October 26, 2013
When Satire Missed As Satire
Chances are we all know someone who has uttered those infamous words, “I read about it on the Internet.” That might be true that this individual did “read” it on the Internet but that doesn’t make it true. As a writer and author I think of myself as a bit of a researcher too.
I write about military history when I’m not writing about consumer technology and I have a library of thousands of books. I’m not saying that as an off-the-cuff exaggeration where I really have several thousand and I’m just really, really rounding up. No I have thousands of books. I buy a lot of books and all that is usually on my Christmas want list are more books.
At last count I have six different books with the title “The Indian Mutiny” in it, as well as dozens other books that look at the origin and history of the event. I’ve read them all and taken away different things from each about the event that took part in British India in 1857.
This actually ties back to my original point… just because you read it online doesn’t make it true. I’ve argued with people about the Indian Mutiny because I didn’t agree with what Wikipedia had to say! First, we need to understand that the event – also known as the “Great Rebellion” or “India’s First War of Independence” – is a controversial event.
Moreover, we need to agree that history is often written by the victors and finally we should understand that the cause of the mutiny is not something that comes down to one key event. Of course, ask someone about it and they’re likely to tell you it was about cartridges (bullets) that were wrapped in grease made from pigs and cows and thus something that offended both Hindu and Muslim alike. Is the simplest answer always the right one? Not exactly but this is what people take away from it.
What makes the Internet even less trustworthy today is that satire is often misunderstood for the truth.
Consider a report from the liberal news website Daily Kos that suggested conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh suggested that members of the military were “welfare grunts.” The Daily Kos quoted Limbaugh as saying, “My guess is that before that, before you enlisted, you were on welfare. When you joined, you were essentially on welfare, because whether or not you ever go to war, you get free medicine, free food, free place to sleep, even free clothes to wear to work every day.”
In a word: WOW!
But here is the thing; the Kos writer didn’t hear Limbaugh utter those words and couldn’t have heard it. The news post from October 22 on the Daily Kos doesn’t make it clear, but the writer said, “Hmm, how well will Rush’s latest stunt for attention, taunting military members as welfare dependent, go over with his base, let alone advertisers?”
This statement links to The Duffel Blog, which ran the story about Limbaugh’s crude comments about the military. So instead of confirming that Limbaugh said any of it, the writer ran with the story. No fact checking, no confirmation.
Here is the problem. Why didn’t the Kos writer question that the name of the author of the story, “Rush Limbaugh Calls Troops ‘Welfare Queens, Moochers’,” was Dick Scuttlebutt? Seriously!
This gets worse (or better depending on how funny you might find this).
Politics aside, it is hard to believe that anyone would think this site is a real news organization. A look at the front page found titles such as “WWII Veterans Storm DC Memorial, Take Park Rangers As Prisoners Of War” and “Navy Chief Indoctrination Culminates In Human Sacrifice.”
Now this does happen from time to time. There is plenty of misinformation online about President Barrack Obama’s birth certificate and where he was (or was not) born. Again, just because it is online doesn’t make it true.
It is almost as if the Kos writer actually wanted this to be true, and didn’t care if the facts weren’t there. Perhaps he thought people might not check. You can fool some of the people all of the time after all.
What is sad is when this isn’t cited by that “guy” you know you reads stuff and believes it all. This Limbaugh story was reported by a trusted blog that is read by thousands of people. What is worse is that – whether you love or loath Limbaugh – this story will likely be cited in the future as if it were fact. Someone will make the argument, “but I read it online.”
Image Credit: KennyK / Shutterstock