post’s office – instead, they merely ran with it. Did anyone at Huffington Post stop to consider this might be fake? Or think of calling the restaurant and waiting for the restaurant’s investigation (does not take long to check credit card receipts) before reporting? Why such a careless disregard for journalistic standards? Could it be because this was a story that propped up Occupy Wall Street’s image and blasted that of the banking industry and top earners?
What’s more, Huffington Post did not issue any sort of apology or mea culpa for its recklessly running with the story. Its correction headline yesterday evening, necessary following the restaurant’s press release, merely read: “Photo Purportedly Showing Banker's 1% Lunch Bill Tip 'Altered And Exaggerated'.” No, HuffPo, this was not simply an altered or exaggerated story – it was, rather, 100% false. When the Los Angeles CBS affiliate interviewed the restaurant, the actual words the restaurant used to describe the story were: “scam,” “completely false”, and a “hoax.”
Less than 24 hours after this story was debunked, however, the mainstream media is already right back on its class warfare A-game. While writing this piece, I paused to check my Yahoo! email. What was one of the half-dozen featured articles on Yahoo!’s frontpage? One entitled: “Are rich people unethical?” Only two hours later, the Yahoo! frontage read as shown below. As the saying goes, ‘Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up!’ Or, as this ‘1% banker’ story proves, sometimes you can.