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Ethics Train Wreck

Last week, my BS-o-Meter failed, and a fake story made it into This is True. It has happened a few times over the past 18 years of weekly columns, but luckily only a few times. Let’s start with the story, from True‘s 5 August 2012 issue:

Hokey Pokey

Larry Storch, 89, who lives on Calamity Lane in La Grange, N.C., recently received his 17th citation for “noise pollution” in the past seven years for blaring the stereo in his car at extreme volume. “They’ve been giving me noise tickets for years,” a defiant Storch said. “I guess they thought their tickets would deter me, but every time I paid off a ticket I’d stop by the speaker place on the way home and add a little more boom to my zoom.” That irritates the judge who has seen Storch in his courtroom many times for his “wanton disregard for the public,” as he puts it. “In the past I’ve fined you, sentenced you to community service, and at one point even forced you to watch the fourth hour of the ‘Today Show’,” said Lenoir County District Judge Robert T. Ironside. “Since none of those punishments have done anything to curb your jackassory behavior, I’ve decided to get medieval on where your butt — if you had one — would be.” The judge made a CD with 37 versions of “I’m a Little Teapot” on it, and ordered Storch to play it every day for 45 days. When asked to comment on the unusual sentence — which Storch said he will appeal — Ironside said that “anyone who insists their stereo rattle every mailbox open it passes is in dire need of a daily flogging with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire until they get better.” (RC/Kinston Free Press) …B.I.N.G.O.!

The story brought a lot of questions from readers. With very few exceptions, they weren’t questioning the story’s veracity, but rather they were wondering: is that the same Larry Storch from the 1965 ABC comedy F Troop?

I had thought so myself at first, since comic actor Storch and the antagonist in the story are both 89. The actor’s Wikipedia entry was even updated reflect the criminal troubles he was supposedly having — and as of this writing, it’s still there. I’m copying it here since I’m sure it will be deleted Real Soon Now:

Storch often likes to listen to music while driving, and has been cited 17 times with misdemeanor noise pollution since 2005. After his most recent citation, the Judge sentenced him to play a CD featuring 37 different variations of I’m a Little Teapot in his car for 45 days.[10]

The footnote link (“10”) goes to the same story I used as a source.

The Big Clue in the original article (link removed: no longer online), published by the Kinston (N.C.) Free Press — which is a “legitimate, mainstream news source” — was not that Storch’s girlfriend was quoted, but that she was identified as “Storch’s girlfriend of 27 minutes.” Since I didn’t use any of her quotes, preferring to concentrate on the judge’s instead, I didn’t catch that clue.

But What About “Ethics”?

The title of this post is what ethicist and lawyer Jack Marshall said about the Free Press‘s story — that it’s an “Ethics Train Wreck”. Marshall is the president of ProEthics, Ltd., a legal ethics consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia. Marshall is also the author of the Ethics Alarms blog, and his alarm went off with this story.

Larry Storch in F Troop

How EthicsAlarms.com illustrated its entry, complete with wonderful caption. This shows the actor Larry Storch in his role of the bumbling Corporal Randolph Agarn on ‘F Troop’.

Marshall termed the newspaper’s story as an Ethics Train Wreck In A Little Teapot in large part because the Kinston Free Press is a legitimate, mainstream news source. Marshall provided the work phone number and email address of the reporter, Jon Dawson, and suggested his readers “Tell him for me he’s an unethical jerk” (emphasis from the original) because “There’s nothing in the website or his column heading to indicate that he is writing humor or satire.”

(Yes, I think providing the reporter’s phone number and email address could be considered unethical by some, though I’m sure both are listed on the newspaper’s web site.)

But What About the Clues?

Such clues are important, and are just part of what’s behind my well-honed “BS-o-Meter” in the first place. But the most important clue in determining the veracity of a news story is the source. While I have said “no way!” on stories that were published by legitimate news outlets, most of the time the reporter was fooled by the source, rather than the one actively trying to fool the reader.

