"My world has become consumed with 'Karens' and their male equivalents," says KGO-TV/ABC7 anchor-reporter Dion Lim in an opinion piece in the Chronicle. "The audience’s voracious appetite for this kind of content is undeniable... But for us as journalists to avoid the dangerous slide of becoming tabloid TV, we must assess each case with an enhanced level of scrutiny."
In the fast-paced online world in which everyday citizens become infamous, vilified household names in a matter of hours thanks to cellphone cameras and their poor public behavior, Lim suggests that too much local news reporting has been devolving into this tabloid sphere where too little actual reporting is going on. In the rush to get a story on the air or online, journalists are posting videos first and asking questions later, if ever. And important context as well as the effort to get both sides of the story are often lost — even if in the world of contemporary "cancel" discourse, and the speedy rush to judgment that is inherent on social media, there is little room for forgiveness especially when a perceived act of racism or intolerance occurs.
But here's the thing that Lim leaves out: I don't know that we required a ton of context to decide that local tech CEO Michael Lofthouse was acting egregiously, and saying disgusting, clearly hateful and racist things in a Carmel restaurant two weeks ago. No one really cared much for his apology, and whether he lost control due to the wine last night or intends to get sensitivity training doesn't take away the grossness and unforgivable racism of his words.
"Was the tech CEO seen shouting expletives in a racist rant toward a Filipino American family dining at a restaurant in Carmel egged on by the woman filming the incident?" Lim asks. That hardly matters.
Lim makes the point that one of her stories, about a Laney College professor who asked a Vietnamese American student named Phuc Bui to "Anglicize" her name because it sounded offensive in English, led to some positive change. "I received a message... from another educator at Laney College who told me that because of our coverage, the school took new measures to help teachers pronounce student names."
So where do we draw the line between necessary public shaming that will hopefully discourage ignorant behavior and encourage people to educate themselves, and unnecessary public shaming of individuals having a bad day and acting poorly in a certain context?
Take, for instance, this video below that has made the rounds on Reddit of a "Ken" at a Dollar Tree store in Daly City over the weekend. He's being difficult about wearing a mask in the store, even though he has one, claiming he has difficulty breathing with it on. He then proceeds to make a stink about the example being made of him — as multiple people record him on cellphones — and appears to make a point of mis-gendering a trans employee, repeatedly calling her "sir" after she told him he needed to leave the store and subsequently called in police.
He then proceeds to make his own video while standing in the store, narrating his tale of woe and drawing comparisons to Bible stories that make little sense.
For the wrongs of claiming some "breathing" exception for wearing a mask in a public place — something that many Karens have already tried in various Republican strongholds around the country — and misgendering and harassing a trans woman who was simply trying to do her job and enforce rules, the guy appears pretty guilty. Further context would tell us that he was trying to buy balloons for his son's birthday, he turns defensive and weirdly Biblical because he's being publicly shamed, and that after making his stink he does comply and pull his mask back on. We don't see, but could likely find out, what happened after the camera turned off, and it likely wasn't much or we'd have a second video.
Is anyone going to learn anything from this video, or is the video subject going to gain anything from the shaming? It's hard to say.
Wear a goddamn mask! The end.
It was an interesting detail to know that Christian Cooper, the black birder about whom a white woman decided to call the police in Central Park in May, likes to carry dog treats in order to use them as enticements to get dog owners to leash their dogs. He offered Amy Cooper's dog a treat, which is what she apparently took offense to or felt threatened by, but that still does not excuse her use of racial privilege to take a useless stand about her own flouting of dog-leash rules. It adds context, sure, but it doesn't significantly change the narrative. Mr. Cooper was used to people breaking these rules, so he'd adapted his own form of protest with no harm intended.
Don't call the cops on black people for no good reason! The end.
"Unlike social media, which only amplifies boorish behavior without adding context, we must go beyond the superficial shock and awe and override the hasty [urge] to hit the digital goldmine and dig a bit deeper into our reporting," Lim writes.
"If we make this ethical promise to exercise heightened responsibility for this new breed of storytelling I hope consumers of this content can understand the importance of context during consumption," Lim adds. "If we take the time to add original reporting and context to caught-on-camera 'Karen' moments, we can use this new breed of storytelling to enhance the public’s understanding of a critical time in our culture."
But while context may be worthwhile and journalistic, is it always necessary when a video shows us most of what we need to know about a person's public self and behavior? I'm not trying to argue that real reporting isn't necessary in some instances. But maybe if everyone consciously avoided being assholes in public, or if so many Americans were not such individualistic assholes in the first place, we wouldn't have so many videos of them doing asshole things.