Barry Saunders

Fake stories may be juicy, but they’re not news – Saunders

Cameron Harris works in his home office in Annapolis, Md., on Monday. Harris created a fake story about an electrical worker who stumbled upon stacked boxes of ballots marked for Hillary Clinton. It was eventually shared with 6 million people.
Cameron Harris works in his home office in Annapolis, Md., on Monday. Harris created a fake story about an electrical worker who stumbled upon stacked boxes of ballots marked for Hillary Clinton. It was eventually shared with 6 million people. NYT

Nobody on earth has as much experience saying “I’m sorry” as I do.

There was one uninterrupted period, spanning the fall of 1982 through spring of 1986, when it seemed that all I did was apologize for one boneheaded deed after another. As result, I got danged good at it.

Perhaps with time, Cameron Harris will become a grandmaster of the mea culpa, too, but right now – the dude’s technique stinks.

Harris, 23, is the Davidson College alum who admitted cooking up a fake news story prior to last year’s election. While working in the office of a Maryland congressman, from his own febrile brain, he made up a story that fed the popular-yet-discredited narrative that our election system is rigged.

He wrote it up and, less than two months before the election, sent it out into the ether, with the fall-out-of-your-chair headline “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.”

The New York Times, which I.D.’ed him as the source of the fake news story last week, estimated that the story about an electrical worker stumbling onto the fraudulent votes was shared more than six million times.

For playing the American public for such schnooks, Harris was axed from his plum job as a legislative aide.

No, it saddens me to say, he isn’t looking at jail time.

He deserves to be, but anyone stupid enough to believe such a fantastical fabrication printed without attribution or verification wanted it to be true, anyway. When it comes to the internet, though, we should all heed the words of Abraham Lincoln, who said “You can fool some of the people some of the time – but you can’t believe everything you read on the interwebs.” (That’s what they called it back in Abe’s day – the interwebs.)

Part of Harris’ so-called apology, which he tweeted, read, “I apologize to those disappointed by my actions, and my wish is that I will be allowed to contribute my informed experience to a larger dialogue about how Americans approach the media, tough issues, and the manner in which we, collectively, will inform our decisions going forward.”

Take it from an apology expert – any apology that seeks to qualify who should and shouldn’t be offended, or that contains the word ‘if,’ isn’t an apology.

Hey Cam: Wish in one hand and – oh, forget it.

Take it from an expert, though. Any apology that seeks to qualify who should and shouldn’t be offended, or that contains some form of the dreaded “if I offended you,” isn’t an apology.

This is an apology: I’m sorry. I messed up. I apologize for placing the transient success of a political party above the reputation of my country, and for helping to undermine confidence in the most basic institution of our democracy.

Succinct, to the point, no prevarication.

And no, you can’t in your apology offer your “informed experience” – no doubt, for a fee – to help clean up a mess that was wholly of your making.

Boy, ’bye.

No real journalist would ever make up a story, but we do sometimes run across one that is so compelling that we pray for it to be true. One such story came across my desk last week when a buddy, who did a bid at Butner Federal Prison, called to tell me that Bernie Madoff was running a scam inside the prison.

Confirmation seemingly came from a published story by a journalist claiming access to Madoff. Steve Fishman wrote that Bernie bought up all of the hot chocolate in the prison commissary, jacked up the price and re-sold it on the prison yard to his fellow inmates at a substantial mark up.

Madoff: Pssst, pal. Wanna sip the Swiss Miss?

What a hot, delicious story, right? I haven’t prayed so hard for a rumor to be true since word started circulating on the street that Brothers III was fixing to re-open.

Alas, the first person to whom I spoke at the prison complex laughed so hard that I had to wait for him to catch his breath. No, he said, he hadn’t heard anything about Madoff making off with all of the hot cocoa powder. He then took a powder, since he wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.

Madoff, you recall, bilked investors of billions of dollars by running a Ponzi scheme to finance his gauche lifestyle, and in 2009 was sentenced to 150 years in prison. It’s believable, then, that he’d want to start now building a nest egg, as there’ll likely be few jobs out there for a 228-year-old convicted felon – unless, that is, he want’s to pull a Cam Harris and offer his services repairing the financial system he so adroitly and profitably hoodwinked.

I asked my friend Tony, who did his time at Butner and is now a charter member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, if one could corner the cocoa market in the joint and, if so, wouldn’t the scammer need some muscle to protect him?

“Money is muscle,” he said. Make enough of it, he continued, and you could ensure that no one even looked at you cockeyed on the yard.

I went online and checked the Butner commissary prices for hot chocolate and other essentials – ’do rags, Murray Hair Pomade, Shea soap, Ramen noodles, among other things – and the prices were very competitive with what we pay in the world. Where else, in 2017, can one get an Afro comb for 90 cents, a canned soda for 45 cents and ponytail ties for $1.35?

The commissary list I saw limited purchases of hot chocolate to eight packets at a time, so minions of Madoff or whomever would have to make shadow purchases in order to stockpile the product. A killing could be made, though, if they caught just one well-heeled fellow inmate with a real jones for the Swiss Miss.

He’d be the one yodeling in his cell through the night.

If Madoff was indeed The Hotfather, as rumored, I’d love the chance to ask him how he ensured that inmates purchased his product and no one else’s.

Madoff: I made ’em a cocoa they couldn’t refuse.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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