A bizarre incident made national headlines last week. At a San Antonio Whataburger restaurant, a 30-year-old man snatched a “Make America Great Again” ball cap from the head of a 16-year-old boy, then dumped that boy’s own soft drink on the kid’s head before uttering a string of obscenities on his way out the door.
The man, Kino Jimenez, was later arrested by police and fired from his job as a part-time bar employee. He was disgraced in a viral video that was shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook and other social media platforms.
But as story unfolded, something equally bizarre happened: the narrative turned on the victim, 16-year-old Hunter Richard.
That part isn’t too surprising; it happens too often in a society that seems way too eager to assign blame everywhere except where blame really belongs. But the fact that the victim in this case was not an adult but an underage teen, a demographic usually protected by self-righteous journalists with axes to grind, makes it unusual, to say the least.
It started when Texas TV station KENS 5 quoted an anonymous witness that Richard and his friends sparked the confrontation with the older man by spewing racist insults, including jokes about “hanging blacks” and killing off minorities.
That witness’s claims were not corroborated and the station later removed the unidentified man’s quoted comments from the story because it had concerns about the validity of what he was saying.
It was too late, though. The damage had been done. A 16-year-old kid who had just been assaulted by a 30-year-old adult who should know better had been labeled a racist; comments that he may or may not have made had become a part of the narrative.
The left-leaning New York Daily News was one of the first outlets to run with the story of Hunter Richard The Race-Baiting Teenager, but there were plenty of others, as well.
There were several problems with the KENS 5 report. For starters, if you have a witness who is making incendiary claims, anonymity should never, ever be granted, and his claims should be verified by a second witness. After all, it isn’t as if Hunter Richard, Kino Jimenez and the unnamed witness were the only people inside the Whataburger joint; corroboration should have been easy to obtain and a failure to do so is lazy journalism.
But KENS 5 compounded matters by choosing to leave up the story after merely deleting the witness’s comments from the text. If the veracity of the witness’s claims was doubted — and it obviously was, if KENS 5 editors were prompted to take the drastic measure of removing his quotes — the story should have come down and a retraction should have been issued.
Neither happened, and the story was allowed to become a part of the narrative.
Too many journalists see themselves as more important than they really are, but here’s the truth: when you wield the power of the pen, you must realize that merely being lazy or careless can destroy reputations and cause irreparable harm. That’s true when dealing with any person, but it’s supposed to be especially true when dealing with minors. The folks at KENS 5 have some serious lessons to learn.