In a much attacked post here way back in 2010, I offered some ethical guidelines for April Fool’s Day, which was just beginning to get out of hand. I was right, my critics were wrong, and maybe some of the mockers who are now trying to figure out when their favorite news organization is lying to them today for fun, as opposed to the rest of the year when it lies to them out of bias or incompetence, are beginning to appreciate my position.
I just watched three different morning news shows that contained fake news or commentary that the reporters and anchors, at least, seemed to think was hilarious. In one case, on Fox, conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham dead-panned a remarkably even-handed and fair explanation for HHS Secretary Sibelius’s much-maligned TV silence when asked about the Affordable Care Act’s unpopularity. April Fool! Laura wasn’t being fair or objective, she was just tricking Fox’s audience into being angry at her for being fair and objective, or, in my case, admiring her integrity for pointing out that the incident had more than one plausible interpretation. Got me, Laura. I just heard an NPR host plead with the audience not to regard the upcoming segment as a hoax because of the date, an especially difficult plea since NPR springs virtual hoaxes on its audience all year.
The first and most important of my April Fools guidelines was this:
1. April Fools’ Day tricks are not for professionals to play on those who depend on them, trust them, or otherwise rely on them for information or services, unless there is a special relationship as well. The risks of harm and abuse are too great.
The succeeding four years have validated my position. Journalism, government and politics are the prime examples. CNN played a video that showed Jay Carney crowing yesterday about the Affordable Care Act’s success even as the Healthcare.gov website had crashed. Wait..is this a joke? Did the Obama White House film this for fun and games? They wouldn’t do this, you say? Government officials don’t use their high office for jokes and hoaxes? Really?
Sen. Ted Cruz, also on Fox, showed his new tattoo, apparently an April Fools’ joke, but also said he was certain that the Affordable Care Act would be repealed. Which is more likely, that the AFA will be repealed, or that wacky Ted Cruz would get a tattoo? Slate has a post up by someone called Rehan Salan, which is, clearly, a clever anagram for “En Anal Rash” or something, arguing that adults without children should be forced to pay extra taxes to support parents. Hah! Good one, Slate! That should turn the “pro choice” crowd on its head: lets; punish the choice not to have children via a penalty—I’m sorry, Chief Justice Roberts, a tax, wink-wink. Wait…that isn’t a joke? Ok, well, I’m sure about this, then: that fake video showing famous tough guy Don Baylor, a record holder for being hit by pitches when he played and now a coach for the Los Angeles Angels, “breaking his leg” catching the ceremonial first pitch of the baseball season. April Fools, right ESPN? No????
If Nancy Pelosi again makes the certifiable laughable statement that Congressional Democrats should run on Obamacare and be proud of it, are we obligated to find it funny and harmless today, when it was gross and insulting denial of reality just last week? If Harry Reid says today, as he said last month, that the ACA “horror stories” are all untrue, does today make that statement a joke, when before it was just a lie? Stephen Colbert is still getting called out for a tweet that satirized racism, but was disingenuously labeled racist by the conservative media, and pronounce as grounds for his firing by the race-hustlers and cyber-bullies of the Left. Would they have been more rational if his tweet had been launched today? Would their ridiculous, unjust and hypocritical attacks on him be recognizedd as a gag if they originated today?
My main concern is the inappropriateness of professionals engaging in April Fools’ hoaxes, but I confess, I think the whole tradition is no longer wise, fun, or worth sustaining, in part because we can no longer rely on adults to exercise good judgment and maturity in this country. The children of the Sixties began a disturbing trend toward the perpetual adolescence that we now see symbolized by middle-aged men wearing their baseball caps backwards, thirty-something news anchors pronouncing a story “Awesome!’ and Liza Minnelli’s face. Fifty years ago, if an adult engaged in April Fools stunts at all, they were reserved for the family and friends. The day was a lark, primarily for the enjoyment of kids. Now, because of the internet, what were once small scale jokes have become exercises in mass deception.I mean, when the Nobel Prize Committee pretends to award a Peace Prize to a man who hasn’t even taken office yet…wait, that was real?
How lawyers, doctors, accountants, U.S. Senators, newspaper editors and broadcast journalists got the idea that their bonds of trust with public was suspended one day a year is beyond my comprehension, but the fact is that those who assume this are wrong, and worse, they are unfit professionals. Trust doesn’t take a holiday, not when it’s part of your job.
“Mr. Collins? I’m sorry, but your wife died in childbirth, and your little girl has four arms. April Fools!”
“Your honor, despite the wishes of my client, I want to say that he’s guilty as hell, and you should lock him up and throw away the key! April Fools!”
“Yes, my son, God hears your confession, and I must tell you, you are going straight to hell. Get out of my church. April Fools!”
“Both Russia and the US. recognize the importance of finding a diplomatic solution and simultaneously meeting the needs of the Ukrainian people. “
All right, that’s funny, Sec. Kerry–nobody can believe that.