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 believing it and commenting on it as if they had personally witnessed it.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.