Sunday, May 22, 2005

Phoney News from A Phoney Website

“MARINDELL, CA--What started out as just another day at kindergarten ended in tears and restraints for one three-year-old after he mistakenly included 'God' on his list of favorite things. Teacher Erica Rusty immediately notified school officials, who summoned local authorities. And while his fellow kindergarten students at Bryant Elementary School had their afternoon naptime, young Jacob Sapperstein was being led away in a squad car, charged with breaching the wall between church and state.”

Sound too outrageous to be true? Yes it does. It isn’t true.

Neither is this one:

"MARINDELL, CA—Ten-year old Steven Jaffe thought that he'd found the perfect Christmas present for his best friend Matthew Padilla: a Godzilla "Disco Forever" action figure. But just days before he'd planned to surprise Steven with the $500 toy, officials at his Northern California elementary school circulated a list of banned holiday booty.

To Steven's surprise, his Godzilla action figure made the list, as did any toy, film, or image of the monster reptile. The reason: Godzilla contains the word 'God,' and He has no place in the classroom say Marindell educators."

There is no municipality in California named “Marindell.” While there are several Bryant Elementary Schools listed in Google, none are located in “Marindell, CA.” (one is located within the San Francisco Unified School District, which raised my suspicions momentarily).There is no Marcia Neiman-Jarvis. The second report mentions that the “god” incident was discussed on Hannity & Colmes program “Take Back America.” It wasn’t (although a not-so-similar incident at a real school was).

It’s all the fiction of The Swift Report, a website without description, identification or address. I have emailed “Cole Walters,” the “educational correspondent who purportedly wrote the stories. I have received no response from him.

The clues to the articles' falsity are by no means subtle. Three year olds don't go to kindergarten, and typically can't spell anything -- even "dog." The notion that a school would notify "local authorities" under such circumstances is Orwellian. A ten year old doesn't buy a $500 toy for his friend (okay, maybe in Marindell, CA, he does).

We live in a world where, increasingly, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction; and the internet is a facile tool for those who, for whatever motivation, design to blur the line beyond distinction. In the “God” piece, Walters even includes a link to a pdf of the purported memorandum from Principal Neiman-Jarvis to teachers – complete with coffee mug stain.

Does “Mr. Walters” write to parody? Is his satire just that dry? Is he a member of the Christian Right, trying to shock his audience to recognize the natural result of unrestrained political correctness? Or is he a leftie, trying to plant phoney stories to embarrass righties who naively repeat what they (not so discerningly) read?

Or is he just an artist of the writing craft, presenting fiction in a form of fact, a sort of verbal Tromp l'oeil, for the purpose of challenging us to examine our own perceptions of reality?

Go to the Swift Report, check it out, and tell me what you think.

UPDATE: Well HAVEN'T I BEEN THE FOOL! After posting this piece and running out to some afternoon appointments, I began to realize I hadn't looked at the rest of the Swift Report site. When I returne home, I looked at the Swift site's other articles, and discovered their OBVIOUS (and hilarious) PARODY of the Dirty Texas Cheerleading story.

Then I received this COMMENT from Adam at Universal Hub:

"You need to renew your Globe subscription :-).Alex Beam wrote about the Swift Report recently:"The Swift Report flows mainly from the pen of Arlington's own Jennifer Berkshire. Ms. B is a freelance journalist who has been plowing the fertile ground of fake news with her Chicago-based Web partner, Matt Howard, since November. Berkshire writes under the nom de plume ''Deanna Swift," the fictional wife of Jonathan Swift, himself something of a wit and hoaxster in the pre-Internet era."

Fair point! But for the record, May 12th was my 21st wedding anniversary. On all wedding anniversaries, I suspend reading of all daily newspapers.

BRAVO, Ms. Berkshire!

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