As Marshall says, “I read crazy stories all weak [sic] long, this is far from the nuttiest, or the funniest” — so it didn’t occur to him that the story was fake. Just so: when you have men dressing as women and pumping cement into their own asses to make them huge, what’s so weird about a judge named Ironside creatively sentencing a former comic actor for acting like a jerk?

Marshall actually sounds fairly angry: “Thanks, Jon, for wasting my time, and everyone else’s. If the Free Press won’t fire you, I then we know [sic] how much it cares about its readers.”

The Bigger Issue

I’m not angry myself, just “deeply disappointed” because there’s a much deeper issue here, and Marshall at least starts to pick up on it with: “The so-called new media, which already has bloggers blatantly misrepresenting facts on a regular basis, doesn’t need this junk to further degrade its credibility.”

But that misses the mark. If the Kinston Free Press was part of the “new media” that would be great criticism. But it’s not a blog, it’s a “legitimate, mainstream newspaper.” It’s supposed to be an objective, credible news outlet. And this has caused its veracity to be called into question not just on this story, but on every story it publishes. It’s the “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” doubt that will come in every time someone who was tricked by this story lands on the site in the future. The seed of doubt has been planted, and that not only damages the Free Press but all of the “legitimate, mainstream” news media. Forget “new” media!

You might say that it’s well known by the newspaper’s local readers that Jon Dawson is a humor columnist and even though he’s published by a newspaper, it’s part of his schtick to make stuff up. And that’s fine — in the pages of the printed newspaper. But once a publisher puts its stuff online, that publisher becomes a publisher to an international audience who doesn’t have a long history with the paper, and doesn’t have any clue who Jon Dawson is.

How to fix that? Easy: the newspaper simply needs to put a marker at the top of the page, such as “Humor”, “Satire”, or “News Parody”. That its editor or publisher did not is what makes this an “Ethics Train Wreck” for the newspaper in particular, and the news media in general.

Decline in news media 'believability' numbersNewspapers, and the news media in general, used to be considered ethical paragons. CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite was “the most trusted man in America”. But when “Uncle Walter” retired, things began to slide, to the point where now, the news media is among the least trusted institutions in America despite its vital “Fourth Estate” role in protecting democracy. And the Kinston Free Press is an example as to why that is.

Also Fooled

This is True is in good company in being fooled by this story. A local CBS News affiliate picked up on the story as if it was real. So did countless blogs (example), and of course Wikipedia.

No surprise, really: that’s what happens when you use a real guy’s name that sounds familiar to a lot of folks, and even match his age to the real guy.

So I won’t yell “Shame!” at the Free Press, but I’m rolling my eyes for their stupidly caused real damage to the integrity of the already-heavily-embattled news media. Thanks to several readers who pointed me to the Ethics Alarms page to help debunk this story.

Note: The “Hokey Pokey” story has been pulled from True‘s archive.

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36 Responses to Ethics Train Wreck

  1. Michael, Texas August 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I recognized the name immediately, but took a while to place it with “F-Troop.”

    What I found interesting was the judge’s name, Robert T. Ironside, which was the exact name (to the initial) of the wheelchair-bound chief of detectives played by Raymond Burr in “Ironside.” I guess I have to share some of the BS-o-Meter failing; that those two names were linked in the same unusual story, perhaps, should have sounded the bells.

    Oh well, it was still good for a grin.

  2. Steven, Missouri August 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    At least you can always be counted on for corrections and instead of hiding them deep, you make them as prominent as the original. Gives me hope that journalism is not dead. But I fear it is on terminal life support in most media.

    Significantly more prominent, actually. As it should be. -rc

  3. Mark, Felton MN August 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    The tip-off for me was being sentenced to “…watch[ing] the fourth hour of The Today show.” That seems more like an author’s editorial comment on that show than any judge’s effort to educate and correct.

