Reviews | Not the real news and not so funny either

The history of newspapers is full of examples of editors and reporters who make things up for fun or to make a point. In the 1800s, publishers stuffed their pages with made-up stories about monsters, disasters, and fantastical bullshit to keep their readers engaged. tall tales about man-eating trees, life on the moonand cotton picking monkeysas the scholar Frank Luther Mott reported in his article from 1942, “Writing Facetious News, 1833-1883”. The practice became so common in the early 20th century that New York world created an office to eliminate “false and false.” As I have written before, HL Mencken wrote forgeries for the Baltimore newspapers. Ben Hecht did the same in Chicago. Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his fake coverage of the Soviet Union. In the contemporary era, most fake journalism is written not to make a point or elicit a giggle, but because the writers failed to understand the real story and had to lay something down. See Janet Cooke, Etienne Glass, Jack Kelley, Jayson Blair and Jay Formanfor examples.

This current series of prank titles echoes the parody issues of newspapers and magazines that the Harvard Lampoon (then the national pamphlet) made popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and then similar efforts by the national pamphlet. In 1978, a false edition of the New York Times written by members of the literary letters of journalism sent the main newspaper of the country with perfect mimicry. In 2008, the the wall street journal received the treatment, and in 2019 it was the Washington Postit’s the turn. But unlike the new social media parodies, the parody issues were obviously wacky and not designed to fool anyone.

The pranks currently painting fake headlines on social media don’t seem to fit neatly into any of the taxonomic categories we’ve established over the years. Their japes are not as fantastic as cotton-picking monkeys. They don’t make a sustained joke like the Pamphlet-type print parodists. They are not failed writers who make up stories to complete their assignments. And worst of all, they’re not very spiritual. Compare their efforts to the daily work of New York Times Pitchbot on Twitter, which decodes the Time, especially its opinion section, to great comic effect. (Example: “Opinion | Between Trump impeached twice and Biden gone covid twice, both sides seem to be repeating themselves,” by Frank Bruni.) Generous speculation about what drives the prank typographical comedy would paint them as critics who delight in shooting the establishment press while dispatching an assortment of political figures. An ungenerous assessment would concede that they are too lazy trolls to attempt anything more ambitious than painting a mustache on a campaign poster.

There is a reason April Fool is the funniest day of the publishing year. Making a point with parody is hard work and shouldn’t be attempted without careful thought. It might sound fun to stick gum in the slot of a vending machine, but as quality jokes go, it’s right there with putting a flaming bag of dog turd on a suburban porch and ringing the doorbell. gate. It’s just mischief in action, the cheapest joke ever.

This may be too harsh a judgment. The hoax(s) might have more substantial motives behind their pranks. Perhaps they are sincere in their attempts to send the madness of online headlines, which often cause a stir in the blah copy they preview. Authority deserves every kick in the shins it gets, and that goes for the Atlanticthe New York Times, CNN and Fox News and the entire journalistic establishment. Maybe they are showing the credulity of netizens and want to make fun of them. Perhaps they designed their titles to democratize parody – to show that not only Harvard grads and established journalists can play this game!

Like PJ O’Rourke, the best parodist of our time once said, the two greatest joys in life are making things and breaking them. Vandalism needs no greater validation than the destructive act itself. So get on with the pranks and do your thing. Just understand that you are harmless.


What is your favorite O’Rourke piece? For personal reasons, mine is the piece originally titled “Holidays in Lebanon” and later collection in book form. Send your favorite to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are honored at this time. My Twitter the stream is without parody. My RSS the stream is parody all the time.

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