But it was for a good cause, right? After Odessa, Texas waiter Khalil Cavil got stiffed for a tip on a $108 tab, he posted the receipt to his Facebook page. It drew national attention last week for the handwritten note at the top, which read, “We don’t tip terrorist,” with his name circled. Cavil wrote on his Facebook post that he wanted to show people that “this racism, this hatred still exists“:

A Facebook post documenting racial abuse that a Saltgrass Steak House server was subjected to over the weekend drew thousands of responses condemning comments of unidentified patrons who called the Odessan a “terrorist” as they refused to tip him.

Khalil Cavil, a 20-year-old Odessan working at the restaurant as he prepares to attend college in Dallas later this year, posted an image of a dinner receipt on Sunday along with a response to the abuse the night before. The diners he had served circled his name, which means “friend” in Arabic, and wrote “We don’t Tip Terrorist.” They left no tip on the more than $108 bill.

“… At the moment I didn’t know what to think nor what to say, I was sick to my stomach,” wrote Cavil, who is black.” I share this because I want people to understand that this racism, and this hatred still exists. Although, this is nothing new, it is still something that will test your faith. All day I’ve had to remind myself that Jesus died for these people too. I have decided to let this encourage me, and fuel me to change the world the only way I know how…”

His post drew more than 1,600 comments and more than 1,100 shares by Monday afternoon. People even offered to pay the tip amid a resounding condemnation of the abuse.

People sprung into action. The Saltgrass Steak House restaurant banned the customer from any further service there. People sent Cavil donations totaling $1000 to make up for the insult. At least for a short period of time, the incident seemed to paint Odessa, Texas, and the US as hostile and intolerant.

There was only one problem: it never happened. Cavil admitted yesterday afternoon that he’d made the whole thing up:

The waiter, Khalil Cavil, 20, admitted he wrote the racist note himself in a Monday interview with the Odessa American, where he apologized to a reporter “because I did lie to you.”

“I did write it,” Cavil said, refusing to explain why. “I don’t have an explanation. I made a mistake. There is no excuse for what I did.”

Cavil says he’s in the process of returning the money, with “most” of the donations back in their original hands. The restaurant also hit reverse yesterday after finding out about the hoax:

“After further investigation, we have learned that our employee fabricated the entire story,” Terry Turney, COO of Saltgrass Steak House, told the Odessa American in a statement. “The customer has been contacted and invited back to our restaurant to dine on us. Racism of any form is intolerable, and we will always act swiftly should it occur in any of our establishments.

“Falsely accusing someone of racism is equaling disturbing,” Turney said.

True enough, but so also is buying into the accusation without doing any checking at all. One can understand that Facebook commenters have few options for due diligence, but Saltgrass had enough of the customer’s information to ban them from returning. They later had enough of the customer’s information to contact them and offer a free meal as an apology. Did they even attempt to ask the customer what happened before accepting the story? It seems as though Saltgrass simply accepted Cavil’s assertion as fact, even though it would be highly rare for a customer to go that far out of their way to insult a waiter’s ethnicity in writing.

And let’s not forget the newspaper that initially reported the story, either. The Odessa American did a good job in reporting the hoax afterward, but for the week prior did little to verify the story. Instead, the paper talked about how proud Cavil’s mother was of him, and all about his civic virtue. The newspaper seemed more interested in promoting a narrative than in checking to see whether it was true. Saltgrass isn’t the only institution in Odessa with egg on its face.

Cavil says he doesn’t have an explanation, but it might not be all that tough to guess what happened. It looks like he got stiffed for a tip on a big bill when he might have expected to get $15-$20 for his service to the table. He got mad and decided to seek a little revenge while at the same time carving himself out a nice slice of victimhood. When it went viral, however, I’d bet that the customer found out about it and gave Saltgrass a slice of the truth about Cavil, along with some choice words about what might happen next if Cavil’s hoax didn’t get shut down forthwith.

Individuals do act out in racist ways from time to time, incidents which increasingly get caught on video and go viral thanks to amazing technological advances. It still behooves us to ask a few questions when these claims are made, though, because a significant amount of them turn out to be self-promotional nonsense. Those hoaxes steal attention from real victims, and in some cases money, too. Fact-checking these claims before publication is an even greater responsibility for the media, local or national, who are supposed to be the professionals at verifying facts in news reports before publishing them.

And finally: who stiffs a waiter on a $100 restaurant tab? Come on, man.

Update: I was mainly kidding about the absent tip, but a couple of friends pointed out another possibility on Twitter:

Fair point, but the customer wrote in a zero-null character on the bill itself, which is more visible in other images. Regardless, it’s hardly cause to smear someone as a racist even anonymously or to perpetrate a hoax. And maybe Cavil’s service really was that bad.