Thursday, March 30, 2017

Faked-out by fake news

After all the recent talk and accusations about fake news, I was reminded of an incident years ago, seeing the result of fake news in person. I recently went through the online archives of Weekly World News, a sometimes satiric supermarket tabloid no longer published, so I could show you the actual issue that caused a grocery store checkout-line uproar.

Over 20 years ago I was waiting to buy my groceries in a local supermarket, when a little old lady ahead of me in line became very concerned. She was looking at the cover of the Weekly World News issue of July 11, 1995. She exclaimed to the checker, “Oh no! They are going to take away my Social Security! What will I do?” There was anguish in her voice. Just moments before I had seen the same headline, but it did not mean the same thing to me as it did to the woman. The checker told her, “That’s not a true story...that magazine is trying to be funny.” The woman said something that registered with me, so that I still remember it. She said, "But they can’t publish it if it isn’t true!”


Weekly World News was something I sometimes noticed because of ridiculous stories about UFOs landing, aliens taking over the White House, Jesus coming back, and the the silly Bat Boy. I had heard the woman’s assertion before that something has to be true to be published, and as a Mad fan, knew that satire was a protected area of free speech. But when satire doesn’t look like satire, then to a gullible mind the story must be true.

I wonder if she went home and had a sleepless night, fretting about losing her monthly government stipend.

Click on the image to enlarge it.


Nowadays, reading the article by “Nick Mann,” I can see how someone could be suckered into thinking it was true. It comes off as a fairly straight news story, not as outrageous as most Weekly World News stories. It is essentially how some people fall for screwball Internet stories about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Washington Pizzeria. To many of us that claim is so ridiculous on its face that we would just dismiss it as being in that Weekly World News category. But to some, like a man who invaded the actual pizzeria and fired a shot into the ceiling so he could free the sex slaves, the distinction between fantasy and reality isn’t so finely tuned.

I think we will hear more in the future about fake news, because now it is proliferating. If the president of the United States cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, then we are in for more outbursts like that of Trump’s tweeted beliefs that he had his “wires tapped” by his predecessor. We also have a clear indication that fake news is not only created internally, but also used by groups from Russia trying to destabilize us, and doing a pretty good job at it.

If you read the Weekly World News article, in the first paragraph it states that “Social Security will be abolished during a trumped-up financial crisis.” The irony of the current president’s name being the same as a word that is defined as to “fabricate, devise (1690s)”, and “deceive, cheat (1510s)” is just too incredible not to mention. Like the story that uses it, it seems almost too apt not to be true.

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