Journalists are trained, or at least I think they are (I am an English major and can recite some poetry), to believe almost nothing that is pitched as news on April 1.
Want to bury a bad financial report or corporate scandal? Give it a clever headline and an April 1 release date and fire away. Odds are it will be dismissed as a prank and your disclosure obligations will be discharged with none the wiser, not to be confused with Pliny the Elder.
In that spirit, here are some of my favorite leg-pulls in the media rodeo that came over the block-that-metaphorical electronic transom Saturday (April 1).
VidAngel, or someone claiming to be VidAngel, sent out a release Saturday announcing: "VidAngel Purchases Walt Disney Studios."
Disney and other studios have sued VidAngel, with the studio's currently holding the upper hand in a case that has clipped VidAngel's wings for now, or at least for then, since the link is to a January story.
VidAngel argues that it is only giving users the ability to more effectively filter content—skip the nude scenes, mute the language if they choose—in their own homes. The studios argue it is illegally circumventing copy protections, modifying and streaming their content and preempting their windows for releasing their content online. The company says it will continue its fight all the way to the Supreme Court. But enough of this actual information stuff. Back to the fun.
"Today, in the most surprising development in the case thus far, VidAngel has announced its purchase of Burbank-based Walt Disney Studios," the release exclaimed. "The struggling film studio announced plans to be acquired by media juggernaut VidAngel Inc. after weeks of closed-door negotiations. Disney, whose quirky indie properties 'Star Wars' and 'Marvel Cinematic Universe' failed to expand beyond their cult followings, threw in the towel after years of poor financial performance," says the release.
"The deal comes as no surprise to analysts, who long anticipated Disney’s inability to compete with streaming behemoth VidAngel."
"A Disney representative declined to comment on the selling price of the company, though sources close to the deal report a price tag easily north of $100."
I might have, instead, done it this way:
"Sources put the price tag at $99.95. "I think it was a little higher," said Disney spokesman Easley North of that figure." But, then, I was trained as an editor and editorial writer, whose job it is to wait for the battle to be over then shoot the wounded, as it were. Teddy R. would have dismissed me with a "not bully!" and rode on.
Then there was this release from an otherwise legit (I think) wireless mic company (see photo). This one was a bit harder to spot since technology company releases all sound like this to me.
"On April 1, Lectrosonics is introducing a new body pack transmitter unit with built-in recording capability, using the newly developed Nano-Cassette™ tape. The transmitter, dubbed the Nano Cassette TX (NCTX for short), includes all the standard features of similar Lectrosonics transmitters introduced during the past two years: Digital Hybrid Wireless® Transmission, a wide tuning range of 75 MHz (three standard Lectrosonics blocks), selectable RF power, and remote control via an acoustic signal from a mobile app. The addition of the Nano-Cassette recording provides the ability to back up the audio signal in the event that the transmitter goes out of range of the receiver. Recordings can even be made when the transmitter portion of the unit is not engaged, i.e. as a stand-alone recording unit."
OK, sounds a bit unlikely, but what do I know about transmitters and nanotechnology? Plus, I get a ton of releases with leads like "The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) is pleased to award the Dariush Arasteh Memorial Member of the Year to Steve Strawn of JELD-WEN," or "“Hi John, Just a quick FYI... Looking for real examples of how enterprise organizations are leveraging container technology to sustain growth, improve business agility, lower costs/optimize resources, and ensure DR and HA?” I am transcribing those verbatim from legit releases of months past. But to me they are as Greek as Diogenes without the lamp, not that he could find many honest men or women among the spoofers on April 1.
The sting was in the tail in the Lectrosonics release, as it should be--the idea is that journalists need to read all the way through and not just look at the first couple of graphs before they leap to their keyboards. There is enough "fake news" and "real" fake news without adding surreal fake news to the mix: "The MCTX is supplied with a removable belt clip, two Nano-Cassettes, and a tiny pencil for taking up slack on the itty-bitty reels before inserting the tape into the transmitter mechanism," the release writer concluded, tiny cursor in hand and tongue firmly in cheek. "A software app is also included, with a plug-in using a deconvolution algorithm to eliminate wow and flutter artifacts in the audio file. MSRP: $2017. Availability: April 1."
Deconvoluation algorithm's. Weren't they integral to the flux capacitor?
Obviously the "tiny pencil" taking up the slack was the highlight of the release if one has ever had to rewind a cassette with the chewed end of a regular pencil, a cassette containing an exclusive interview with an elusive subject, after the tape has scrunched and rumpled and ribboned halfway across the room through absolutely no fault--and this is critical--of the reporter manipulating the cursed machined.
Perhaps the most on (tiny pencil) point item for this mag was the special edition of the Benton Foundation's indispensable news aggregation newsletter put together by Kevin Tagalong, whose great uncle was the inventor of the Girl Scout Cookie. “God invented the cookie. I just tagged along," Kevin's great uncle would quip while watering the polo ponies.
The lead item Saturday (there is not usually a weekend edition, except, I believe, around April 1) was headlined "FCC Reclassifies Broadband Internet Access Service as Title VII Miscellaneous Provision."
(Editor's note: How many net neutrality activists does it take to reverse Title II? Two. Actually, you can't force either one to do it, but you need one to tell you how much you will get screwed by the new classification and one to tell you how good the old classification was.)
"Reversing the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 illegal takeover of the Internet," the faux notice read, "the Commission in this Declaratory Ruling, which does not require a vote by the FCC Commissioners, to reclassify broadband Internet access service as a Miscellaneous Provision per Title VII of the Communications Act of 1934," alleged public notice reads.
The FCC under new chairman Ajit Pai is widely expected to reverse the Title II reclassification of ISPs as telecoms subject to common carrier regs. The story's author is identified as "Public Notice," though that does not immediately give the joke away. But let's let Public Notice continue:
"The reclassification, in plain English, means that the transfer of duties, powers, and functions shall not be construed to affect the duties, powers, functions, or jurisdiction of under, or to interfere with or prevent the enforcement of, all Acts amendatory thereof or supplemental thereto. Subsequently, all orders, determinations, rules, regulations, permits, contracts, licenses, and privileges which have been issued, made, or granted by the Commission under any provision of law repealed or amended by this declaratory ruling or in the exercise of duties, powers, or functions transferred to the Commission by this declaratory ruling, and which are in effect at the time this section takes effect, shall not continue in effect until modified, terminated, superseded, or repealed by the FCC Chairman or by operation of law if recognized by said Chairman. In a separate statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “I am proud that my staff and I have devised this ‘New Third Way’ to not ensure the Open Internet without any regulation. In accordance with the February 24, 2017 Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda, the Commission will also be eliminating all regulation of traditional cable, pay-TV operators and telephone networks. This regulatory parity will ensure unregulatory certainty and ensure telecommunications infrastructure investment.”
The first part should be read by Professor Irwin Corey, who had a PhD, in nonplain English and sometimes seemed to be throwing a party (of the first part) that only he was attending. Sadly, he died only weeks ago at 102, but was hilarious, at least to me, up until the antepenultimate doubletalk double take.