Last week, a video supposedly posted by one Caitlin Heller exploded on the internet. The story is she had wanted to make a sexy video of her twerking for her boyfriend and instead failed, fell, and caught on fire. The incident was funny – I guess – and she posted it on YouTube. On September 3. Being that evidently there’s no other real news to report, large media outlets such as FoxNews, CNN, and local stations of the broadcast networks began reporting about this ridiculous video of a young woman making a video for her boyfriend and catching herself on fire.
A couple days ago, Jimmy Kimmel has Caitlin Heller on his show for an interview. And then he doesn’t. Why? Because this Caitlin Heller doesn’t exist and the video was a prank that Jimmy, with the help of a professional stuntperson, pulled on a large portion of America. And boy oh boy, there are some seriously ticked off folks. First off, Jimmy Kimmel is a comedian. An entertainer. That is his profession. He is not a reporter, not a journalist, not anything else. He hosts a late night talk show and has other entertainers on his show and rarely does anything that is remotely close to, you know, what the news is supposed to be. So Mr. Engber’s pouting kinda falls flat to me, particularly when he’s crafted this line:
I know it sounds like butthurt to complain about the fraud, but seriously, what’s the point of Kimmel’s joke? If he really wants to “put an end to twerking,” then we can agree he’s just a jerk. (Who wants to squash a trend of people dancing in their bedrooms?)
He’s a comedian. An entertainer. GRAINS OF SALT, YES? So all the while Mr. Engber is saying that he’s trying to avoid sounding butthurt about the whole thing, he does a masterful job of sounding butthurt. Then comes this gem:
A friend who loves the hoax told me that I’m playing the part of a “fuming, veiny-templed square,” and that I don’t get the joke. It’s true; I don’t. How is Kimmel’s stunt substantively different from those of other lying members of the media we now deplore, like James Frey and Stephen Glass and the father of the Balloon Boy, Richard Heene? I guess if we’re being technical, those were frauds, not pranks, since they didn’t plan to provide an “April Fools!” moment at the end. But weren’t their goals otherwise the same as Kimmel’s—to exploit our trust and faith in furtherance of their business ends?
The difference between his examples and Jimmy Kimmel? I keep beating this drum, but it’s true: Jimmy Kimmel is an entertainer, a comedian. These other people took reality, threw it out the window, created their own reality, and then tried to convince us – in seriousness – of their contrivance. Jimmy Kimmel’s business is that model! It should not surprise nor offend us that Jimmy Kimmel of all people did this.
What should surprise and offend us is how the media covered this as if it were a serious story. What should offend and surprise us is that newsroom editors and producers took this and wasted airtime on it when real things are affecting the world, be it Russia’s anti-gay laws, the Syrian conflict, growing concerns about the future safety around Fukushima, et cetera. The real world. Not the internet. Not some video that spread like the wildfire burning around San Francisco.
A poll came out earlier this year that should give people who report the news pause. Gallup perfomed a survey of the American public, asking them to judge which profession they deemed to be the most honest or more ethical. Bankers scored above journalists. If you ever wonder why people don’t trust journalists, this is why. Journalists are supposed to be the professionals who shine a light in unlit worlds and expose corruption to the open air. But if you look at the television, you wouldn’t be able to tell. It is just a constant circus of entertainment – and certainly not filled with people that are deserving of the public’s trust. And that is a shame.