This may come as a shock to younger generations, but there once was a time when we didn’t have 24-hour news channels. Things would happen, and then people called reporters would find out more about the things. Later, these reporters became “Journalists” around the same time that weathermen became “Meteorologists.”
Anyway, these journalists would assemble information, verify it, and ask pertinent questions. Then they would either write about it, or tell it to a man with a soothing baritone voice and majestic hair like the beating wings of an eagle taking flight. This man would, in turn, take a half hour every weeknight to tell us about it on television.
Occasionally, something really big would happen, and the man would interrupt “regular scheduled programming” to tell us about it. This was called a “Special Report” or a “News Bulletin,” and it usually had to do with an assassination or a moon landing or something.
The point is, when something was on the news, you could be fairly certain that it had gone through rigorous scrutiny and vetting, and that what ultimately came to you was fact. There were no advertisers, and no one cared about the ratings.
Thankfully, today, Journalism has evolved. Let’s face it; facts are boring and often get in the way of a perfectly entertaining narrative. And verifying facts is hard and unrewarding work. Here are three ways to deliver the news without the burden of actual research and in the most sensational way possible.
The Question Mark
Questions are the currency of Journalism, and, when used properly, the question mark is not only a brilliant “teaser,” but it’s also a “Get out of Facts for Free” card. All you need to do to legitimize the most absurdly fact-free headline is to raise your inflection ever so slightly at the end of the sentence. For example, take the statement: “Eating Doritos will make you immortal.” Patently false; perhaps even worthy of legal action. But watch what happens when we add the question mark: “Eating Doritos will make you immortal? We’ll be right back.” Of course, the answer to the question is “no, they won’t,” but by that point, the answer is not nearly as important as the question.
Now you try. Take these ridiculous statements and, using the question mark technique, turn them into legitimate headlines:
“House cats commandeer zeppelin.”
“Brewers yeast cures Cancer.”
“Scientists discover the Devil living in Valparaiso, Indiana.”
Let’s say you want to imply that actor Morgan Freeman is a transvestite. You may or may not actually think that actor Morgan Freeman is a transvestite, but, if he was, boy, what a scoop it would be! But it would be libelous to print that actor Morgan Freeman was a transvestite, and positing your transvestite theory to Mr. Freeman on camera would ruin you. What to do?
No problem; simply invoke “some people.” It goes like this: “Mr. Freeman, I hate to bring this up, but, in light of recent rumors, I feel I must. Some people are saying that you are a transvestite. How do you respond to these allegations?”
Naturally, this would infuriate Morgan Freeman, but your defense is iron-clad. After all, you’re not calling him a transvestite; you’re just exercising due diligence and best practices and several other corporate terms, to get to the bottom of what “some people” are saying. You’re giving him the opportunity to set the record straight.
It absolves you of any and all responsibility for being a shallow, sensationalist ratings whore, while at the same time giving you just a whiff of journalistic integrity.
A great, real-world example of this “some people” method involved the recent shut-down of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles. An anchor from one of the 24-hour news networks said: “Some people are calling it ‘Carmegeddon…’” By saying this, they, too, were able to use the snappy moniker, Carmegeddon, while, at the same time, placing themselves above such a hackneyed cliché.
Mark Twain said: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But, then again, he’s dead, so a fat lot of good it did him. Nevertheless, statistics have the lofty air of science while being as flexible as a Chinese Acrobat after three margaritas. Take the following statistic as an example:
“In a recent poll, three out of five people, who considered themselves in the 90th percentile at least 1/2 the time agreed that there’s a 85% chance that climate change is a hoax. (Margin of Error: +/- 3%)”
Now, I’m not going to mention that the sample for this survey was 5 people sitting around a table at Applebee’s, and I’m pretty sure no one is going to ask because everybody knows that 100% of statistics don’t lie at least 50% of the time.