It certainly sounded outrageous: A man was given 30 days in jail for having water on his property. It certainly sounded like local government had slipped a major cog in its normally dull wheel, shambling off into abuse.
A few minutes later, after an online search and scanning various written pieces, it was far less certain what was really going on.
The initial piece was shrill in its tone. Worse, it left out key information: The man had dammed up a creek flow, a tributary to a river, without permission to do so. He had done that before, and had done it again. The first time, he received probation from the court; the second time, he drew 30 days in jail, to help get his attention.
More troubling than omitted fact in the original piece was the repeated omission downstream: other pieces spawned from the original account. Each repetition grew increasingly alarmist in its tone. Before long, some versions were mash-ups of paranoia, over-reaction, generic angst, a twitchy zeitgist, and fears of gummint.
A clear pattern had taken shape: The stark need to get attention at any cost. Emotional approaches to the partial information presented became more earnestly, direly outraged. At each retelling, the alarm bells were multiplied, ratcheted up, and sounded with unusual vigor.