  4. Chris, California August 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Totally agree with Stephen, thank you for the very visible correction.

    In a list of the many reasons why mainstream media is becoming more and more obsolete, this is just another check mark. But it is indicative of WHY there is a lack of trust in media these days. Let alone bias (one way or the other), get the facts straight first.

  5. Lynda, Renton, WA August 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Don’t feel bad — EVERYONE’S “BS-o-Meter” (love the term!) needs a tune up from time to time. As fellow commenter Steven noted, at least you DO run corrections, instead of letting a mistake lie, or worse, get defensive about it, stating that you “stand by this story!” as the tabloids do, even when they are losing a libel case.

    I just wonder where a “BS-o-Meter” can be taken in for servicing. Your parents DID get the extended warrantee for it, right?

  6. Rick, Calgary, Alberta August 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    Larry Storch is not a common name, so that flagged me right away. Mr. Storch also played the role of Texas Jack in Blake Edwards’ wonderful comedy The Great Race.

    I agree with the apparently ever-corroding image of journalism being a paragon of honesty and integrity. (I agree with the image, not the corroding itself!) It’s pretty clear that the internet is a powerful tool, both to inform and to spread mis- and dis-information. The argument that bleats about “freedom of expression” has been done to death, and it’s STILL illegal to yell “FIRE!!!” in a crowded theater, much as theory might entitle you to.

    Clearly, as Randy has pointed out, removing an article from context (in this case, the local folk knowing about someone being a humor columnist) has the effect of amping up the dis-information quotient for this, and as such, without the qualifier “satire” (or similar) there should be consequences. We’ve got too much Chicken Little stuff going on on the internet as it is without this sort of thing adding to the noise provided by the drooling loons.

  7. Bob in Dallas August 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    It set off my BS meter only because I knew he lived in New York City. I tried to verify and found dozens of sites that had copied the story already. Wikipedia had someone just today correct their biography.

    I agree: Hang the hoaxter up by his thumbs!

  8. bandit, Albuquerque August 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    I am really sad. I had assumed all of the versions of “Teapot” were unique covers — *that* would be a CD worth putting a few bucks down on.

    Kind of like the collection of different covers of “Louie Louie” made a few years ago in an effort to make the song the Official State Song for Washington State.

    On a kind of reverse of the story, David Crosby was thrown in jail a while ago for (gasp) pot. He joins/formed a prison band (who is going to refuse David Crosby?). They found out the warden’s most hated song was “Almost cut my hair”, so they setup each day as close to his office as they could get and played the song (let their freak flag fly) for *hours*.

    Rock on Randy! Nice retraction. F-Troop Rules!!

  9. Robert in Houston August 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    I recognized Larry Storch’s name immediately, and hoped that the actor had not stooped to real-life activities as zany as those he portrayed so well in F-Troop. Slapstick acting and wacky discourse appeared in every episode. My favorite “proverb” from his peace-pipe moments with the Heckawi Indians is “Buffalo fly high in sky when horn of young antelope point at full moon.”

    The comments about properly labeling satire (or editorials) in news publications (both print and online) is right on target. The internet introduces readers from around the globe to material and columns that may be unfamiliar. My pet peeve is online newspapers with a home page which doesn’t even identify their scope or place of business. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to dig down through articles, tabs, and links just to find out in what state or province a reported event took place.

    Welcome to my world! And when I do figure out where the newspaper is, the papers will often not say that the story they’re writing about actually happened in a town across the state line. Just another example of “not getting it” when publishing online: the audience is international, not local. -rc

  10. Jack Marshall August 13, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    Thanks Randy…especially thanks for flagging the typos. I was so mad I couldn’t see straight, especially after the writer sent me a snotty email saying that the fact that his piece was under the heading of “column” was sufficient to alert me that he might be joshing.

