Saturday, February 04, 2017

No, but thanks for asking

Given the frontpage play in both local dailies Saturday (and on the radio Friday), it's worth asking: Is it OK to indulge in fake news when the cause is good and your intentions are pure?

For those of you outside the immediate area, Macomb County is dealing with some fairly serious problems stemming from the collapse of a sewer line and the resulting risk of sewage spills (the request to hold down water use came last week). Hence, the top of today's Freep:

More Lady Gaga watching and less toilet flushing in central Macomb County during halftime of Sunday's Super Bowl.

Well, that's not exactly what* County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller encouraged today, but she is urging residents in 11 communities affected by the Dec. 24 sewer interceptor collapse and sinkhole in Fraser to restrict water usage.

And the point is?

That means during the big game and what is known — either in reality in some places or urban legend in others — as "The Big Flush."

Sadly, no. The reason a "big flush" associated with a broadcast event is an urban legend in some places is that it's an urban legend, period -- according to Snopes (frequently cited in the numerous stories debunking the myth), one that dates to the days of "Amos 'n' Andy" on the radio. But some fictions, under some circumstances, are just too hard to resist.
As football fans head to their bathrooms en masse during the Super Bowl halftime — residents in northern Macomb County may want to hold it. Or at least not flush.

The News's presentation is less adolescent than the Freep's,** but it relies on the same underlying misperception: Why would you think people wait until halftime to use the bathroom? And it raises the same question: Given that the event is true (there is such an official, and she did make such a plea), and that it's in the public interest to pay attention to the underlying situation, are you justified in drawing attention to the matter by putting a bogus claim on the front page?

I'd like to think not. If nothing else, we hardly seem to have run out of true stuff to say about the sinkhole matter. For another, what you print tends to set the boundaries of what you consider credible; a high proportion of Bigfoot stories suggests that you should be very careful around those friendly games of chance. I'm all for printing what Commissioner Miller said:

“I hope everybody enjoys themselves and has a great time. Just be cognizant of how much water you’re using. That’s going to be a very high water usage day.”

... as long as we note that it's going to be a high water usage day, no matter whether you contribute before, during or after the halftime festivities. Go ahead and call an urban legend an urban legend. The credibility will come in handy the next time you have to point out that the president is lying.

* Sorry, a "that's not what" lede still qualifies as a "that's what" lede, and thus is on the banned list. And you're short a few hyphens, too.probably jget one
** Why a porta-john would be "closed for halftime," given that you could probably help the situation by having a few of them trucked in from Oakland or Wayne, is a question for the ages.

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