Don Rogers: Trolling for satire? | TheUnion.com

Don Rogers: Trolling for satire?

Reinette Senum has good reason to remain angry with the Nevada County Scooper.

Sure, the Nevada City councilwoman can say some dumb things and is not above spreading "fake" news a bit regularly.

She certainly earned the ire that filled city hall to overflowing and led to her humbling apology for some impolitic comments on Facebook about the nation's police after the ambush killing of five Dallas officers.

But here's the thing: The Scooper took her words, already cringe-worthy enough to feel it at the back of the knees, and doubled down. Police "inciting" the violence and "obviously given directives to go out there and kill" turned into a headline "Dallas police got what they deserved."

Satire?

Only if piling on — humorlessly — counts.

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Plenty of Scooper's postings are funny. One about loyal critic of The Union Jeff Pelline being hired as a copy editor, for instance. The one-time editor is energetic about chronicling our errors, our sins, our general podunkery in his blog. It doesn't take long to catch the drift: Last time we did anything right, he worked here, closing on a decade ago.

There's less humorous banter between Scooper and Pelline, too, and Pelline is right to point out he's a real person, as is Senum, and they are far from anonymous like Scooper.

The Federalist Papers were written anonymously, authors revealed later as a few of the Founding Fathers. Lots of novels are written under pen names. Mark Twain was poor cover for Sam Clemens. "Primary Colors" generated lots of Beltway speculation about the Clinton parody's anonymous author, who turned out to be Time columnist Joe Klein.

Anonymous sources have long been all too common crutches in news reports. Using them has done more to erode trust in journalism than a president rather wildly hollering "fake news" at every news flash he doesn't like.

It would be satire to declare he has two fake Time Magazine covers of himself mounted prominently if it weren't actually true. (Fake satire?)

Anyway, yes, I know firsthand the value and necessity of whistleblowers with important, factual information. Too bad we journalists got indiscriminate, allowing people with grudges and other personal agendas to gossip free of identification in the guise of news.

Anonymity doesn't serve satire particularly well, either. Maybe for similar reasons.

The author of perhaps the classic satire of all time, "A Modest Proposal," was Jonathan Swift. That was no secret ever.

I wrote as close as I get to satire recently in an imagined conversation about fake news in the spirit of the late, great Chicago columnist Mike Royko.

The New Yorker and Washington Post identify their satire and the authors of it. Their work still makes the point and humorously, too.

Will Rogers was a master, possibly America's funniest man in the 1920s, and he was no fake, no "Fink" behind a goldfish swimming the screen last week at a presentation I found otherwise fascinating.

The real managing editor of Snopes, the fact-checking site, discussed fake news and satire with the anonymous publisher of Scooper.

The people behind the The Onion and Mad Magazine, inspirations for Scooper, are real and identifiable. They don't hide.

Compelling as I found the discussion, the rationale given for staying anonymous was … unpersuasive. Fink et al have other reasons for keeping their identities secret. I don't think we heard them.

But then, I found this beside the point, at least for the purposes of the discussion. With fake news — from Russian manipulation to people looking to make a buck to ideological propaganda to satire — we're talking a wide band and phenomenon more interesting than Scooper itself.

If the speakers didn't quite get into the hallowed role of commentary, of which satire is a subset, well, I didn't leave disappointed.

Of course, the purpose of presentations like this isn't for us to agree with the panelists, but to hear them out and then think and talk later. Including over the merits of anonymity.

Senum left angry, her grievance not broached but the reason for it ironically revived, along with less than a handful of the audience leaking out near the end as the discussion ran long.

A line formed afterward to meet Brooke Binkowski, the real person in the discussion.

Seems a couple of offended local bloggers would like their readers to think the presentation was some kind of failure.

But they weren't there. And that message would be false.

As satirist supreme Kurt Vonnegut liked to say: So it goes.

The Union Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 477-4299.

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