History Will Be Written By The Parodists


Before I start this story, I’d like to remind you all of the depth of my journalism studies in college, and the range of my experience in covering, researching and reporting current events of our times: zero.

No journalism degree. No political expertise. No day-to-day beat covering anything remotely newsworthy, except music. No interviews with major political figures, no Pulitzer-worthy investigative exposés, and no chance that someone with my pedigree would even encourage consideration for such efforts.

What I have is the internet. I’ve had some form of the internet for almost twenty years. Over that time, I’ve had major news organizations tell me stuff on the internet. The people at these major news organizations typically have journalism degrees and experience covering current events which, as we’ve already established, I do not. Keep that in mind. I will undoubtedly remind you of that throughout this piece, to the extent that you’ll be sick of it.

Now then, how about we go back in time? Not far, just to summer of last year, before the election. There was this guy named Todd Akin. He was running for re-election to his Missouri Congressional seat. This was the guy who said that in cases of some obscure concept he called “legitimate rape” human females’ reproductive systems have automatic protocols which “shut that whole (impregnation) thing down.” You remember Todd Akin. To quote a Thomas Dolby song, he’s “not an intellectual giant.”

But leave that aside. Sometime around August 30 last year, I was perusing my Facebook feed when I saw that one of my friends posted this stunning headline: “Bill Nye Blasts Todd Akin, Challenges ‘F**king Idiot’ to Debate.” Bill Nye is, of course, the Science Guy, one of Seattle’s most beloved and lasting media heroes. Really smart at science.

And also really, really nice. Which is why I found it astonishing that he would call anyone a “fucking idiot.” Nye never has been confrontational against anti-science forces, and no doubt he’s run into plenty of them over his career. He opted for the high road. He had children’s shows on PBS and Disney. I suppose anyone can change when prodded or needled, but even still, I found it really unlikely that Nye would use profanity. Where did my Facebook friends – who were all saying things like “Good for Bill!” and “About time someone called Akin out on his bullshit!” – find this story? I thought I’d check the source. It was an article on a website I’d never heard of before called The Daily Currant.

As I describe the process I next took, I want you to keep in mind my utter lack of journalism experience. The absence of a journalism degree in my life. The paucity of Pulitzers adorning my desk. My state of not being employed by a news agency.

The first thing I noticed about the website was the name. The Daily Currant. Now, people on the internet have all sorts of interesting reasons for why they name their sites the way they do. But still, this place purportedly being a news site, I had to ask myself the question, “Why is this news source named after a grape?”

Ostensibly it's a pun on the title of the first British daily newspaper that ever existed, The Daily Courant. “Courant” is an antiquated synonym for “newspaper.” For contemporary times, it reads as a pun on the word “current,” which if used in the name of this site, if it were named The Daily Current, would provide either a metaphor – “the daily steady, smooth onward movement” – or an accidental redundancy – “the daily present time.” But since the word’s spelled “currant,” it makes little sense, for that would be defined as “the daily berry, often dried and used in Mediterranean cooking.” Is there a chance the operator of the site misspelled it? Maybe, but it’s more likely he chose “currant” as a joke. If some journalists hit this site and didn’t think it strange that it was called The Daily Currant, then they either didn’t pay attention to it or are horrible spellers.

(Am I overthinking this? Well, at the time I didn’t. It was just a quick notice. But now I feel I have to over-explain it, because it’s a setup for the big, hysterical, mocking outburst that’s coming up in a few paragraphs. Keep an eye out for it. It’s a trick we writers use. Journalists, not so much.)

There is nothing flashy about The Daily Currant. It’s not as densely designed as other independent web news sources, like, say, The Daily Beast or Jezebel. Headline, photo, introductory text that links to a fuller article. So it looks plain, unadorned, just the facts, ma’am. I clicked the story about Bill Nye and started reading it in full. Here are some excerpts claimed as Nye quotes, all [sic]:
“’Look, these people they're fucking retarded. Rape can't cause pregnancy? Breastmilk cures homosexuality? I caused a hurricane by challenging creationism? Who can possibly take these people seriously anymore?’”

“Where does Todd Akin think babies come from? Does he think there are separate storks for people who were raped and people who weren't? Hey look over there! It's the rape stork. It drops its babies directly at the orphanage.”

