John Hayward writes: There’s a coincidental, but illuminating, confluence of “media mythology” stories at the moment. The first concerns a series of claims by wait staff that hateful, bigoted customers stiffed them for tips and wrote awful things on the receipt. First there was a waitress at a Red Lobster in Tennessee who claimed her customer wrote the N-word on a receipt, a story that gained national attention and led to her collecting over $10,000 in donations from sympathetic and/or outraged people across the country. Her story is almost certainly a hoax, based on handwriting analysis, the testimony of the allegedly offensive customer, and other data.
The new “wronged waitress” saga also appears to be a hoax. A gay waitress in New Jersey claimed she got no tip for a sizable bill. The customer supposedly wrote “I’m sorry, but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle” on the receipt. After an initial burst of media hysteria, and another wave of sympathy donations from far and wide, it was determined from credit card records that a hefty tip was indeed left on the bill, and the customers are not only former restaurant employees who always leave good tips, they’re also gay marriage supporters. They evidently made an innocuous comment based on the name of the waitress that someone in the restaurant either interpreted as offensive, or saw as a good opportunity for a fresh “bigoted receipt” hoax. The waitress – a former Marine who has donated much of her windfall to the Wounded Warrior project – might well have been deceived along with everyone else, because some of the restaurant staff has been acting suspiciously under media scrutiny.
In both cases, social media firestorms erupted over stories that inflamed certain passions and fulfilled certain expectations. The narratives were too good to check. But the press is suddenly very interested in “debunking” the Knockdown Game, building off a hysterical piece in Slate that alleges – based on nothing more than the deep-seated ideological convictions of the author – that the rash of random, racially-charged attacks can’t possibly be happening.