    I agree with your post 100%. By the way, Dawson’s contact info was all on the Free Press site, or I wouldn’t have posted them. I don’t do that with contact info that hasn’t been published on the individual’s own or home site — that IS unethical.

    Jack is the author of the Ethics Alarms blog. -rc

  11. Felix, Dutch Flat August 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Might want to check out the claim that Walter Cronkite was “the most trusted man in Americqa”. It was only in one silly poll, says this page.

    The page sounds plausible. The claim is that it was a poll comparing various people and boosted out of proportion by CBS.

  12. Eric in Michigan August 15, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    The Larry Storch story was funny, and there were two more big alerts. He lived on “Calamity Lane”, when Calamity Jane was another character on “F Troop”, the girlfriend of Captain Parmenter. And to top it off, the ‘girlfriend of 27 minutes’, Paulette Burroughs, is also an employee of the Kinston Free Press, and has been, according to another Jon Dawson column, written up in his column more than 40 times for such heinous crimes as selling counterfeit Twinkies. I’m immensely certain that if you had spotted that column, you would have instantly realized the whole thing was a spoof. In the interests of full disclosure, I grew up in the same town that the actor who played Captain Parmenter, Ken Berry (also in “Mama’s Family”) although we never met.

    I’ve never seen F Troop, so I didn’t get any of those allusions. And I’m still not sure how anyone not from the Kinston area could be expected to get the local inside jokes. Again, the whole point is, when you publish on the Internet, you’re publishing to an international, not local, audience. -rc

  13. Tom from Maryland August 17, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Sadly, since Uncle Walter retired, and even before, mainstream news outlets purpose has not been to inform but rather to entertain.

    In Baltimore Maryland, because of its success in sensationalizing the news, one of the TV stations — 13 — has three hours of local news followed by the national network news broadcast.

    How to sensationalize the mundane: Newsroom projector fixed! Film at 11!

    It doesn’t need to be true, it just needs to garner attention. In this case it worked very well.

  14. Gordon, Gibsons BC August 17, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    It’s totally _legal_ to yell fire in a crowded theater. What you can’t do is use the First Admendment as a defense when you get charged for causing a panic.

    Thus not making it “totally legal”. -rc

  15. Jan, Belgium August 18, 2012 at 3:19 am #

    Sorry, I disagree with you on this. Where is it stated on the site of The Onion that all content there is satire? A large part of the humor comes from the confusion, where you are first shocked to think this could be true, and then relieved that it isn’t.

    The source is indeed an important indicator, but you also missed half of it: the “Column” part indicates that it does not come from the regular newsroom, but from the editorial side, where other rules apply. Columns are even more special: an individual article should be read with the other articles from in the same column as a context, as they tell you where this author is coming from. You were the one who took this article out of its context, and (unintentionally) removed further clues which you thought were not important. The claim that the publisher should put more warnings on the site than they do on the physical paper also doesn’t make sense: what if you happened to visit the city and read the story in the paper there? Would you have used the story in your newsletter, or would you do any other factchecker that might stop you from republishing it? If the latter, why did you not do it with the online source?

    A minor point: I’m not sure, but I think the title “Ethics Train Wreck” was already used before it was clear to Jack that the story was satire. So you can’t claim it is a comment on the journalist, the newspaper or the press in general.

    There’s a vast difference between the Onion, which is all satire, all the time, and the newspaper in question, which is supposedly all straight news, all the time. And I don’t understand your last paragraph at all. No one claimed that the title is a completely original phrase never before used in the history of writing. -rc

  16. dearcat from Maine August 18, 2012 at 4:48 am #

    As a former journalist for more than 50 years, I am here to tell you that true journalism is all but dead as evidenced by the “Teapot” story. When real journalism was in flower, during “Uncle Walter’s time” a reporter got his story, then verified with at least two sources, three were better. A small, nationally unknown newspaper going global is asking for trouble. It is not wrong to print a story like this one, but it definitely should be labeled satire. You can not expect the general public to be adroit enough to tell the difference.