“So Todd I got an offer for you. You and me. Any time. Any place. Debating science mano-a-mano. I'll bring the facts, and you bring the Vaseline. Because your ass is gonna fucking need it when I'm done whipping.”
At that point I put my finger to my chin, and momentarily gazed upon the purple-hued wall of my living room, the one that does not have a diploma certifying that I had successfully completed my journalism degree. I considered what Bill Nye had “said.” “Gee,” I uttered to myself, silently, “despite the appropriateness of Mr. Nye’s argument, it still doesn’t jibe with me that one of Seattle’s, nay, America’s most beloved popular scientists would speak words so opposite to his character.”

Then I remembered something. “Say, isn’t there a website called The Onion which produces fictional pieces presented as ‘news stories’? And isn’t there a gentleman named Andy Borowitz who sometimes produces brief, pithy ‘news items’ that are in fact not real, but presented for comical effect? I wonder: Could it be possible that The Daily Currant may aspire to be one of those ‘parody’ sites? I wonder how someone with my extremely limited experience in political journalism could determine whether this is, in fact, the matter?”

Then I remembered something else, because I remember things fairly quickly after I’ve remembered other things, particularly if my chosen chain of thought is running efficiently, even though I am not a professional journalist. Sometimes, on these web sites, there’s a page that explains the thesis behind the site in question. It tells you all about the site’s mission. These pages could be called “About.” Or “FAQ” pages. So I scrolled to the bottom of the front page of The Daily Currant, and sure enough found a hyperlink marked by the word “About.” I clicked on it. That led me to a page. This is what this page said, again [sic], except for the bolded words, and a period I added because lack of punctuation drives me crazy:
The Daily Currant is an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media. It is accessible from over 190 countries worldwide - now including South Sudan.

Our mission is to ridicule the timid ignorance which obstructs our progress, and promote intelligence - which presses forward.

Q. Are your news stories real?
A. No. Our stories are purely fictional. However they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world. [There’s the period I added. Christ.]
“Aha!” I said, again to myself, without making a sound, because bystanders would find such out-loud proclamations curious, “I was correct in thinking this story was not real, because the website in question identifies itself as satire. Well, then, that solves that issue. Now back to those adorable cat photos that shine their light so luminously over our circadian concerns.”

At that point, I reclined in my chair, and once again cast a glance across my desk, which is distinguished for its utter scarcity of mementos celebrating my journalistic accomplishments, resplendently festooned with a total nonexistence of awards and citations for my investigative reporting, depleted entirely of pay stubs from news organizations in exchange for my services as a reporter.

I did not consider what I had just achieved a “great accomplishment,” or a “high watermark of my career.” It was barely an act at all. It was just another routine discovery made in the arena, the theatre if you will, of the internet.

In retrospect, though, perhaps I underestimated the importance of the fact that I, a non-reporter, had FIGURED OUT THAT THE DAILY CURRANT WAS A SATIRICAL WEBSITE WITHIN THE FIRST THREE FUCKING MINUTES OF MY LOOKING AT IT.

THE FIRST.

THREE.


FUCKING.


MINUTES.


Which wouldn’t be notable but for the fact that it’s taken the entirety of professional journalists MORE THAN EIGHT MONTHS TO FIGURE THAT SHIT OUT.

Jesus Christ and all that’s holy, PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS, I, a consumer of your fucking reportage, followed my goddamned instincts and verified that The Daily Currant was a ruse, and it took me LESS THAN 180 FUCKING SECONDS TO DO SO.

And you know what? I think taking three minutes to figure out if a website's bogus is a pretty long time. I'm sure there were many others who caught on to The Daily Currant in less time than I did.

The fact that I figured out The Daily Currant’s deal in nearly the most minimal fraction of time it’s taken The Washington Post, Breitbart.com and other news sources to stumble upon that truism means one of two things:

(1) I am the most brilliant, underrated and underpaid investigative journalist in the media, or

(2) The bar for quality journalism has fallen so low it just conked a fucking Hobbit on his head while he was stooping over to pick a gnat off his feet.

I was going to say “while he was tying his shoes,” but I couldn’t remember if Hobbits wore shoes, and finally determined that they didn’t because I FUCKING LOOKED IT UP.

For God’s sake, it was a throwaway joke about Hobbits but I STILL LOOKED THAT SHIT UP.

[Note: Hobbits, like my journalism degree, also do not exist. – Ed.]

I’m going to catch my breath. I’ll be right back.

Here I am, I’m back, the magic of writing. Now then.

