Convicted in the Court of Public Innuendo, comment by Rich Paschall
It doesn’t take much for radio shock jocks and tabloid publications to go on the attack. If the story seems scandalous enough, or perhaps even just a little, the social media junkies have a field day as well. Re-postings of blogs of no particular merit start to appear. Links can be found on Tumblr, facebook, and Twitter as well as a whole host of new sites I have not had time to explore. Graphics show up on people’s news feeds, often with unrelated pictures with words scrawled across them. If the graphic is well made, it seems to add to the believability. The great ancient mythologies were believable to the people of those time periods. We are perhaps just as gullible.
When something of questionable authenticity appears I like to check it out on Snopes.com or other sites dedicated to debunking bad stories. A quick internet search is usually enough to check out the claims people make. Although it is often in vain, I like to add a link to the truth among the comments under some of these spurious stories. Sometimes it has zero effect as people continue commenting on the false posting itself. For some folks, proof is not enough.
There are even more insidious postings and rumor mongering going on in the area of innuendo. You imply bad things about someone and watch the story grow and take on a life of its own. There are enough false President Obama stories floating these past six years. Many imply that he has secret ties to Muslim terrorists or other anti-American groups. The whole “birther” charge regarding Obama’s citizenship keeps going around and that is followed by any number of conspiracy theories. These worthless speculations are damaging to the public welfare, especially when implied issues, although false, are nevertheless believed.
When my mother was no longer able to get out on her own, a friend would drop off multiple supermarket tabloids from time to time so they could see the latest celebrity “news.” Sometimes the talk and the tabloid headlines were so intriguing I would pick up the paper at my mother’s apartment only to find a story of little or no substance. A picture with a clever caption or suggestive headline would seem to point to a vicious scandal, and a league of tabloid grabbers would believe something they did not actually read.
Recently, an old charge of forced sex by comedian Bill Cosby resurfaced. The result has been an internet and social media firestorm. An ill-timed invitation by the Cosby Twitter account to “meme” a picture of Bill, that is to take the picture and add a graphic, ended up producing a whole host of uncomplimentary claims. Those graphics, of course, made the rounds. Cosby’s lawyer responded to all the new charges by saying, “We’ve reached a point of absurdity. The stories are getting more ridiculous.”
The man once known as “America’s Dad” for his portrayal of a wise father on The Cosby Show has now been convicted of a variety of sins by way of inflamed public opinion. It is likely to grow in intensity as long as Cosby remains in the public eye. At a recent appearance on his comedy tour, a Florida radio “shock jock” offered anyone a thousand dollars if they would go to the Cosby performance and call him out on these charges. One patron admitted she went just to see if someone would do it. No one did. A result of all the gossip and innuendo is irreparable damage to the Cosby image and career. Is one of America’s best known comics guilty of the things charged and implied? It is unlikely anyone can prove any of the years old charges, but he has already been convicted in the court of public opinion.
It was claimed that singer Megan Washington often appeared drunk on stage. While she sang well, she appeared to have trouble speaking. Reports of her performances might also include her struggle talking to the audience. Finally she decided to “come clean about it.” The issue was not that she was drunk all the time, it is that she has a speech impediment. She stutters. She explains it in a TED speech, “Why I live in mortal dread of public speaking.” It’s too bad some had already leapt to a different conclusion.
Many celebrities and politicians have been the victims of all sorts of inaccurate accusations. Some accept it and deal effectively with it by ignoring the comment. For others, the storm becomes so great they must respond. We see this in political commercials when attack ads link an opponent unfavorably with others. Here in Illinois the Republican attack ads put the current governor in pictures with the president to imply he believes what the president does. He also mentioned that the governor served in office with former Governor Blagojevich who is now in prison. You can guess the implication.
Of course, I could give many more examples of famous people who had been rumored to have done something bad through implication and innuendo. Many of these claims I could also point out were never verified. Nevertheless, they are out in the public domain and people believe them. Hence the popularity of supermarket tabloids and shows like TMZ. When the story is salacious enough, facts to the contrary don’t seem to matter much.