    I appreciate the input of someone with so much experience. -rc

  17. Sue in Bremerton August 18, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    Ahh what a delight it is to be spoofed once in a while. I do it all the time to my family. But after I finish my outrageous tale, I ALWAYS tell everyone that I made it all up. Too bad the author do that. And it was a shame that the timing was so close to Larry Storchs passing. It kind of put a pall over the whole thing. That is what upset me most. And of course the author had no idea….

    I haven’t seen any reports that the actor has died. Please send me a link if you have one. -rc

  18. Michael, Japan August 18, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    Your own fault for not doing basic checks. The mainstream media is known for being sloppy- some take their stories from their source with little editing. So this news story is fiction- you should have done a court records search.

    Why pay for This is True when you get the same quality from all the free weird news sites.

    You seem to not understand what TRUE is! I don’t search court records, I don’t request police reports, I don’t call witnesses, I don’t interview subjects, because TRUE is, and always has been, news commentary. And if you didn’t know that after reading the column for many years (as you have), whose fault is that?! -rc

  19. Jeff from Georgia August 18, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Why all the fuss about the reporter, and nothing about the editor? Surely this newspaper has more than one employee.

    I’m guessing you mean among the comments, since “The Bigger Issue” section of the essay talks only about the publication — its entire staff from the publisher on down — not the reporter. -rc

  20. Bonnie, Florida August 18, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    I used to put out a small newsletter, mostly for fun. My workmates and friends enjoyed it. We had a problem with harmful gossip going around so one column that I wrote had the title of, “THERE IS NO TRUTH TO THE RUMOR THAT:” Then I collected outrageous tales and included them in that section. It was very popular, got a lot of laughs and put an end to the undercover and foolish comments of the trouble makers. Somehow, seeing them in print made them realize how ridiculous and troublesome their stories were. Seems to me that professional writers would know to identify their material as well.

  21. Mia, Victoria, BC, Canada August 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    In general, I think Randy is right that there needed to be clear online clues that the story was intended as humour. What I think happened, though, is that the paper simply dumped the entire contents of the column onto its website — it probably does that with all the news and columns they print.

    I actually do like it that newspapers are doing that, and leaving them up indefinitely — it makes research much easier. My own peeve, though, comes when stories or columns are published without a date attached. (This also comes with stories being dumped onto a website — in print media, the date is easily found at the top or bottom of each page and doesn’t need to be attached to individual stories. Fortunately now it seems to be commoner to put dates on online stories, although sometimes they can be hard to find.

  22. Micah, New York August 19, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    I’m somewhat curious as to the legal aspects of the judge’s actions as reported in the teapot story. I suppose shame on me for not questioning further — the first question that popped into my head upon reading the story was “hasn’t the judge endangered his career with that sentence and those comments?” Couldn’t any competent attorney could use the baseball bat comment in particular in an appeal to get the sentence overturned? And can’t being forced to listen to something repetitively for a period of time can be construed as torture?

    Since the story is fiction (and so is the judge), the questions are moot until a real judge does it. -rc

  23. John in Florida August 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Dawson’s July 31 column is on the Kinston Free Press web site with no indication that it is humor or satire. Nonetheless, I doubt that anyone will think less of the news media because of this story which hypes Kinston as the site for the 2018 Olympics.

    I think the lack of trust in the news media is based on the fact that it has slipped back to the level it accepted in the early 1900s. Such things as putting professional wrestling on the sports pages and slanting stories in favor of preferred political candidates fell into disfavor for quite a while. People such as Walter Cronkite and others involved with “network” news and the major wire services helped that quite a lot. For many years now politicians have made a lot of points criticizing the press and one major news organization/network has achieved great success by making it their by-line.

  24. Lynne, Toutdale August 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    The folks behind printed newspaper “The Oregonian’s” on-line site, oregonlive, don’t seem to understand why I am upset that the “Opinion” section is reached through a link for “News.” They keep sending me emails explaining that I am having a hard time adapting to change….

