Monday, August 27, 2007

Please define "too plausible"

I, for one, will miss the ever-reliable sight of the WWN in those checkout newsstands. Where will I turn, now, for breathless updates on how UFOs are being kept from the American public because they hold a miracle cancer cure? Ah, well, there's always Fox News.
Part of the fun of "reporting" for the WWN was constructing a scenario under which such a thing, though highly unlikely, could be remotely possible. In this case, I knew the driver couldn't live in a big city where he'd be behind other cars that stopped for lights. So I placed him in a small town, so small that for years it didn't even have traffic lights. When the town put them in, Earl (the driver), who was colorblind, sued, claiming the lights discriminated against colorblind people. He lost, but folks in the town agreed that since everyone knew Earl and his distinctive red truck, if he honked at an intersection he'd be granted the right of way. Ergo, he never had to stop, and broke no law. His one near-accident occurred because the other driver was deaf, and couldn't hear him honk. Groused Earl, "They shouldn't let deaf people drive. I could've been killed." Plausible? Of course not. Would you place 1,000-1 odds that it didn't happen? I wouldn't.

Once I was "in," I often described my job, without a hint of exaggeration, as "thinking of the stupidest shit possible." I once pitched a story positing that the U.S. government had data confirming that the one commonality linking all mass killers, including the Columbine shooters, was that they never masturbated. Rather than issue this report, which would save lives but promote onanism, the government preferred to let occasional slaughters take place. My editor rejected it on the grounds that it was "too plausible."

During my stint at the News I turned down chances to write for (the much better paying) Enquirer, because I didn't want to engage in celebrity trash-talk. WWN avoided celeb gossip, with the exception of Elvis and politicians (for instance, Donald Rumsfeld: "Rumsfeld Changes His Name to Rumsfeldstiltskin and Tells Rogue Nations 'Guess My New Name or We'll Invade You,'" "Homeland Security Chief's House Robbed Five Times in a Week"). By those standards alone, I considered it a higher calling.

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