There was, according to your perspective, a hysterically funny/horribly wrong clash on the internet about somebody named or not named Jeff Jarvis. One Jeff Jarvis (not the pediatrician, @drjeffjarvis, but the egomaniac who thinks he’s the only Jeff Jarvis in the world).
The fake Jeff Jarvis published a piece about the real Jeff Jarvis in Esquire, and the real Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor, used his clout to get Esquire to remove it. Which, naturally, caused all hell to break loose, especially when the real Jeff Jarvis made law-noise, because what about his rights?!? For a ‘splainer, see Ken White’s dissection at Popehat.
The first thing you think when hearing about this is ‘that it can’t be right’. How can a professor of journalism be instrumental in taking down a satiric article? Doesn’t that go against everything we know as journalists? Aren’t we supposed to protect satire as a form of free speech?
Well, yes. But this wasn’t satire.
A rather firm conclusion by Baekdal. And his rationale?
The problem wasn’t really the story, but that people didn’t know that it was a satire. When people arrived at Esquire’s site, they would only see the byline ‘By Prof. Jeff Jarvis’.
And this is where the problem lies.
Restraining myself from the urge to respond, “Cite?” is kinda hard. “People”? Did Baekdal take a survey? I’m skeptical that anyone authorized Baekdal to speak on behalf of the “people.” Perhaps recognizing that he’s treading on idiotic ground, he devolves into Gertruding:
Let me say this first. Satire is a very important form of free speech. Nobody wants to outlaw satire. In fact, satire is often instrumental in raising important questions and topics that are often hard to convey using more serious forms of reporting. And our history is littered with great examples of satire that have both been in the public interest, and acted for the public good.
So satire is “very important” when it’s in the “public interest” and serves the “public good”? Putting aside the fact that Baekdal adds these free speech qualifications out of his
ass personal sense of values, he steps back from the precipice just as he’s about to teeter off the edge.
So we need satire, and not just the good kind. We need satire because of satire. It’s vitally important for a healthy and free society.
The problem, however, is that satire is also a form of deception. It’s basically a lie, used creatively to raise important questions or issues.
And what makes the difference between something being satire and something being a lie, is whether people realize it.
Boom. There’s his point. The difference between satire and lies is whether people realize satire to be satire. Upon being schooled (see Popehat) in the legal absurdity of his rationalization on behalf of his buddy, Jarvis, he tries to wrap up his argument in the latest rhetorical craze.
After publishing this article, I got a number of (angry) comments over at Twitter, saying that my definition of satire is completely wrong and dangerous.
The main argument appears to be that it shouldn’t be up to the stupidest of readers to define whether something is satire or not. In other words, just because people don’t know that it’s satire, doesn’t mean that it isn’t.
Also, some people went on to say that satire is not defined by the readers at all, but by the intention of the creator.
But that doesn’t change my original point that it is only satire if people know about it, or potentially realize it afterward.
Conceding that he’s dead wrong on the law, and that there will always be someone stupid enough not to recognize satire for what it is, he persists. Logic not being his strength, he tries to make his point by a couple of anecdotes which conclusively prove he sucks at arguing. It might also prove he’s unaware of logical fallacies, except he apparently grasps that inductive reasoning is the last refuge of idiots, and shifts gears:
You see my point?
Satire only becomes satire when it’s revealed as such. If a publisher never reveals it, it is just lying.
This the key, and the point I’m trying to make. Legally, you might disagree with me, but ethically it’s pretty obvious. Satire and lies are two different things, differentiated by the knowledge of the intention of why it was done.
And so, it’s ethics. Not just ethics, but “pretty obvious” ethics. Because . . . Baekdal says so. Because . . . the virtue of speech is determined by the recipient rather than the sender, which has become the dominant perspective of those who would silence hate speech as well.
Speech is no longer determined by what one says, but by what someone else hears. It may not be the “legal” reality, but it’s real to those who feel entitled to make up their own rules for speech.
So, our responsibility to our readers is much higher today than ever in the past. Again, legally, it’s a gray zone. But as a publisher, it’s really not.
Some people will still be fooled. I mean, there are people who believe the Earth is flat. But my point is that it’s not the goal for a publisher to mislead its readers, not even through satire. The goal is to enlighten the readers, to do something eye-opening. And sometimes, satire is a great way to do that.
But only if people realize that it’s so.
If Baekdal wants to give satire trigger warnings at the top of his writings, go for it. But to the extent he believes he gets to make the rules for anyone else, he’s just another guy who mistakenly thinks his feelz are so important that they should be applied to the rest of the world. Just like every other narcissistic and unduly sensitive dumbass. Like the people too stupid to get satire that they need someone to explain it to them. Like his buddy, Jeff Jarvis.