Publisher Explains, Apologizes – See Comments.
When is a satire not funny? When it’s almost plausible and definitely damaging. There’s a site you and I had never heard of – until today: “The Discust.” Its tagline is, “Because in South Carolina, we expect more than just the truth.” Yesterday, they ran an “article” entitled, “Jenny Sanford: ‘Gay marriage wrecked my family’.”
Here’s how it begins:
“Sullivan’s Island – South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford released another statement today, this time blaming her husband’s affair on the declining moral values in America.
“Of course I’m not saying that Mark is gay,” Sanford said, “but he may as well be. The moral decay in this country has claimed another victim and this time it was my family. Our marriage was perfect until these laws started passing around the country. Clearly the slow dissolution of the sanctity of marriage in America seeped into Mark’s psyche until he no longer felt compelled to abide by our vows.”
Now, I confess when I first saw it I was afraid it might be real. I read the piece and hoped it was satire. And I did some digging on the site and found their “About” page, which states,
“The “news” on this site is not entirely real. If there is, in fact, actual news on this site, then it is likely marked as such, just so you can tell the difference. This site is news parody, but if you had to actually come to this page to figure that out then you might not catch that particular nuance even as it’s being explained to you so maybe you should just move along.”
The site mixes “satire” with “real news.” The publisher, “Harbor Light Media” says, “The editorial content of this site is satire and parody. Real news is clearly marked. Lighten up.” Um, no, I won’t.
I was relieved, but angry. Angry, because there are enough people who are blaming gay marriage for many things. (People like Rep. Sally Kern, whom you’ll read here tomorrow what she’s blaming gay marriage for.) Angry because most people don’t have the time to dig around a site, especially when one of their friends on Twitter (which is where I first saw this) recommends a story. Angry because so many people passed the story on unwittingly, as fact. And angry because some will never know it is false.
Doing some quick research, I found well over a hundred mentions of the story on Twitter and Google, including pieces by a few well-known bloggers who were duped.
But the damage done here is to Jenny Sanford (whose views on gay marriage are not known to me,) and to the institution of marriage itself.
I left a comment on the site, although it seems comments are no longer available for viewing. Here’s what I wrote:
“Well, by the type of comments and the vast number of comments, it’s clear what you (the author of this “article”) are doing is not working. Yes, I had to check your “about” page to verify my hopes that this was satire. It may be intended to be satirical, but it’s not funny. And, worse, it is damaging and hurtful.
There are a great many people who have read your piece and believed it to be true. I can see from all the Twitter mentions that you have now made a great many people believe that Mrs. Sanford is a horrible person, and yes, you have just reinforced for some that gay marriage is the evil they assumed. I’ll assume you do not believe that to be true, and if so, you have chosen a poor way of showing your support to the millions of lesbian and gay Americans who are working so hard for equality.
I am no lawyer, but your “disclaimer” being on a different page, in my opinion, is at best misleading.
I urge you to label this piece, and your site, more clearly. “The Onion” can do what it does because it is a brand, and has a reputation. You do not. Please reconsider what you are doing here. You have done enough damage already.
I urge you to publish an explanation and a retraction, and, an apology.”
Irresponsible publishers need to put their thinking caps on and estimate the results of their actions before they hit “publish.”
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