The Fortune-Teller, by Georges de La Tour (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Why? Because people believe what they read in a newspaper. I learned that 20 years ago when, attempting a bit of Christmastime levity, I wrote a parody column thanking all the imaginary people who make my life a bed of ease: our gardener, chef, nannies, plus various assistants and a non-existent secretary:
“If you’ve ever phoned my office, you’ve heard the lovely Georgia drawl of Miss Annie Sherman, and it’s a pleasure to start every morning with her always cheery “Hiya, chief!” and one of her homemade pralines.”
All good fun. Until my mother phoned and said, “I didn’t know you had a secretary ... ” Ah, yes. No. Satire. Ever.
That is a long way of explaining why today’s column originally began:
“Is Oberweis milk merely watered-down white paint? Do Chicagoans need to be concerned that their Oberweis cottage cheese is actually made from the clotted secretions of alligators? They will be relieved to discover the answer is an emphatic ‘no.’”
Actually, that wasn’t the first version. The first version involved poison. But as much as I wanted to start this column with a series of outrageous lies, I didn’t, even jokingly. Because people glance at stories. They misunderstand. And they believe what they read in the newspaper. It’s a weighty responsibility that journalists take very seriously.
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