Getting back to the Facebook posts of the Bill Nye story, it’s okay that my friends missed that it was a joke. It’s something that we’d really like Bill Nye to have said, so maybe we were wishing it into truth, but most of us are not professional journalists. When my friends hit a website that has straight text with no bells or whistles and reports something, maybe the subtleties get past them. That’s all right. On the Bill Nye story, I gently told them I’d just found out the website was a joke, they said, “damn, wish it was true,” and laughed along.

The Twitterverse exploded with this item, as well as a previous Daily Currant article – which “Nye” “cited” – that said that Todd Akin, indeed, believed breast milk could “cure” homosexuality. “Just 4 weeks of live breastfeeding can cure (gay men) of their terrible suffering. Why aren't we talking about this?... Lesbians can be cured by drinking something else. I'll leave that one to your imagination."

This article was picked up by certain smaller, lesser websites that carried news – places like The Celebrity Café. Soon the joke was acknowledged, everyone got it, and we all moved on assuming no self-respecting media savant would fall for a Daily Currant prank again. Especially a writer with journalism credentials, which would imply that in addition to writing the news, they also fucking read it.

Fast forward to February of this year. I’d like to introduce you to Suzi Parker.

Suzi Parker’s a journalist and, according to her Twitter bio, “a Duran Duran devotee.” She currently writes for the Reuters wire service and a handful of publications. She used to write for The Washington Post, too, but I haven’t seen anything from her on that site since February. I’m gonna go on a limb and say I think I know why that is.

On February 12, the Post published an opinion piece by Suzi, headlined “Sarah Palin tries to stay relevant.” It’s still live. The mildly critical piece, as it stands now, discusses how Palin is struggling to maintain a public presence after the sweeping GOP losses in the election, ill-conceived media gambits, and keeping as close an association with right-wing extremists and conspiracy goons as she can without actually getting the red Kool-Aid stain on her tongue.

But Parker’s article was heavily edited shortly after it was published. That’s because the article’s original hook – the whole basis for its construction – needed to be excised. In fact, the original headline had to be changed, the one that read “Sarah Palin’s plan to reach ‘millions of devoutly religious people’ through al-Jazeera.”

“Late last week Al Jazeera America announced the former vice-presidential candidate would be joining their news network,” Parker wrote. “(This is) a cautionary tale about what can happen when politics and celebrity meet.”

It seemed as perfect as the sun in Rio: Parker, hungry like the wolf for a powerful narrative, stumbled upon a news story about Sarah Palin joining the Al-Jazeera network. Oh my, Suzi thought – is there something I should know? So Suzi saved a prayer, zeroed in on her view to a kill, and came up with a lead sinisterly darker than a new moon on Monday: Palin’s forming a union with the snake of Arabic news media.

As it turned out, Parker should have resisted the reflex.

Her source for the Palin story? The Daily Currant. Their story “Sarah Palin to Join Al Jazeera As Host” was published on February 4.

Samples from this article:
“’As you all know, I’m not a big fan of newspapers, journalists, news anchors and the liberal media in general,’ Palin said. ‘But I met with the folks at Al-JaJizzraa (sic) and they told me they reach millions of devoutly religious people who don’t watch CBS or CNN. That tells me they don’t have a liberal bias.’”

“Although no longer involved directly with the network, (Al) Gore endorsed Palin's career move as a sign of Al Jazeera's commitment to fairness and balance… ‘Al Jazeera provides high-quality, intelligent coverage of important issues,’ Gore said. ‘And more importantly, it's backed by oil money. That means when you get paid...you really get paid.’

“Alaska is located very close to the Middle East, yet for some reason we don’t have many Arab tourists,” (Palin) said. “We may not have camels, deserts and genies, but we’ve certainly got lots of oil and caribou - which are kinda like the Christian version of camels.”
Look, I’m no Sarah Palin apologist. Certainly not a Palin fan. Hell, I’m not sure I’d want to give her directions to the closest 7-11, or even the nearest Oscar Awards. But when the rest of the media preyed upon Parker’s heinous mistake and chastised the Post for not intercepting the error, Palin took to Twitter and ran Parker through the ringer. It was one of the very few Palin tweet bombs that I consider completely justified. And now it appears the Post has cast the shamed Parker aside, like so many girls on film or ragged tigers.

Okay, I thought at the culmination of the Parker episode (which she still has not publicly acknowledged or issued her own mea culpa for, which strikes me as incredibly evasive). This has put The Daily Currant’s status as fool-maker out on everyone’s radar, and every editorial room in the country must have printed-out banners reading “THE DAILY CURRANT IS NOT REAL NEWS” lining the tops of the walls. This has been a teachable moment, let’s move on, it won’t happen again.

