When Everyone’s A Critic, Who Gets To Break News?
Last Friday, a girlfriend of mine sent me the link to an Instagram Story she thought I’d find interesting.
It was posted on the account of American fashion designer Recho Omondi, the briilliant and ballsy thirty-something who, alongside running her eponymous label OMONDI, has become well known for her industry-insider podcast The Cutting Room Floor. In her Instagram Story, Recho was pissed. A close friend of Recho’s, American heiress Andi Potamkin, had made headlines after being exposed as a “fraud” and “scam artist” following the demise of her marriage to a guy called Jordan Blackmore. Multiple news outlets, including The Cut, Vanity Fair and Business Insider, were reporting that Andi had lied about her lavish $1 million desert wedding and lied about being married, with claims that it was all a three-year-PR stunt designed to trick her husband into believing it was a legally-binding marriage. The only problem with the reporting was that none of it was true (and the stories have since been retracted). Instead, it was a well-orchestrated smear campaign created by her ex-husband to damage Potamkin’s reputation and basically embarrass her. Recho’s fury came from how easily and confidently these highly-respected news outlets had reported on a story without doing their due diligence: “These outlets propagated these rumours without any fact-checking and the story was then aggregated by every major fashion publication. This is the problem with modern day media and so-called “journalism”. This is why readers have to be critical of what they read.” And she had a point.
Only a few days prior to the Andi Potamkin story, Sex & The City actress Sarah Jessica Parker publicly shamed The National Enquirer by posting to her Instagram a screenshot of an email from a journalist who planned on publishing a fake story about “marriage woes” and “an alleged screaming match” between SJP and husband Mathew Broderick ahead of their 22-year wedding anniversary on May 19. The actress revealed that these false stories have been surfacing every year “like clockwork” for the past decade, and while SJP’s clap-back was pretty iconic and hugely embarrassing for the newspaper, had she not taken to Instagram to squash the rumours there’s a good chance we would have all believed it. Because why wouldn’t we?
We now live in an age where the problematic rush for content has lead to the death of due diligence, and what is now lacking from the public discourse is a clear distinction between journalists and reporters, and literally everyone else. Headlines hold more weight than ever before because readers are so time-poor that they now comment on stories without even reading the whole article. They consume the headline – an amalgamation of six to ten sensationalised words designed to grab your attention – and then share their own ‘hot take’ on social media in an effort to appear woke and well-read. I’ve seen this happen countless times on Twitter since last Tuesday, following the announcement that 25 white Republican men had passed a bill through the Alabama Senate that could effectively ban abortion in the state, even in the instance of incest or rape. It was – and is – fucking terrifying. And understandably people wanted to share their outrage, but the number of tweets I saw that were clouded in mis-information because people hadn’t taken the time to read into the bill, its legality, or how it differs from other “heartbeat bills” was also terrifying. These were well-intentioned readers who were simply quoting random statistics they’d seen on other people’s accounts and assuming they were true.
The fashion industry knows the impact of public opinion better than most. When I think of fashion critics I think of Cathy Horyn, Vanessa Friedman, Lou Stoppard and Robin Givhan. But I also think of Diet Prada; the Instagram account and fashion’s bitchiest watchdog that is often criticised for casting judgement on collections and shows while lacking any formal qualifications, training or experience. And yet DP are regularly the ones to break big stories which are then picked up by institutions like Business of Fashion. In that sense, you could argue that Diet Prada has just as much power as Friedman or Horyn, especially when – using the Potamkin story as an example – the rush for content means that journalists often feel there isn’t enough time to make a few quick phones calls to confirm a story’s validity. But if Diet Prada are technically not journalists, what responsibility do they have to report the truth? With 1.3 million followers hanging on their every word, no boss and nothing to loose, couldn’t they easily create a smear campaign, just as Jordan Blackmore did, with little consequence? What happens then?
Recho Omondi has become known for how wonderfully defiant she is in her questioning of the fashion industry and those who control it, but in that same Instagram Story she also reminded her followers, “These publications aren’t to be blamed or cancelled…”, they’re simply running against a clock they’ll never catch up to. Sprinting towards a goal post that keeps moving further away. And it’s us as consumers who are unknowingly moving it.