A friend or acquaintance comes to you with a story of how badly he has been mistreated by someone—his employer, his girlfriend, a store, an airline. He expects you to agree with his complaint, take his side, despite the fact that you have not heard the other side of the argument and so, unless you happen to have some other source of information, have no way of knowing whether his side is correct. Your honest response would be to point that out—at which point he will get mad at you too.
Seen from a sufficiently cynical point of view the pattern makes sense. Agreeing with him makes him your ally, allies are useful, and the target of his attack is far away and, with any luck, will never know you have sided against him, her or it. Agreeing is also stupid if it does not occur to you that you have heard only one side of the story or if you have not yet learned how dangerous it is to reach conclusions on that basis, dishonest if you have.
I was reminded of this particular recurrent irritation by recent news stories about a waitress who claimed to have been stiffed by a couple she served, given a note criticizing her (lesbian) life style in lieu of a tip. Her original account did not identify the couple, but it provided sufficient information for them to identify themselves—at which point they provided what looks like convincing evidence that she was lying, including the visa charge for their dinner, tip included. The most recent story I have seen includes comments by friends and former colleagues of the waitress reporting a history of minor lies designed to provoke sympathy on the basis of invented stories.
What struck me was not the behavior of the waitress but the behavior of the large number of people who took her side, including reporters who took the waitress's initial story as gospel, reporting it as something that happened, not as something someone claimed happened, despite no evidence beyond a digital image of what purported to be the check with note and without tip. Judging at least by reports, thousands of people on Facebook condemned the supposed behavior of the couple—with no evidence beyond the news stories—and many sent donations to the purported victim.
Their behavior was stupid and unjust. The behavior of the reporters was also professional incompetence.
One question about the story that nobody else seems to have commented on occurred to me. All of the reports describe the waitress as an ex-marine. She is also described as 22 years old, and the most recent story mentions "a day care center where she once worked." The minimum age of enlistment for the marines is 17. The usual terms of enlistment are for three to five years of active service. Marine corps training requires an additional three months. It is not impossible that someone could have enlisted at 17 on the shortest terms, left the corps at 20 and by 22 have worked first at a day care center and then at a restaurant, but the timing is sufficiently tight to be at least mildly suspicious, especially when combined with evidence that the person in question is a habitual liar.
It would be nice to know if any of the reporters checked with the marine corps to make sure that "ex-marine" was not another fabrication.