Friday morning. America’s online content manufacturers woke up, sucked down some iced coffee, trudged into our Manhattan offices, and sat down at our laptops. Not much going on, not much to write about. A long day ahead. Then, like the sun or a septuagenarian Vermonter breaking through the clouds, there appeared a wonderful story: Bernie Sanders might be parachuting into his rally in Cloverdale, California tonight.
So we wrote about it.
Never mind the obvious absurdity of this news. Never mind that Bernie Sanders is 74 years old. Never mind that the original report, in Northern California’s Press Democrat newspaper, did not include a confirmation or comment of any kind from the Sanders campaign. Never mind that every outlet that subsequently published the story seemed to know from the outset that there was no way the skydiving was ever going happen. Look at the fine line we bloggers and editors walked in the posts above, giving the story enough credulity to justify publishing it while distancing ourselves enough to avoid looking stupid when it is inevitably debunked.
Technically, no one printed anything inaccurate. The president of a local skydiving company told the Press Democrat that he’d been in touch with the Sanders campaign about the event, and that’s all anyone is explicitly alleging. Is Bernie Sanders going to skydive into his rally tonight? Maybe. Does the boogeyman exist? If you sliced open my stomach and uncoiled my small intestine, would it be long enough to stretch to Cloverdale and back to Manhattan, so that I might insert the ileum into my own mouth and feed on caffeinated gastric chyme, beginning the digestive process anew? We’re just asking questions.
This willful suspension of disbelief that we’ve accepted as an unfortunate part of doing business as online content manufacturers, is it the writers’ fault? The editors’? The reader’s? Is it the venture capital money that props up so many of our workplaces, or a relentless focus on the bottom line that has left us desperately looking for sources of more traffic and revenue? Is it the plummeting returns we’re seeing on banner advertising? Is it something about Snapchat, or Facebook Instant Articles? Is anyone listening over there? I’m trying to talk to you. Can you hear me? Again, just asking.
In any case, a few hours after the blog posts started appearing, Atlantic writer Clare Foran crashed our content party from above, parachuting in with some unpleasant news: She’d picked up the phone and talked to the Sanders campaign, and they’d told her that the skydiving story was bunk. The Senator, presumably, will be arriving at the podium on foot, as he usually does.
Now, thanks to Foran’s reporting, it’s just another gloomy Friday, without a viral story in sight. But hey, there’s at least one thing to be cheerful about: I hear Frank Ocean has a new album coming out soon.