Opinion

Please Advise! Will Spicer Quitting Loosen the Jaws of Fake News?

And did anyone fact check whether it’s true cheetahs never prosper?

By Steve Burgess 21 Jul 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor's note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Sean Spicer is gone, but the fake news epidemic remains. As journalist Kady O’Malley said recently, “fake news” no longer has any meaning. It’s just a phrase you shout at your opponents. Is there any journalistic field that is safe from the fraud?

Signed,

Resigned

Dear Resigned,

Yes, the departure of Sean Spicer is a dramatic development — a great disturbance in the Farce. Now the political world asks the big question: What next for Melissa McCarthy? And how will Spicer be reintegrated into society?

The other question is whether Spicer’s departure will change anything in the quality of news itself. Unlikely. Spicer was not the hydrant, only the hose. The epidemic of falsehood will not diminish with his departure. And the terrible thing is that fake news is not limited to the political realm. Our desperate need for diversion from the daily onslaught of Trump nonsense may be pushing us into consuming even more fake news.

I am speaking here of cute animal stories. As you desperately scan the Net for cute animal stories to lighten your mood, how do you know you are truly consuming solid, fact-based cute animal journalism and not phony tales of cats playing Beethoven or elephants and mice living in harmony?

Case in point: the listless hamster story. This shocking medical case study was recently sent out via Twitter. Apparently the source’s sister, a veterinary assistant, had seen a young girl who arrived at the vet office with a troubled pet. Her hamster was sitting at the side of its cage, not moving, not eating or drinking. This troubling behaviour had started shortly after the hamster had escaped its cage and been found hiding under the fridge.

The runaway hamster was then returned to its home, but ever since had been parked at the side of the cage doing nothing. Once removed from the cage at the vet’s office, the hamster behaved normally, eating, drinking and gambolling as hamsters will. The vet then noticed a bulge in the animal’s cheek. Tucked into its little mouth was a fridge magnet. The hamster had not been sick — it had been stuck to the cage bars.

This is the sort of cute animal journalism that is so important in times like these. But is it legitimate? Mashable.com notes that the hamster story had earlier been shared on Twitter from a different source, raising the possibility that the new version had been stolen from an earlier account. That raised the possibility that both stories were fabricated. Do we know that this heartwarming medical miracle is legit? And did you know that wild hamsters hunt in packs and eat their own feces? Your growing skepticism about fake hamster news has probably led you to doubt the veracity of my claims. Too bad for you, my friend. I am giving you the straight goods re: wild hamsters.

Similarly, when one sees a photo of a circus bear riding through Russian streets in a motorcycle sidecar, how does one know the spectacle was not photo-shopped? This is where Snopes.com comes in. The myth-busting website confirms that the beast is no bogus bruin, but an actual Bear Brando. Your feelings about bears riding in motorcycle sidecars might be complicated, but at least you will know the news reporting is solid when you call your elected official and demand action of some sort.

(Note: if you live in China, do not contact any government official to complain about bears as you may be imprisoned for the crime of comparing President Xi Jinping with Winnie the Pooh. China continues to push the U.S. for supremacy in the areas of trade, the military, and really stupid stories involving their president).

This one is true: a parrot who turned stool pigeon. A Michigan woman really was convicted of killing her husband in a case where one of the witnesses was the victim’s African grey parrot, heard repeating the words, “Don’t f***ing shoot.” (Although the parrot did not actually squawk in court.) It’s hard not to wish that Vladimir Putin had a pet parrot to tell us what he and Trump talked about at their unscheduled one-hour meeting.

Back on the fake front, there was a popular Facebook-shared story about a heroic impala sacrificing itself to cheetahs so its offspring could escape. Alas, this heartbreaking and inspiring nature story turned out to be more routinely sad (unless you are a cheetah). The impala was not in fact a four-legged Christ figure but simply a terrified prey animal frozen in fear. Look into the eyes of that doomed impala and tell me you don’t see yourself. Isn’t that the look on your own face as you scan the daily news for the latest epic idiocy of President Pinhead? The impala is all of us.

That’s the problem with seeking distraction in light news. All roads eventually lead back to Trump. For instance, Snopes.com confirms the amazing fact that a 1950s Western series called “Trackdown” featured an episode where a con man named Trump, described as “the high priest of fraud,” promises to build a big wall that will protect the good, gullible town folks. Just an old TV Western, with teleplay by Nostradamus. I don’t know if any of today’s TV shows are predicting the future, but I know this: White House spokesman Jon Snowjob has just been replaced by Cersei Huckabee Sanders. Let’s all try to keep our heads.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Media

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