Before I started writing this weekly column, I was a beat reporter for many years. Fires, wrecks, homicides, drownings, big watermelons, etc.
The last was my favorite assignment. Every July, local farmers would haul their best, their biggest or just their oddest-shaped produce into the newspaper office. We were particularly excited about the biggest watermelon competition. It was my job to weigh, measure and photograph the winner.
The produce parade was exciting, like going to the county fair but without the diving mules or two-headed calf. It was rural journalism performed with integrity.
So imagine how horrified I was to discover that, after running a photo of the “biggest” watermelon of the season on the front page, I discovered the woman who had wheeled it into the office on a Radio Flyer wagon, huffing and puffing all the way, had actually just bought it down the road at the Piggly Wiggly.
Never miss a local story.
Later on, that woman founded Breitbart.
OK, not really, but you get where I’m going here.
Watermelongate, as the voices in my head called it, led me to realize you can’t believe everything somebody tells you, even if she’s a stout, sweating woman wearing a flour sack dress and talking about nitrogen. That silly woman, who just wanted her picture on the front page, was happy with the acclaim. It didn’t matter a whit that she had lied to me and all 8,507 of our valued subscribers. When confronted later (yes, they always return to the scene of the crime), she just shrugged.
Fertilizer happens, she seemed to be saying.
Somewhere out there, the real biggest watermelon was being cut up and salted on a church picnic table unaware of its true greatness.
Fake news hurts, y’all.
During the months leading up to the late unpleasantness, I can’t tell you how many of the 5,000 friends on my Facebook page posted the most ridiculous anti-Clinton stories as gospel. Often, the source of a story that sure looked like a real news story, was less New York Times than Mom’s Basement Daily. To me, it was obvious it was made up and I quickly refuted and deleted. The notion that, say, Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a D.C. pizza restaurant was nuts. How could anyone with the brains of plankton not recognize that?
Growing up, the sage biddies surrounding me always countered whatever middle-school gossip I was sharing with rolling eyes and three very important words: “Consider the source.”
It seems so basic, but nobody much does that anymore. Outlandish lies from the diciest fake sources imaginable are shared and retweeted by people who should know better.
These fake news churners (I won’t call them writers) make as much as $10,000 for a completely fictitious “news” story based on the number of hits.
Our incoming Dear Leader vilifies legitimate reporters while embracing the “I Married Bigfoot” school of journalism. He would have loved Watermelon Woman.