2005-10-06 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understandWhy tabloids sell — the truth revealed!

For years, I have wondered why tabloids are so popular. These obvious travesties of journalism outsell many respected news publications, often by a wide margin.

Everybody knows that tabloids print stories that do not resemble anything close to reality. Yet, they are regularly snatched from supermarket racks by a faithful following. Tabloids give a bad name to us credible columnists who would never dream of exaggerating the truth, even slightly.

We expect to see headlines like these from the Weekly World News:

“HURRICANE KATRINA KO’S FLYING SAUCER! UFO DOWN! ‘Don’t let them take me to Area 51! Please . . . ‘ it begged.”

Another article in the same paper, addressed a favorite tabloid subject — supermodels:

“SATAN’S SUPERMODELS Cover girls sell their souls to Satan, expert says!”

As bizarre as they may be, we know they are fabrications. After reading, smirking, and shaking their heads at the absurdity of the contents, readers can toss their papers into the recycling bin and go about their business without giving the articles a second thought.

However, the question remains unanswered: Can real news compete with this thirst for the strange, the odd, and the ridiculous?

We gave our alert team of newshounds orders to research newspapers and Internet Web sites for weird news to compete with publications that sensationalize the already sensationalized. They found the following:

“Townspeople Plan UFO Land-ing Strip . . . LAJAS, Puerto Rico (Sept. 28) People in this sleepy hamlet are so sure they have been receiving other-worldly visitors, they want to build a UFO landing strip to welcome them.”

That was from the Associated Press, a highly respected news source. Here’s another:

“In August, a jury found Virginia death-row inmate Daryl Atkins mentally competent, based on a recent IQ score of 76 (thus beating the “70” standard, below which under state law he could not be executed). Prosecutors said that Atkins’ IQ had actually improved in recent years via the intellectual stimulation of discussing his case with lawyers. (ABC News-AP, 8-14-05)”

The man is going to be executed for being too smart by a margin of six points. That is disturbing.

Colorado humorist Randy Cassingham cited these two headlines from legitimate news sources:

• A man sued his doctor because he survived his cancer longer than the doctor predicted.

• Only 68 of 200 Anglican priests polled could name all 10 of the biblical 10 commandments, but half said they believed in space aliens visiting earth.

These are beyond bizarre; they are mind-boggling. How could this happen in the 21st century?

Then there are the alternative news sources that are farcical, sarcastic, but often, close to the truth. Like this excerpt from the Onion on how to survive dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency:

“FEMA Disaster Survival Tips . . Recent events have underscored the importance of being properly prepared to deal with the effects of natural disasters. With that in mind, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has prepared the following guidelines:

• State and local governments should notify FEMA a minimum of two weeks before a natural disaster strikes.

• In the event of a disaster of “biblical proportions,” FEMA may not be your best option. You may wish to consult your Bible instead.

• In a time of crisis brought on by a natural disaster, remember to focus on the task at hand — survival — and don’t waste mental energy thinking about who did or didn’t cut this or that funding for levee repairs.”

On first reading, I thought this was funny. After thinking about it, I found it unfortunate that the advice is probably sound.

Then we came upon an article

“Danish Santa Compensated for Reindeer’s Death . . . COPENHAGEN, Denmark (Sept. 29) The Danish Air Force said Thursday it paid 31,175 kroner, or $5,032, in compensation to a part-time Santa Claus whose reindeer died of heart failure when two fighter jets roared over his farm.

I am happy that the man was compensated for his loss, but Santa Claus? Be reasonable. Everybody knows that Santa has eight reindeer. The ninth was Rudolph. An article like this could confuse children all over the world.

Then this news blurb actually made national headlines:

“Eviction escape: Man flees, pig attacks . . . BOULDER CREEK, Calif. A man and his pet wild pig facing eviction from their Boulder Creek home have eluded authorities — the man by running into the woods, and the pig by attacking deputies.

Are the Boulder Creek police admitting that they are not capable of subduing a pig and finding a man in the adjacent woods? It’s enough to make you lose faith in law enforcement. How can anybody feel safe with news like that?

The point is that real news is sometimes too disturbing. We can deal with fantasy; it can’t hurt us. True bizarre news can be more than we are willing to handle. It’s just part of that system we can’t understand.

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