    Let’s just say I agree you’re not the one who is clueless here. -rc

  25. Sebastian, New Zealand August 19, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    A short while ago I was sent a link to a Huffington Post article detailing how (in short) Fox News had been denied a broadcasting license in Canada because legislators refused to repeal a law that forbids lying on broadcast news.

    I was aghast. I was sure this must be a joke. Not that there was a law like that on the books in Canada, but that there wasn’t such a law in the US. Turns out that that was abolished by the Reagan administration in 1987, well before I was in any way interested in politics.

    As an “outsider” (read; foreigner) I’m stunned time and again by the things your publication and others like it teach me about the world I live in, and more specifically, the US. I wonder how many of these plainly idiotic things I simply do not ever hear about, and I worry. I worry for all the sane, intelligent people who live in the US who are blind like I am to the transgressions being performed on a daily basis by those you trust to do what is right for the country and its people, purely to maintain their own power.

    Randy, sometimes your column is depressing, but I couldn’t imagine not reading it. It’s said that ignorance is bliss, but would that still be true if you knew you were ignorant?

    Nope: it would be agonizing. I highly doubt that there was any such law abolished by Reagan in 1987. The Supreme Court recently affirmed that “freedom of speech” specifically includes the right to lie. “Caveat emptor” rules when consuming media. -rc

  26. Felix, California August 19, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

    Sebastian: Last thing anyone should want is letting the government decide what is a lie. Even in a court trial, that is just stupendously naive.

    Aside from that, you are probably referring to the US’s Fairness Doctrine which was discarded in 1987. It was an atrociously unworkable mandate that TV and radio stations had to broadcast all sides of an argument. Aside from the inanity of, again, letting the government decide when all sides had not been heard, it led to all sorts of silliness, such as refusing to show certain movies during an election because one of the candidates had been in it.

    The government is about as inept an arbiter of fairness as can be found. It’s not just that it has all the biases of the typical bureaucracy, but it will never go out of business for making bad decisions, it has the threat of jail to back up bad decisions, and has every incentive in the world to cover up its bad decisions with that threat of jail.

    Which gives you just some of the reasons why “freedom of speech” is such a stupendously great idea. -rc

  27. JimJ, Lansing, MI August 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I don’t think the Supreme Court (at least in the majority opinion) affirmed a right to lie, so much as they said that Freedom of speech is so important that merely being false isn’t sufficient to make a statement unprotected.

    If you’re talking about the case I think you are, then Congress passed a law banning certain types of false speech (about military awards). The Supreme Court said that because the law restricted speech, the law had to meet a higher standard to be Constitutional — and that particular law didn’t.* False advertising is still banned, because those laws were drafted more carefully.

    *For example, the government has to show that it can’t achieve the same ends without limiting speech. The government claimed that it couldn’t rely on public ridicule because the public didn’t know who the true recipients are, and they didn’t know that because the government hadn’t published a list. So why wouldn’t publishing the list be enough? Because the government claims not to know itself. Well, if the government doesn’t know whether a claim is true, how can it prevent selective prosecution?

    You are correct that I was referring to the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any U.S. military decoration or medal. Conviction was to result in up to six months in prison, unless the false claim was to have received a Medal of Honor, which increased imprisonment up to one year.

    The law was challenged by Rick Strandlof, who had posed as a retired Captain from the U.S. Marine Corps, and claimed to have a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. In his trial, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn rejected the prosecution’s case. “This wholly unsubstantiated assertion is, frankly, shocking and, indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor,” he wrote in his decision. But the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overruled Judge Blackburn and reinstated the charges against Strandlof. Two judges (of three) held that false statements are not worthy of Constitutional protection.

