Trump’s Harvey Speech and My Accidental Experiment in Fake News

Hurricane Harvey in Houston

We Texans are understandably focused on the weather now, and since many of us on the Gulf Coast are homebound and sometimes without power, texting our friends to check on them has helped fill the communications gap — not to mention the time, for those of us nervously waiting out the storm.

So today I texted many of my friends and acquaintances, telling them that I had received advance excerpts from Trump’s planned speech upon his arrival here to assess Hurricane Harvey’s damage. However, this “speech” was a parody I had just written.

Here’s what I sent my friends:

My friends know that I’m naturally sarcastic and a joker, and I assumed they would all know that I was the author of this speech. However, much to my surprise, I quickly realized that this was not evident. Of the 48 people I texted:

If we exclude those who didn’t respond or responded ambiguously,

“It (Harvey) sounds like such an innocent name. But it’s not. It’s not innocent.”

And so my silly boredom-induced text turned into an unintended experiment. Admittedly, 48 is a tiny sample size and this is not a scientific study, but… I was surprised to learn that only half of this subgroup were sure my comments were a parody. Let me make something clear: All the people I texted are intelligent people who keep up with the news and are well educated, almost all with post-graduate degrees. I realized that it wasn’t clear at all. I suspect that they have read or observed so many of Trump’s un-Telepromptered speeches, impromptu remarks, and tweets that it rang true or plausible to half of them. In fact, I wondered how I would have responded.

After seeing these responses, I followed up with this text:

I have often complained about parodies on Facebook and even in mainstream publications. Fake news has become a massive plague upon politics and social life. I believe it should be fought at every turn. Actually, I’m fanatic about it! Never did I realize that I could have unintentionally contributed to it myself.

“We won’t say congratulations. We don’t want to do that.”

So… mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. That said, it’s quite a commentary on the rhetoric of our President Trump. When we trust the accounts, the logic, and the sensibility of our president less than that of foreign leaders (Nieto, Trudeau, Xi, Merkel, Putin, Turnbull, Abe, and even Kim Jong Un), we should know that… Houston, we have a problem.

“What a crowd, what a turn out!”