Thursday, April 05, 2012

News and satire are now indistinguishable

For the past couple of years, I have joked that the time was coming when I would unable to determine if a headline, stripped of its source, was from the New York Times or The Onion.

With recent political events in the United States, that moment has arrived.

When a friend sent me the clip below, I was sure it was a spoof - a Saturday Night Live skit with unusually good body doubles or a mash-up with some very clever dubbing.  It took significant corroboration before I was convinced this is a genuine excerpt from a Republican candidates debate.

Sometimes ridicule and reality are nearly identical. This satirical news clip was released in March 2011:

It was probably inspired by an actual law passed one year earlier in Oklahoma. If a doctor thinks providing accurate medical diagnoses might possibly lead to a patient choosing to have an abortion, he is permitted to lie. Kansas has a similar law, and just last month Arizona's Senate passed a comparable bill and sent it to the state House.

Less than two months ago, the US House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Senator Jon Kyl defended his lie (on the Senate floor!) that "well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does" is perform abortions by stating that his "remark was not intended to be a factual statement." These actions must be in direct response to the news that "Planned Parenthood opens $8 billion Abortionplex", right? Except that last headline is taken directly from the Onion.

An April 1st segment on CBC radio brought all this to mind. The Sunday Edition host, Michael Enright, interviewed the leading contender for the Republican nominee for President, Governor Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney repeatedly called his interviewer "Mr. Wainwright." He claimed that as President "the main thing is to have an administration that would create dogs! Jobs!" His closing statement was, "I've seen so many trees that I like in Canada." I am about 80% sure that it was an April Fool's joke (the CBC has done these before). But US politicians frequently make statements so bizarre and offensive that I cannot be sure. My instincts have not proven a reliable guide in this matter, and as H. L. Mencken is attributed as saying, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."

Here is a direct test of my hypothesis: can you tell which of these headlines is real and which parody?
  • Rick Santorum relieved no one has asked him about interracial marriage yet 
  • Santorum says he 'almost threw up' after reading JFK speech on separation of church and state
One is from the Onion, the other from the Washington Post.

It is a sad commentary on the state of the world that news and satire are indistinguishable.

Updated April 9th: The CBC has now admitted that the interview with Mitt Romney was an April Fool's joke.