Over the weekend, a short clip from a Major League Baseball game went viral on social media: It sounded like a fan in the stands of Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, was repeatedly yelling nigger at Lewis Brinson, a batter for the Miami Marlins who is black.
The incident soon attracted widespread coverage from the mainstream media. The New York Times reported that the team was investigating the matter, and would ban the perpetrator from attending any future games.
"The n-word was shouted multiple times from the stands Sunday at Denver's Coors Field during a game between the Colorado Rockies and the Miami Marlins," claimed The Washington Post.
CNN reported the story too, as did the Associated Press and USA Today. None of these articles questioned basic premises of the incident, or indicated that it might be in dispute. People were mad on Twitter, and that fact alone qualified the matter for coverage.
But it turns out the man did not shout the word nigger. Indeed, he wasn't even directing his comments at Brinson. No, the fan was trying to get the attention of the team's mascot, whose name is…Dinger. (He's a purple triceratops.)
Listen to the audio with this in mind, and it's crystal clear that he's saying "Dinger" and not "nigger." He was misheard by the game's announcers and wrongly pilloried on social media.
Thankfully, the misunderstanding was cleared up quickly enough: The man was not publicly identified, not fired from his job, not kicked out of school, not subjected to death threats, and not ostracized from society. He has been spared the full cancel culture treatment.
Regrettably, these kinds of mixups are unavoidable and our social media feeds are filled with wrongful pile-ons. But that doesn't excuse the media's behavior. Several prestigious mainstream outlets ran with this story and chose not to scrutinize it whatsoever. Importantly, their articles did not make sufficient use of qualifiers—The Washington Post, in particular, simply asserted that the slur had indeed been uttered.
"It may seem straight out of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but the supposed-racist-barrage-turned-innocent-fan-behavior this weekend in Colorado says a lot about the media," noted Drew Holden, a conservative communications staffer and freelance writer.