Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Short-Change Complaints from One Gondolier Reader Increase
The headline: “Short-change complaints showing an increase.” But, the story doesn’t report this or anything remotely similar.
To say something is on the increase, real editors require (a) a report of how many events occurred last week, last month, last year – some base for comparison, and then (b) a report of how many events occurred this week, this month, this year.
“Crime Scene Columnist” Ken Kleinlein gives no such data. What he does offer, however, is a five-year-old urban legend as “news.”
Kleinlein claims “a potential victim from Texas, wrote” him (doesn’t say when). Now, Kleinlein is a retired cop in Sarasota. Unlike an actual journalist, Kleinlein doesn’t feel the need to name the “potential victim,” which might add some credibility to his story that Walmart customers are secretly charged for cash they didn’t ask for.
And a dash of credibility is sorely needed. The long letter Kleinlein puts inside quote marks is riddled with cop-speak: A supervisor “responded,” and “after the second transaction,” and “at this point,” just doesn’t sound like an irate “potential victim” describing his near-loss of $40 in a cash-back transaction at Houston Walmart.
The scam Kleinlein claims to be warning readers about is a five-year-old urban legend that has been pretty much debunked by the nice folks at Snopes, a Web site that looks into rumors and puts the results on the Internet for all to see – even Ken Kleinlein and Venice Gondolier editors. The urban legend claims Walmart employees secretly add “cash back” transactions when ringing up purchases. Snopes reports an early story circulated in November 2004, followed by a story from Milford, Del., and then a similar one from Houston, Texas – the city Kleinlein claims his correspondent contacted him from.
Kleinlein reports “Walmart Security is intensely investigating,” but he fails to tell who gave him this information or what intense involves.
Not to worry. Snopes investigated and found Walmart says clerks' registers are not equipped to add cash back transactions. Clerks cannot initiate cash-back requests. Only a customer can do this in a two-step process that includes pushing a “yes” button at the customer terminal and then selecting an amount. Furthermore, cash-back transactions are restricted to debit cards; the urban legend stories all involve credit card users.
Apparently the rumor is in revival. Just last month, a a real reporter in Traverse City, Mich., wrote on the same topic. The difference is, the Michigan reporter actually went to Walmarts, made phone calls, interviewed knowledgeable people, assembled facts, went to see with his own eyes how things work, and named and dated his work. The result: same as Snopes; the rumor is just there to scare you, folks.
How did this baseless rumor get started? Snopes says one reasonable inference is customers are “misplacing the blame for their own errors.”
As a juicy scare, the story gets legs every time a retired cop would rather sound knowledgeable than be knowledgeable. His ego error is compounded when the amateur writer’s editors don’t check their “columnist” against the basic standards of their profession. The only scam here stems from a newspaper that apparently doesn't see the need for accountability.
So, back to the headline. Is there an increase in “Short-change complaints?” Absolutely –- from Gondolier readers who crave genuine news instead of five-year-old fiction from five states away.