    But it was a different case that went to the Supreme Court. Xavier (aka Javier) Alvarez falsely claimed he had received the Medal of Honor, and was prosecuted. In a plea bargain, Alvarez plead guilty to the charge, but reserved the right to challenge the law on Constitutional grounds. While the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional since it violated the First Amendment’s right to free speech, the justices didn’t agree on the rationale for the decision.

    Justice Kennedy, writing for a plurality consisting of himself, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Sotomayor, said that false statements are not, by the sole reason of their falsity, excluded from First Amendment protection. And that plurality decision is what I was referring to when I said the court ruled that “‘freedom of speech’ specifically includes the right to lie.” That isn’t absolute, of course: when there is harm to others, there well could be laws against speech, including false advertising (your example) and slander, among others.

    Justice Kennedy went on in the decision to note that because Alvarez’s false statement didn’t cause harm to any specific person, it was protected speech. Thus, the statute had to be subjected to “strict scrutiny” (it had to be necessary to serve a compelling governmental interest and narrowly tailored to serve that interest — as you note). The plurality’s opinion was that the statute failed that test.

    In their separate opinion, Justice Breyer, writing for himself and Justice Kagan, set out “to examine the fit between statutory means and ends.” He concluded that the statute was unconstitutional because “the statute works First Amendment harm, while the Government can achieve its legitimate objectives in less restrictive ways,” such as “a more finely tailored statute.” — which also addresses your point.

    (Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas, dissented — they believed the Stolen Valor Act was Constitutional.) -rc

  28. tom in san antonio August 20, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    LMAO! I don’t believe ANYTHING I am exposed to in any media, except for “This is True”. Not to mention that I live in Texas, what some idiot in North Carolina publishes in a penny ante newspaper is irrelevant to me. Peace, all. Love each other.

  29. Shaz, Melbourne, Australia August 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Thanks for reminding me why this column is now the only one of its type I get in my inbox. When local news goes global it is sometimes harder to be able to verify the veracity of what you are reading. When the story is local to you and clearly false, it really annoys me. I used to see a lot of stories from overseas about really strange stuff that was supposed to have happened here in Australia and it was rarely true. I trust you Randy to always tell me the truth and not publish stories that are made up for their entertainment factor. Why would I want to read news commentary on fiction?

  30. lili, shepherdstown August 21, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    I’m old enough to remember people using the modern proverb, “You can’t believe everything you read in the paper.”

    The beauty of the Internet is that double-, triple-, or more checking is only a search engine and a few clicks away (ref. poster here, Bob in Dallas, who wrote, “It set off my BS meter only because I knew he lived in New York City. I tried to verify and found dozens of sites that had copied the story already.”) I believe the decline in respect for newspapers is a direct result of exactly that fact-checking — the Internet has been revealing just how true the abovementioned proverb was and is. The newspapers haven’t changed; our ability to catch them out has.

    And, that said, scrupulously identifying jokes as jokes, and owning up to mistakes, will go a long way towards earning respect — which is why I trust “This Is True”. I can trust someone who can, and does, publicly say “Oops.”

  31. Gerald; Cleveland, OH August 25, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    I think the story was funny. No need for the newspaper or their staff to apologize. Kinda reminded me of a Mark Twain like sense of humour. Good stuff.

  32. Tom, Seguin, Texas September 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    I find it amusing that anyone believes the “mainstream media” has any credibilty at all these days. The only news source I trust is… Randy Cassingham. I’m happy that you made an error, because, in admiting it. you raised your credibility with me.

    “Journalists are the semi literate cretins hired by newspapers to fill the spaces between advertisements.” – Winston Churchill

    I think a lot of the “mainstream” media is credible. While it was shortsighted of major publications to dump their fact-checking departments and cut back on editors, there is a growing realization that they cut too far that is giving me hope. Also, seeing the reaction as reporters are caught lifting from other publications (including TRUE, by the way!) shows that there is a high standard that publications strive for (some more than others, of course!) This doesn’t mean that we consumers don’t need to be aware of bias, we do. But I feel credibility is higher than most seem to think. -rc

  33. Daryl (Melbourne, Australia) October 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    I should mention that the juxtaposition of “Larry Storch”, “Ironside” and the “Little Teapot” gave me pause at the time. Maybe I should question your BS meter when mine is tickling.

