'No Googling!' Fool Your Friends with Surreal Election Headlines

Snitch lines. Brothel tales. It's not easy sifting news from satire.

By Shannon Rupp 17 Oct 2015 |

Shannon Rupp is a contributing editor at The Tyee and our podcast reviewer. Know of a show you think she should hear? Mention it in the comments section. Or tweet her here.

For most reporters, the idea of being the scribe so witless that you fall for a fake story has always held some terror, so I'm sorry to report that I have become the scribe so logical that I didn't believe a real news story. In honour of my idiocy, one of my pals invented a campaign news game we call ''No Googling.''

Blame it all on CBC radio's This Is That.

The show runs fake news stories that mock current events. The way they satirize silly social trends and fashionable beliefs is so plausible that they're notorious for fooling real news outlets.

One of their recent absurdist delights is a video featuring a bearded hipster making hilariously earnest comments about his artisanal firewood business. He sells daintily trimmed piles of quality kindling for $1,200.

Unfortunately, I thought the ''barbaric cultural practices'' tip line was their latest sharp joke. In my defence, I was on deadline and fact-checking another piece when I caught a glimpse of a headline about barbaric cultural practices on It came with the photo of a man in white socks and sandals, which I'd happily consider a BCP.

Later that day, when a friend mentioned the story was getting big pick-up, I assumed it was another case of This is That being mistaken for real news. After one of those conversations in which we each assumed the other was talking about something else, it dawned on me he'd fallen for the joke. I told him not to be such a mug.

I scolded him! ''The Criminal Code already has things like female genital mutilation covered. And come to think of it, a tip line for barbaric cultural practices would probably run afoul of the hate laws.''

''Good point -- I'll ask a lawyer,'' he said. Then he went on to discuss how the Tories have made a habit of crazy legislation that is struck down by the courts.

''You know, there's probably a good story in how much it costs a government to deliberately pass bills that won't stand up to a Charter challenge, over and over again, and then pay the costs of the associated court battles,'' he mused.

He sounded serious. Was he really going to humiliate himself by revealing he'd fallen for a This Is That gag? I needed to talk him out of it! So I looked online for the stories to prove I was right and felt a wave of shame and horror flood over me: I was the mug.

Stranger than fiction

Following the coverage was like entering an alternate universe. Story after story turned up on legitimate news outlets. Some of them were written by reporters I know. This was real!

Yes: a Canadian government was actually planning to launch a snitch line for bigots.

And satirists, of course. Within seconds, I was planning to join what turned out to be a small army of complainants who intended to flood any snitch line with their own interpretation of BCPs. (Naturally, I was hoping to get my licks in about sidewalk cyclists.)

That's the reassuring thing about Canada: for every bigot, there are 10 people lining up to mock him.

Foolishly, I confessed my error to my pal, who promptly fell over laughing. He started taking advantage of being in an earlier time zone to send me teasing emails based on the headlines. ''Harper is now personally screening Syrian refugees: true or false? No Googling!''

I got him back though: ''Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour praised Mulcair's valiant campaign saying '…he deserves immense respect, as head of a party whose MPs are in Quebec, in taking on the challenge of the [niqab] issue so spuriously promoted by the Conservatives.' True or false -- no Googling!''

''You made that up!'' he shot back. I fired back a link to the story.

Yes, even Lord Tubby of Fleet, as Frank Magazine dubbed him, has abandoned the national snitches bandwagon. Even more surprising: he's praising Trudeau. Now I grant you the man we've all been calling The Dauphin is a blue Grit, but still, even that small concession is astounding given the bad blood between his lordship and the Liberal party.

Some years ago, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien ensured that Lord Tubby had to relinquish his Canadian citizenship in order to get a British title and fulfill his Downton Abbey-ish dreams. We were all sure he'd never get over it, especially after, you know… (the jail time). But apparently Harper's behaviour is so vile that even Lord Tubby has had enough.

Play along!

Because my partner-in-games couldn't resist reporting my faux pas, it wasn't long before friends all over the country were playing our unbelievable headlines game. There were obvious ICYMI volleys of course. The NDPer from Hamilton who claimed she didn't know what Auschwitz was, for example, tripped up an NDP supporter who doubted that one was true.

And we'd throw in headlines based on candidates' disingenuous claims. ''Conservative party admits it used candidates' photos on terrorism flyers without their permission'' fooled no one. (Nice try Dianne Watts, but that is your circus and those are your monkeys.)

Given that this has been the most surreal election in living memory, we've had lots of fodder for the game. Many a story flew under the radar over the summer, so I scored quite a few points with, ''Tory campaign ad features ISIL propaganda film -- true or false. No Googling!''

I didn't score too badly with this one either: ''Conservative party spokesman: 'We're better than the news, we're truthful.''' An American player swore that one had to be made-up.

''But it sounds like something you'd hear on Fox News,'' she protested. Indeed. The Conservative fixer who launched the now-defunct TV network we nicknamed Fox News North is the one who said it.

Speaking of scoring, here's how it works. You get a point for everyone you fool and a demerit for everyone who sees through you. We'll tot up the points the day after the election.

Bonus brothel round

And there's a bonus round. I spent two hours and 10 minutes waiting to vote in the advance polls in Vancouver Centre over the long weekend and I killed some time by playing this game with my neighbours. (You get extra points if you manage to change some votes.)

As the campaign lies grow more desperate, No Googling becomes more fun. I think I'll clean up with this headline. ''Liberal leader plans to bring brothels to local neighbourhoods.'' True or false?

That's true. Or rather, it's truthy. More of a trick question. Trudeau said no such thing. Conservative Jason Kenney, minister of multiculturalism and defence, did. And that story has legs.

Kenney told a Vancouver press conference some weeks ago that Trudeau is planning to foist houses of ill repute on a cul-de-sac near you. Reporters laughed and printed the Liberal party denials. But those wily Tories have been putting this fanciful tale in ads aimed at Punjabi and Chinese speakers in Toronto and Vancouver.

Just consider the cheek of that. Lying to immigrants who can't speak English yet. Although, since they lie about immigrants, I guess lying to them isn't that much of a stretch.

All of which is to say, I really shouldn't be ridiculed for mistaking a Harper news release for a This Is That episode. Given the stories during this election, is it any wonder I have trouble telling news from satire?  [Tyee]

Read more: Election 2015, Media

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