President Trump and his hard right surrogates have been waging an unrelenting war against media outlets that report unpleasant truths about his lies, fuck ups, bungling and miscues.
The bludgeon he uses is to brand the reporting “fake news.”
It’s actually a reversal of a term coined during the 2016 election to decry the countless false, derogatory, hateful and mean-spirited items published on social media to torpedo Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Trump, however, uses the term freely to decry any news story critical of him, no matter how factual and objective it is.
In a news environment poisoned by “alternative facts,” the biggest progressive news site on the planet has been a bastion of sanity and common sense. But it’s new editor-in-chief may have less constitutional fortitude than founder Ariana Huffington.
In any emerging dictatorship, satire is usually the canary in the coal mine. It’s the first to be suppressed in order to create a compliant media–and population.
The worst kind of media censorship is self-censorship. The HuffPost took that step last week.
For years, myself, and many other much funnier contributors–Ricky Gervais, Seth MacFarlane, Amy Schumer–have used the Huff’s Comedy page as an outlet for politically-charged satire.
Whether it’s a Top 10 list of things to do on Jan 20 other than watch the inauguration, or a headline claiming the Supreme Court voted to legalize Rush fans, the intent is always the same; to make the reader laugh.
A few days ago, I posted a satirical piece on my HuffPost blog, claiming that Iraq was going to invade the U.S. with the intent of establishing a democracy.
Any reasonable person would be able to tell, right off the bat, the story was a spoof. But the news of the day often isn’t determined by editors.
Big search engines like Google and Yahoo rely on electronic algorithms that apparently have no sense of humor.
While the piece was clearly a comedic jab at our new “fascist regime,” Yahoo News took the story literally and ran it alongside other breaking news stories.
Because my clearly comedic piece was picked up, even though it may have been promoted by Yahoo for its humor, The HuffPost was immediately inundated with complaints by trolls accusing it of promoting “fake news.”
Amid all of this, several of my Facebook friends alerted me to the fact the piece had been taken down.
Of course, no explanation of any kind was forthcoming to yours truly. I found out just like everyone else did, by clicking on a link and being taken to a blank page.
A day or two later, when I finally received an explanation, I was shocked.
I was told given the current “media climate” The Huff is discouraging satirical posts going forward, because they can easily be mistaken as fake news. (WTF?!)
This was the part I had a hard time grasping. Was my editor telling me that, going forward, certain pieces that could be deemed “confusing” to some would be dropped?
Upon further discussion, I heard phrases such as, “there are significant challenges for satire in this moment” and “the current media landscape presents some obstacles.”
But the bottom line was evident. The Huffington Post appears to be buckling to the pressure of the right and their proudest creation to date–a culture of Fake News.
No longer can a piece be posted simply because it’s funny or satirical, because publishers of humor, like The Huff, can now be accused of peddling “fake news.”
If this sounds like something out of “Alice in Wonderland,” you would not be wrong.
I’m not accusing The Huff of censorship, but I am accusing them of being wimps.
If you ask me, kowtowing to those who may not get the joke–be it left or right, even a little–is to give up what legendary comedian Lenny Bruce went to prison for.
David Fagin is a New York writer, producer and musician. His resume boasts an incredibly diverse range of contributions, from top news sites such as Salon, TheImproper, AOL News, Yahoo and The Huffington Post to a wide-range of humorous entities such as The Onion, The Muppets, Comedy Central, Dennis Miller, and Howard Stern. He is fascinated by technology and social media and the seemingly love/hate relationship we have with the changing world. He is also a food snob.
What Larry Flynt went all the way to the Supreme Court for.
What Amy Schumer fought Comedy Central for.
And what the publishers at Charlie Hebdo brave daily death threats for.
That is, the right to mock those in power, as we see fit. Free speech. Plain and simple.
Just because there’s a select few running around trying to turn everything upside down doesn’t mean we have to let them.
In times like this, outlets such as The Huff, and especially The Onion, need to stand firm in their defense of satire.
When you start trying to define what free speech may mean in “today’s media climate,” or, when you begin looking for ways to “edit” a writer to fit your new publishing rules, those who seek to censor opinions have won.
More importantly, if playfully calling attention to the buffoonery of our political leaders is out of bounds in this “media climate,” what’s next?
Rather than deleting the piece entirely, simply publish a postscript that reads: “To whom it may concern, this is a humorous work of fiction, not fact.”
Otherwise, those of us who continue to seek the blackest, darkest humor during a time of blackness and darkness, will be forced to label our work as “alternative comedy” and hold secret Soviet-style reading parties.
And that would really suck.