“OH, you mean the one with the word “Column” at the beginning?”
—-Jon Dawson, alleged columnist for the Kinston Free Press, in snotty response to my query regarding his fake story that prompted my recent post, “Ethics Train Wreck in a Little Tea Pot.” I asked if his story was a hoax.
I guess his answer means yes. I also guess somebody ought to tell all the other local news and city beat columnists around the country that the heading “column” by their names is supposed to be understood as “Don’t believe a thing I say.” Someone should also let national writers like E.J. Dionne, Robert Samuelson, Kathleen Parker, John Avlon, Andrew Sullivan…anyone with a column, really…that their brand of punditry and journalism is supposed to be assumed to be satirical and tongue-in-cheek, because “column” gives proper notice that the “facts” the column contains are likely to be hooey.
Back when I lived in Boston, there was a city beat columnist I enjoyed and read often. He was clever and funny, and his specialty was local Boston stories. His name is Mike Barnacle. He’s not in Boston any more: they ran him out of town for making up stories or embellishing them with phony facts. (He is now seen on MSNBC, where facts are beside the point.) I thought they were a bit rough on Mike in Boston, and I wonder why he didn’t inform his paper that the fact that he wrote a “column” gave him leave to test the gullibility of his readers every day.
The Kinston (N.C.) Free Press advertises itself as “North Carolina’s Local News source in Kinston. Breaking News, Latest Weather, Traffic Updates.” It doesn’t say it’s “The Onion,” or “Comedy Central.” The section of the website where this bogus story appeared is labelled “Local,” but since the story was 100% fabricated, it wasn’t “local,” any more than “Night of the Living Dead” was local Pittsburgh news. Sure, in hindsight, I should have seen that the story was a fake: I should have realized that the Washington Post’s Jessica Lynch story was fabricated too. You know what? I’m not apologizing for reading a story presented in a straight news forum as truthful. News media shouldn’t engage in hoaxes, period, unless the readers are clearly and unequivocally warned and notified.
A judge ordering a scofflaw to play a song on his stereo is far from the dumbest punishment I’ve read about a judges inflicting, or the most absurd conduct judges have engaged in recently. Sadly, the most jaw-dropping stories are true. One Texas judge preceded her 20 year sentence for a recently returned fugitive by presenting him with a cake with candles for every year he was on the lam. She had a banner across the courtroom, and had everyone sing to him. Then she sent him to prison. Another judge ordered Willie Nelson to serenade her to get a lighter sentence for drug possession.
Admittedly, I’m a trivia junkie, and recognizing the Sixties TV names Dawson used should have tipped me off. But what about more normal readers under the age of 40? They wouldn’t recognize those names, and wouldn’t have had a good, strong clue that Dawson was wasting their time before they read the quote from his girlfriend, about the fondness of rappers for “I’m a Little Tea Pot.” That didn’t work for me, because my son has made me listen to new ska recordings of “Yum Yum Bumblebee Tuna.” Rappers covering the “Tea Pot Song”? Makes as much sense to me as…
“Garbage, I turn like doorknobs Heart throb, never, black and ugly as ever…However, I stay coochied down to the socks…Rings and watch filled with rocks…”
Dawson isn’t especially clever, he abuses his readers, and he doesn’t have the guts or integrity to admit that he threw out a hoax on a news site without good reason, fair notice, or justifiable motives. I bet he was on deadline, and couldn’t come up with a real story. Next time, Jon, spend more time on your job, and stop wasting mine.