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Can't Handle the Truth

No, There's No Anthony Scaramucci Revenge Porn

The viral story is just unfunny satire. Is that so wrong?

by Mike Pearl
Aug 5 2017, 1:32pm

Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz

Welcome back to Can't Handle the Truth, our Saturday column looking at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.

It sometimes seems like you can't say anything anymore without someone accusing you of being fake news. Even worse, your accuser might be right, even when your heart was in the right place.

Does anyone really have pure intentions? I don't know. In my own work, all I try to do is ask questions and report the answers, regardless of the ideology the answer supports. This means looking for the best and worst in the ideas of Republicans, Democrats, and everything in between. I may have biases just like everyone else, but I'm genuinely curious about stuff, and I write for people who share my curiosity. So it's frustrating when my work gets mischaracterized as pure political propaganda for one side or another. I think that's the way most journalists feel.

Having said that, no matter how hard you try you can wind up contributing to a story that turns out to be fake news, especially in our age of retweets and shares. A joke you make could be misinterpreted, or you might spread something that turns out to be untrue through no fault of your own.

In short: I'd tell you to try not to be like the people behind the fake stories below, but I'm not sure they really ever did anything wrong in the first place.

Anthony Scaramucci released revenge porn of his wife

This claim is supposedly satire, but it might actually be malicious. I'm just not sure anymore. Recently dismissed White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci does use a lot of bad words, and he has an aggro, alpha-male approach to life in general, so apparently the idea that he just released a sex tape of his wife as revenge for her decision to file for divorce, could, or should, be considered a cutting piece of satire. (I'm not laughing, personally.)

The source, after all, is a website called Nevada County Scooper, a publication that doesn't look or sound in any way credible, and claims to be satirical. "We are not a 'fake news' site, but rather an entertainment one," the Scooper's about page reads. "Our intention is not to fool or trick anyone, but obviously it happens." Satire, according to the Scooper, is often not funny, and is instead, "primarily a medium of criticism that employs irony, criticism, juxtaposition and hyperbole to illuminate the issues of the day." Hmm...

In defense of the Scooper, their sidebar features stories with titles like "Ted Cruz To Run For Mayor Of Mcdonaldland," and "The Dirty Joke of the Day," so I take them at their word that they're really a satire site. Then again, their revenge porn story was shared thousands and thousands of times on Facebook, each time drawing credulous comments from people who obviously believed it. That doesn't seem like the best outcome for a piece of satire.

Fidget spinners were invented in Mesopotamia

100,000 retweets is about as viral as it gets. It's safe to say practically everyone who uses Twitter saw this tweet, and I can see why. If the item in the photo were really a "Spinning Toy with Animals Heads" from 4,000 years ago, that would make it the world's oldest known fidget spinner. That would be hilarious wouldn't it?

But unfortunately, according to the Verge, the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, the museum where my friend and former colleague Arielle Pardes found this ancient clay artifact, no longer stands by their own claim that it's a toy. They now think it's a weapon, but they haven't changed the sign yet.

So who's to blame for telling the internet that fidget spinners were invented in Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago? Arguably not the museum, even though they desperately need to update their sign, and certainly not Pardes, who was just passing along something fun she found in a museum. This became "fake news" thanks to all of us eagerly passing along a nugget of information that turned out to be false.

The NRA wants to fist The New York Times

In the video embedded above, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch says that in the pursuit of unbiased truth, "We're going to fisk the New York Times." Don't know what "fisk" means? Neither did I! According to the Times itself, "to fisk" is to go line-by-line refuting someone's claims in a blog post—it's a slang term from the mid-2000s, the golden age of blogging. If you watch the video with that in mind, you'll probably hear fisk.

Otherwise, you'll definitely hear "we're going to fist The New York Times"—with "fisting" being a sex act. Given the extremely aggressive tone of the video, that makes sense. Also, the hashtag the NRA used is #ClenchedFISTofTruth. Still, Loesch claims she said "fisk," and I have no reason to doubt her.

But if you heard "fist," and reacted to it (like everyone on Twitter did), Loesch apparently can see no other explanation for your mistake than you being a "malicious hack" who is deliberately lying as a publicity stunt. If you don't mind, I'm going to take my objectivity hat off for a moment and give an opinion: I personally think these are people's honest reactions, and Loesch's explanation—that you'd have to be a biased liar to mishear her—is a real, um, reach.

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