Friday, February 09, 2007

How to tell the news from old jokes

Almost a year ago, in The Truth Without Jokes, I wrote:
Several have commented that it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish legitimate news headlines from the ones that appear in the The Onion.
Consider this old story, (as retold by Arthur Naiman, in “Every Goy's Guide to Yiddish”)
Murray and Esther, a middle-aged Jewish couple, are touring Chile. Murray just got a new camera and is constantly snapping pictures. One day, without knowing it, he photographs a top-secret military installation.

In an instant, armed troops surround Murray and Esther and hustle them off to prison. They can’t prove who they are because they’ve left their passports in their hotel room. For three weeks they’re tortured day and night to get them to name their contacts in the liberation movement. Finally they're hauled in front of a military court, charged with espionage, and sentenced to death.

The next morning they’re lined up in front of the wall where they’ll be shot. 

The sergeant in charge of the firing squad asks them if they have any lasts requests. 

Esther wants to know if she can call her daughter in Chicago. 

The sergeant says he’s sorry, that's not possible, and turns to Murray. 

“This is mishagos (craziness)!” Murray shouts. “We're not spies!” And he spits in the sergeants face. 

“Murray!” Esther cries. “Please! Don't make trouble.”
Compare and contrast that with the following news item from the Huffington Post under the headline, “BREMER PAID ‘GHOST EMPLOYEES’ TO AVOID ‘REAL TROUBLE.’”
Paul Bremer told members of Congress today that he was aware that nonexistent “ghost employees” were on America's payroll when he was administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

But because the real employees - who provided security for Iraqi ministries - were “74,000 armed men, it seemed a lesser risk to continue paying” everyone while trying to figure out who was actually showing up for work.

When Davis asked whether any of that money had wound up in the hands of insurgents, Bremer said he didn't know. But “if we stopped paying them, my judgment was we could have real trouble.”
How to tell which one is real, and which one is a joke? It’s simple really. Look at the numbers changing in the column to the right, and ask yourself this: “Which one isn't really funny?”

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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