    But calling for the author’s head is wrong. Apparently it is his job to write such stories. The fault lies with the newspaper for putting it online without a “Humour” slug at the top. As, no doubt, not everyone who picks up the printed version is “in the know” re the author’s style, said title should appear in the print version also.

    I worked for a “mainstream” newspaper for 30 years and would like to think that none of my editors would have allowed this to happen … well, it didn’t.

    Glad to get agreement from such a seasoned professional. -rc

  34. Paul, Davis, CA October 27, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    All of the “Caveat Lector” cautions are appropriate.

    However, one of the reasons that this is happening more is that most newspapers have severely reduced their staff — meaning there are fewer people to double- and triple-check the veracity of stories.

    Is this an excuse? Not at all. But it does reinforce the idea that one must be vigilant when receiving “news.” Even from supposedly legitimate sources, since they are now less able to maintain their accuracy.

    As for people missing the point of satire, it happens. Historically, a lot of the great satirists had incidents where they published something that was not perceived as satire. Daniel Defoe published and essay titled “The Shortest Way with the Dissenters.” The problem was some politicians quoted from it and while it was over-the-top extreme, they did not realize that it was a work of satire. When it came out that it was, many big shots ended up with egg on their faces. So Defoe was sentenced to the pillory.

    There’s a happy ending: a mob showed up to protect him (people often threw rocks or otherwise abused people in the pillory), and it turned into a major party, with many a bottle of wine drunk, and Defoe himself being offered much of it, as well many kisses from ladies present.

  35. Gerry, Boise, ID July 29, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

    The problem isn’t with a “humor” piece that wasn’t identified as such. It’s with an increasingly gullible public which assumes that if it’s on the ‘net it must be true.

    Snopes has, on more than one occasion, debunked a story by pointing out that it was originally posted as a joke, then forwarded to others, then stripped of its headings and identification and reposted as “fact”.

    The internet is useful. But it’s not the Holy Word of God.

  36. David, Alabama August 2, 2015 at 9:19 pm #

    The problem with “Journalism” is that there is no objectivity any more. NONE!!! Most “news stories” are what I refer to as either “Artitorials” or “Opinicles” because they are more SUBJECTIVE BIAS and the the thoughts of the reporters and editors than they are recitations of actual facts. Walter Cronkite was NOT the “most trusted man in America” but was in fact just another liberal hack. He learned at the knee of that great “hero” of American Journalism Edward R. Murrow.

    Murrow’s biggest “coup” was in bringing down Joseph McCarthy (A Republican) live on camera using techniques that the “Yellow Journalists” of the early 20th century would have been proud of. Nobody at CBS complained because he brought home the ratings. 50 years later Dan Rather tried to bring down a sitting President (also a Republican) with similar tactics but failed largely because the documents were obvious forgeries (the documents were allegedly from 1972 but they were typed using a font that was not even invented until sometime in the 1980’s).

    Was the paper wrong for not marking the story as satire? Absolutely! Responsible newspapers do not even print “April Fools Day” prank stories because of the damage they cause to the paper’s believability. Is there a place for satire in the newspaper? Absolutely! On the Op-Ed Page! Most of Art Buchwald’s (a past Honorary Unsubscribe honoree) columns were what could be called satire and he was syndicated to hundreds of papers — on the OP-ED page!

    I saw the name Larry Storch and thought of the actor but decided it had to be somebody with the same name. I never really thought “F Troop” was all that funny so did not get any of the references to the show. Storch also played a drunk named Charlie in about 3 episodes of the 1961-63 classic comedy “Car 54 Where Are You?”

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