When I showed my 7-year-old the video of Knickers the 3,000-pound Australian Holstein, his reaction was consistent with the amazement the clip was meant to elicit. He literally gasped and let out an incredulous “What the … !?” And that makes complete sense because the video makes Knickers look like an absolute unit. At over six feet to his shoulder, the black and white beast towers over his bovine buddies in the pasture. He looks like a Goliath among Davids. So much so that Knickers went viral across the world for being a “giant cow.” The thing is that it’s not true. Knickers is not a cow. And while big, he’s not even that unusual for his breed. All of which presented me with an opportunity to teach my kid an important lesson about media literacy: Sometimes you have to watch out for fake moos.
After watching the video, I followed the buzzkill example of the Washington Post, which was the first outlet to knock Knickers down a peg, and revealed the trick to my kid. First of all, I had to explain the difference between steers and cows — cows being females and steers being males — which made the description of Knickers in most headlines factually wrong. Then I pointed out that the animals surrounding Knickers were a different breed of cattle called Wagyu (most likely Japanese Browns), which are known to be much smaller than Holsteins. In fact, if Knickers were placed in a herd of his own kind he would far less remarkable. Holsteins are massive animals. Average growth is around 2,000 pounds and they average around 5-feet tall or more at the shoulder.
But that doesn’t mean knickers isn’t big for his breed. He is. But he’s also far older than most Holsteins ever get. So he’s had time to pack on an additional 1,000 pounds and grow that extra foot. All of which shouldn’t discount his marvelous story.
I understand some might complain I’m destroying the magic of my child’s world by making Knickers simply a just above average animal. I don’t see it that way. There’s still an extraordinary amount of wonder in seeing the breed contrasts in these bovines. More importantly, though, I don’t bullshit my kid because I don’t want him to become accustomed to nonsense. The world is full of it and he needs to know what’s what. To that end, Knickers was an object lesson in the importance of following up.
The hyperbole presented in the Knickers story might seem benign enough. After all, it’s just forced perspective. Calling Knickers a “giant cow” isn’t a sin on par with Fox News propagating anti-semitic conspiracy theory about George Soros funding a migrant invasion. Still, a fool is a fool and I don’t want to raise one. Given today’s media landscape, it’s important to teach skepticism.
If the “giant cow” story elicits a crazy emotional response, you may want to do some fact checking. And the fact is there are a ton of “giant cows” in the news. Every day.
Did he get it? When I asked if he understood, my 7-year-old nodded sagely. “They made it look like the cow was always eating big breakfasts so that someone would actually give him a big breakfast,” he said.