Then March happened. That was just one month later. If you’re counting.

The article was called “Paul Krugman Declares Personal Bankruptcy.” It appeared on the Currant on March 6. It was funny, because Paul Krugman is a professor of economics, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, and one of our current day’s most visible opinion-makers on the subject of the economy. In other words, he’s like Neil deGrasse Tyson, except Krugman talks about money instead of space, is far less likeable, and always looks like he’s about to tell you some very grave news about your aunt’s cysts.

“Krugman got into credit card trouble in 2004 after racking up $84,000 in a single month on his American Express black card in pursuit of rare Portuguese wines and 19th century English cloth,” the article reads. “‘They say always dress for the job you want,’ Krugman explains. ‘So I thought maybe if I showed up in $70,000 Alexander Amosu suits (The New York Times) would give me ownership of part of the company.’”

Now to be fair, this was first reported as fact by an Australian news agency. However, that was then picked up by The Boston Globe and the conservative Breitbart.com website. In the Globe’s case, the article appeared on Boston.com because it didn’t go through the full editorial process. “The story arrived deep within our site from a third party vendor who partners on some finance and market pages on our site,” they said. They promised to address their “relationship with that vendor.” I’m not certain where Breitbart got it, but there’s an amusing screen shot featuring the screaming headline “KRUGMAN FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY” strewn across the top.

(Side-splittingly hilarious sidenote: Breitbart had, just the month before, reprimanded The Washington Post over Parker's falling for the Sarah Palin hoax. My brain, at this point, is convulsing into so many Gordian knots.)

The Krugman gaffe wasn’t as bad as the Parker blooper, because Parker's article was an opinion piece that free-jammed its way through moral certitude based on an entirely false premise. The Krugman bit was still funny. And sad. But it had to be the last straw. Now The Daily Currant was absolutely, positively, without a shard of uncertainty, enshrined in the consciousness of the media. Even armchair journalists knew the Currant was a joke, and definitely seasoned, long-existing, confirmed veterans of internet news knew about the Currant. You couldn’t see a net-savvy, hardened news guy, like, oh, say, Matt Drudge falling for The Daily Currant’s shenanigans, right?


FUCK, PEOPLE, THIS WAS JUST LAST SATURDAY! Two months after Krugman. Less than three months after Palin. And over eight fucking months after Bill Nye v. Todd Akin.

And now it’s Matt goddamned Drudge. As odious as we may consider him and his stupid hat, you have to admit he kind of invented this instantaneous internet news shit. He started it. Surely he knew all the ins and outs of internet culture since he practically defined a good sector of its fucking presence. And now he falls for the story of Mayor Bloomberg, the would-be banner of Big Gulps and diet warrior, being denied a second piece of pizza at a local restaurant. As reported by The Daily Fucking Currant.

I don’t know if you recall the earlier factoid in the piece which was revealed eons ago, but I figured out the Daily Currant was a prank site within three fucking minutes, and I was probably in my fucking pajamas fumbling my way through the day’s first cup of coffee at the time.

What the hell happened to you, news media? Is it any surprise you’re in such a fucking death spiral right now? Print media has been sideswiped by the new digital culture, circulation’s in shambles, both print and online media depend on third-party vendors who probably don’t live in the same goddamn state as your headquarters, you’re laying off huge portions of your staffs, and said layoffs apparently don’t include the cheaply-acquired, possibly hung-over employee who in his millennial haze considers The Daily Currant a fucking reliable source.

And this is why, as fake as The Daily Currant, The Onion and The Colbert Report are, they’re ironically our most dependable sources of information these days. Because through completely joking about the news they impart some kind of truth between the lines. We determine the facts of a situation by their total exclusion of believable facts. It’s a little different than The Daily Show, because that’s essentially standup comedy based on actual facts. But you get the same kind of truths from it.

What The Washington Post, Breitbart and any other serious news outlet that falls for this shit does is kind of like going to a Gallagher show and leaving with the impression that we’re in danger of a watermelon shortage. It’s just about that farcical. The tragic part is, they're supposed to know that better than we do, because they are paid to do so. And they're not following through on it, whereas fat-asses like myself, who possess a skepticism that we learned from watching the journalism industry, are figuring this stuff out pretty much at impact.

Now, some of the sympathizers of the embarrassed have curiously used the defense that The Daily Currant isn't very funny, at least in comparison to The Onion. That's true. Although it's getting better, it's not that funny, at least not as laugh-out-loud funny as The Onion. But Gallagher's not funny either. And whether or not it's funny is wholly irrelevant. What's relevant is that, funny or not, you're falling for them.

