Space Ramblings

Anatomy of a Teenage Rumor Panic

The so-called Teenage pregnancy pact in Gloucester, MA has unsurprisingly turned out to be nothing more than another wild rumor inflated by the media into hysterical coverage. It’s far from the first such case of the media creating its own story based on an unsubstantiated statement and turning it into a major national story. One of the major reasons the public no longer trusts the press is precisely because reporters and news organizations routinely pull stunts like this without any professional consequences. It’s as close to legitimizing Jason Blair as you can get.

But when it comes to teenagers, then the press really has a field day inventing its own story, trafficking in hysterical rumors meant to panic parents, bringing in self-proclaimed experts to discuss the new phenomenon and if given enough time, putting out books and movies about it. The teenage pregnancy pact is just a minor item in a litany of similar hysterical stories about teenage misbehavior trafficked in by the press, from the supposedly ubiquitous rainbow parties to school shootings, from the manufactured hysteria over anything teenagers do in their free time, from comic books to motorcycles, from D&D (remember the tunnels) to the internet and video games, the media specializes in creating hysteria over teenage violence, sexuality and forms of entertainment.

The Gloucester teenage pregnancy pact hoax promoted by the media is one of the milder and less damaging examples of such stories. In blowing up school shootings to hysterical proportions, it’s safe to say that the media made it very clear to a number of teenagers that killing themselves and shooting up the school would get them extensive media coverage. How much of an incentive this provided, we’ll never know. Just as we’ll never know how many teenage girls were pushed into viewing risky sexual behaviors as normal because of the media’s shrill sensationalistic claims that most teenagers were doing it. Just as we’ll never know how many parents were pushed into stupid and dangerous overreactions by media hysteria. They’re all part of the toll of a media that insists on sensationalizing to the point of outright lying about events in order to sell papers, get a few more Nielsens and make a little more money.

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