Taking the Bait

Virtual Tabloids

I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store recently. As I was avoiding eye contact with the other people in line, I started check out the magazine covers. Did you know that tabloids still exist? National Enquirer, The Daily Star, Weekly World News; all of these are still printed publications. If you haven’t read any of these rags, you might accidentally think that some of it is true. It’s like old time-y click bait.

My grandmother would buy these every week. Of course, she didn’t believe any of the stories she read, but that didn’t stop her from poring over pages and pages about Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson’s bitter divorce, Elizabeth Taylor’s deathbed confessions, and all of the celebrity love triangles you could conceive of. And today, nothing has changed. But this kind of irresponsible “journalism” was popular 20 years ago. How do publications continue to turn a profit in the litigious atmosphere we find ourselves in? You don’t see anything like that today. Our own president has declared a war on “fake news,” so why do these magazines get a pass?

Is it because once in a while the magazines are right? It’s true. The Enquirer broke several true stories that no one else would even touch. For example, when OJ Simpson was on trial for murder in the 90s, photos of the crime scene showed a footprint that was identified as being made by a Bruno Magli shoe. When Simpson denied even having those types of shoes, The Enquirer was able to dig up photos of Simpson wearing that exact brand of shoes. I guarantee people saw that headline on the front page of the magazine and shook their heads with disbelief. “Who reads this trash?” they would say while picking up copies for themselves.

This made me think of all the ads on the internet that I see every day.

“You won’t believe what Fairuza Balk does now!”

“This guy just found a treasure in his attic, can you?”

“Bill Gates is giving out millions, how can you get some?”

Most of it is like white noise for the eyes. I don’t even notice ads unless they pop up in front of me and interrupt my reading. Why would you even give these ridiculous stories a second look?

But what if you saw a click bait link about you that was true? What if that dumb little icon on the side of the screen was practically begging browsers to click for more information on your darkest secret?

As public figures, celebrities must have to deal with this all the time. They have to be able to disassociate themselves from all of the rumors just to be able to function in reality. But regular people never expect to be thrust into the limelight. Us “ham-and-eggers” couldn’t even comprehend what would happen if the skeletons in our closets were used to drive traffic to some random gossip blog. Would you laugh it off, hoping it would fly under the radar never to be followed up on? Or would just knowing that your secret is public slowly eat away at you?

Honestly, I would hope that no one even notices it and I would never bring it up myself. Plausible deniability is the safe way to go. But in the highly unlikely event that people did manage to bring it up to me, I would shout “fake news” at them until they blacked out and hit their head on a fire hydrant on the way down. This is a real ethical question that should be brought up more. If a liar tells the truth about you, do you own up to it? Or do you deny it and discredit them with their past behavior?

Trick question: the real answer is to go all Liam Neeson, find out who the leak is, and cut the head of the hydra before they find out about the bodies. I mean…what bodies?

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Taking the Bait
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