Pitch piece

Commentary by Phil CauthonIrony is a tricky enterprise.First of all, stupid people don't get it.Secondly, it is successfully wielded by only the best communicators, and is perhaps most fit for audio/visual formats where multiple layers of meaning are conveyed at once via tone of voice, delivery, and nonverbal communication, etc.Trickiest of all, though, is irony's potential irony. Irony, you see, may become so thick, so wrapped around itself, so dependant on nuance and subtlety that irony itself is not ironic. Mindblowing, no?All these obstacles were to blame - [reports say][1] - when readers of [The Pitch's latest cover "story"][2] failed to grasp the irony of the satirical piece.That is, few realized it was all a hoax.([Read Kansas City Star article on the hoax][3] - for your convenience, log-in/e-mail: bobross@pbs.org / password: happy3)Entitled "Rebel Hell," the piece dryly related how workers at the Sprint Center construction site unearthed graves of Confederate solders buried there in 1864.The piece - written under the pseudonym Cesar Oman - went on to quote armchair historians as to the significance of the "whoremongering" rebel soldiers' lives, as well as give Deep-Throat-style analysis of how the city's elected officials were coping with the impeding crisis: "Why do we have to get that mushmouthed brat involved?" was attributed to one nameless city official who opposed involving Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt in the brewing SCANDAL.Aficionados of the art of irony might have recognized the piece's tell-tale signs of untruth, or rather of truth behind the surface's untruth:(1) improbable quotes containing words like "whoremongering" and "mushmouthed brat,"(2) unreliable use of sources, including crackpots, anonymous hearsay, and admittedly non-expert sources masquerading as experts,(3) lack of a reputable writer's name at the top of the story,(4) overtones of 'muckracking,' a sensational, scandal-generating form of writing largely left behind after the 19th century by self-respecting journalists (career-minded Fox reporters notwithstanding), and(5) an advertisement for Sprint - the corporate namesake for the arena in question - featuring a black family enjoying the city's culturally diverse atmosphere, strategically placed next to the article.While the first four of these tell-tale signs potentially could have been lost on regular readers familiar with The Pitch's style (ironically -ed.), the placement of the Sprint ad was - [reportedly][1] - the proverbial 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge,' to the reader, signaling that this piece was, in fact, parody. (It should be noted this ad was absent from the online version of the story.)The question remains: what was the piece parodying?The piece's actual author, Managing Editor Tony Ortega, provided the answer to the Kansas City Star, saying his writing was a response to [Gov. Blunt's decision earlier this month to allow the Confederate flag to fly at a state cemetery][4]. He said he was surprised some readers didn't recognize it as satire."I truly did not know how else to deal with" it, Ortega said. "I figured an editorial or column wouldn't do it."Presumably the 'it' Ortega is referring to is drawing attention to Blunt's decision to fly the Confederate flag at a cemetery. However, the piece only mentions that detail in passing among the 3,354-word story, leaving astute readers to make the connection to a weeks-old news item that is wholly unrelated to the Sprint center under construction.Thus a critical element of the parody - its referent - was lost on many readers. And parody without a referent isn't parody. It's just ... untruth.Another common element of parody was absent from the piece - humor. Satirical outlets such as The Onion or The Daily Show have gained national prominence for their biting commentary on current events, and though they are often no more based in fact than The Pitch's piece, their packages repeatedly employ obvious humor such that the audience is constantly cued to the irony.Nor were less elegant forms of alerting the audience to the parody employed by The Pitch piece, such as an editor's note at the beginning or end.Instead the words, pictures, and pull-quotes were all presented as any other factual item in the weekly tabloid.Even now that the truth has come out - with the irony explained thanks to the Star's story - it's hard to reread The Pitch piece as an obvious parody. If anything, it's a boring mockery of Missouri's undeniable Confederate history (that is, despite the state's siding with the Union during the war).But, for the moment, let's give The Pitch the benefit of the doubt.Perhaps they were genuinely trying to make a valid point about Gov. Blunt's decision to fly the Confederate flag. And perhaps they really thought this piece was one way they could do so and really draw attention to it.On the second count they might succeed. If the next couple days are slow for other media outlets, this could make big news even outside the region - "Officials decry paper's fake account of Confederate graves," would make for an enticing headline.But on the first count, they've failed miserably. The story will never be about what the Pitch staff were originally trying to parody. Ironically, it will be about everything but. Regardless of the nobility of their intentions, the story now is akin to those about the scandals surrounding Jason Blair and the other recent "journalists" who fabricated stories.On the one hand, it's commendable for The Pitch to take a chance on making (what they thought necessitated) a bold statement. But when so many people are suspect of the media's intentions - and even doubting its credibility amid the recent slew of scandals about fabricated stories - Pitch editors should have been on high alert going down the parody path, and taken great pains to make sure NO ONE could mistake the irony of the piece.Instead, it was left to be just a piece...of crap, best flushed from memory. Phil Cauthon is the editor of lawrence.com and, like the rest of Lawrence, a Free Stater. [1]: http://lawrence.com/in_lieu_of_reports/ [2]: http://www.pitch.com/issues/2005-06-23/news/feature.html [3]: http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/11971400.htm [4]: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/jun...

Comments

scary_manilow 15 years, 4 months ago

I loved it. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and I'm STILL laughing. Sorry. Maybe if the quotes and actions described in the story didn't ring so true, people wouldn't have fallen for it. As it is, I totally believed that Barnes, Blunt, and Co. were more than capable of such blatant duochebaggery... Let's face it: The Pitch never was and never will be a credible news source, so what's the big hoo-ha about? Take a moment and laugh, people-- if you can't squeeze an honest chuckle out of this, how can you expect to swallow the REAL news that gets stuffed odwn your throat every day? Lighten up!

chrys anthalbee 15 years, 4 months ago

and since when did the pitch become an outlet for investigative journalism? i thought it was just a place for swm to hook up with swf for sensual massage.

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