But enough about you, let’s talk about me. I’m the reason this stuff is so depressing. I am not nearly as tech-savvy as a lot of my friends. I don’t know everything about the internets and their series of tubes. I know one-hundredth, maybe even one-thousandth, about net culture of what my friend Matt Hickey, who now writes for Forbes, knows. Although I don’t consider myself a journalist, I have written for newspapers and websites, and currently freelance for MSN. It’s a sad, wandering existence sometimes, but the hours are good and I don’t have to brush my teeth. But maybe I need to be in some fact-checking sessions at a big news organization with my own desk with pictures of my kids and successful trout-fishing expeditions and no journalism credentials, because I apparently have a mind on the cutting edge of defining when some website is messing with your head.

In all my years of writing stories for newspapers and alt-weeklies, when those stories depended on some sort of fact and research, I’ve made one egregious error that I’m aware of. It was back in 2006 when I wrote a long opinion piece for The Stranger about public radio. In the article I stated that public radio station WFMU regularly got $1,000,000 during their fundraisers. The station manager, Ken Friedman, kindly wrote up my piece on the WFMU blog, but pointed out that I was wrong about them raising $1,000,000 every fundraiser. It wasn’t really even that close.

Do you know how long that slip-up bothered me and tore at my insides? It still fucking does. To this day. I’m not exaggerating. I cringe whenever I think of it. I beat myself up over not following that chain of fact through. Still. Even The Stranger told me not to stress out too much over it, everybody makes mistakes. Doesn’t matter. I hate it when I get it wrong. If I say that Neko Case wore a maroon dress at her concert when it turned out to be more of a burgundy color, I dive into a bottle of regret and lash my tongue with the press card of my hat which is equally as stupid as Drudge’s.

Now I think I'm all weird, because I still feel bad about that mistake, but in this day and age reporters are allowed to make huge fucking mistakes like believing a prank news story is true and using it for the basis of their articles, and they don't even have to take personal accountability for that mistake to continue their careers.

There is a whole bunch, an absolute nation, of people who are more than willing to research, fact-check and verify every goddamn thing they write or opine about. But at the moment, someone who doesn't have the fucking time or moral imperative to do those very basic things has the job that should rightfully be SOMEONE ELSE'S.

Why should someone else have those jobs? Because they're willing to fucking work at it. But that's not how McJournalism works. Nowadays the people who gloss over the truth, like Parker and Breitbart, who don't delve deeply enough into the facts, and who therefore phone their shit in based on what they want to believe, are the ones getting paid for it. They're willing themselves into positions of high power because they're either too happy to propagate a falsehood or too lazy to check their sources. And if they get caught, then they strategize how to keep their positions in a way that allows them to remain totally silent about the fact that they fucked up.

We deserve to know the answer some questions that we must ask of Parker, Breitbart and Drudge: What convinced you that The Daily Currant's stories were true? When did you decide you had an airtight story? How were you assured that you had enough valid information to proceed with your headline-making or opinion-writing? At what point in reviewing The Daily Currant's "reports" did you know they were supposedly telling the truth? When did you make that personal decision?

Perhaps I’m a bit over-perfectionist. But I have standards. While information continues to cheapen, while people get paid to produce photojournalistic stories on NewsBlurt called “15 Outrageous Bikinis Rihanna Wears,” consisting of 15 pictures of Rihanna in bikinis, adorned with captions like “This is Rihanna in a bikini” and “This is Rihanna in a slightly different bikini” and “This is Rihanna in yet another bikini” and that’s all they fucking have to say about it, and while Suzi Parker and Breitbart.com make colossal fucking blunders and try to slink off unnoticed into their next gig or hit piece, people like me get frustrated because we are capable of producing something better, something valuable, something interesting, or at base level something that’s merely accurate, and the major news outlets apparently just don’t care about it anymore.

And trust me, major news outlets, that kind of indifference shows. It's why you're twisting down the funnel of irrelevance, why nobody takes you seriously, why nobody wants to buy past your fucking paywall, and why Jon Stewart takes it to you every Monday through Thursday.

Sheesh.

That’s all. I have to go. I’m exhausted and I have to get up in the morning. I hear Obama is going to hold a press conference about a new program to turn all of our kids into Muslim vegetarian socialists who know every Jay-Z song by heart. And I want to be the first to know.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled fucking adorable cats.


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