Pat's View: Almost Real News

By Pat Cashman

A couple of weeks ago you might have seen a story about how President Trump had ordered that all phones in the White House be covered in tin foil. The news got picked up on social media and a fair number of readers passed it along.

But a few discerning people noticed some problems with the story right away:
The president was not even at the White House at the time of the supposed order. He was attempting a short putt on the 11th hole.

Tin foil is actually aluminum foil these days---as the president undoubtedly knows already because he ordered the change in his first executive order.

The story was completely made up by Andy Borowitz in a spoof column he writes that is consistently labeled: Not the news.

No matter. Some people still believed it---as they also believed some of Borowitz’s other recent “stories’:

With April Fools Day, 2017 now in the rear view mirror (where objects of
deception may be closer than they appear) it’s reasonable to expect that plenty of our fellow citizens---not you and me of course, but other people---were duped in various ways. And, without fail, every April Fools Day I am asked about the prank that my TV colleagues and I were a part of years ago---long before fake news was so chic.

KING TV’s Almost Live! was a weekly---but at the time, not highly watched---local comedy sketch show still somewhat in its infancy. It aired via videotape each week, poking fun at area neighborhoods and city politics---almost live. But on April 1st, 1989, the show got a special opportunity: It was to air live, not delayed, for the first time ever.

So since the show would happen on April Fool’s Day---as they say over in the Mariners’ clubhouse, “it was a fat pitch.” The idea was hatched to begin the show with some sort of ‘pretend news bulletin’---something so preposterous that viewers wouldn’t really believe it. It would just be funny, that’s all.

Except it wasn’t so much.

Just as the show was beginning, my voice was heard in an off-camera announcement: “We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for the following special report.” Next, the scene cut to a guy sitting in a TV newsroom---who appeared to be legit because he wasn’t one of the regular Almost Live! cast members---and he was wearing a tie just like real newsmen do.

“Good evening,” he said, looking as serious as a funeral director. “Approximately seven minutes ago, at 6:53 pm---the Space Needle collapsed.” What followed were shots of a crumpled Space Needle (artfully created by KING’s crack graphics department) lying in a heap like a broken erector set on the ground. Adding to the verisimiultude was an eyewitness account or two. Then, the report over, we simply cut back to the show as if nothing had happened.

But that simple shot of the collapsed Needle caused some viewer panic. A lot of it. And when that shot hit the fan, 911 centers started getting such a flurry of calls they couldn’t keep up any more than KING’s own switchboard could. Never mind that the phony news bulletin had been labeled with a graphic that reminded: APRIL FOOL’S DAY. Almost Live had created an unwitting firestorm.

Turns out that when you put a fake news bulletin on the air---leaving the details unclear---the laugh-meter doesn’t register all that high. Especially with worried citizens, the owners of the Space Needle, their lawyers---and local police.

Everybody associated with the show expected to be fired---but somehow were not. Station management eventually decided there was no real malevolent intent involved. Just bone-headed judgement---and if that was the criterion for cancelling a show, there never would have been one called Duck Dynasty.

After the incident became a lead story by national TV networks and other news media, some staffers privately patted themselves on the back. “We were like Orson Welles and the War of the World’s panic,” someone said---as if we were also responsible for writing and producing Citizen Kane.

Happily all these years later, thanks to great engineering---and an on-going schedule of regularly tightening the nuts and bolts---the Space Needle has yet to collapse.

Still, you might not want to stand too close to it.

Pat was a longtime cast member and writer on KING 5’s Almost Live---which continues to air in popular re-runs (but should never be a first choice for breaking news.) He is a keynote speaker---and a fundraiser auctioneer---plus he co-hosts a weekly on-line talk show:

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