Craven: Pigs, flu and disinformation

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(HOST) Commentator Jay Craven has been thinking about pigs, flu, and disinformation.

(CRAVEN) For Northeast Kingdom pigs primping for this year’s Caledonia County Fair, it looks like they’ll be all dressed up with nowhere to go.  So say fair directors who have issued a ban on pigs, piglets and presumably sows, razorbacks, warthogs – and maybe even pork chops and spare ribs – anything that raises the specter of the dreaded swine flu.

My friend Dick Lawrence, who has led the flourishing fair for decades, said – quote – "With all the negative press, we would probably be defending ourselves against something that we shouldn’t have to.  If somebody comes and gets sick and it’s swine flu, we’ll have exposure. The publicity associated with this has been negative from the get-go. It has nothing to do with pigs."

Of course, Lawrence is right.  Pigs do not transmit the flu – but these days they do have bad press. Truth is, it’s the pigs that are at risk of catching swine flu – from people, according to the Center for Disease Control.  Pigs are the ones who should be wallowing in the hand sanitizer after being pawed by overcurious humans.

Why do so many people believe that something is true when it is not true? And then support policy decisions based on the popular falsehood rather than the actual reality.  Such is the case, I suppose, in a democracy.

We’re still wading through outrageous allegations that health care reformers will set up "death panels" to "pull the plug on grandma."  There’s no basis to the charge – but last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll says that 45 percent of us think the federal government will choose when to terminate medical care to the elderly.

For many, fear rooted in these easy fictions outweighs trust in what is true.  I’m reminded of the Washington Post poll taken at the start of the Iraq War-noting that 69% of Americans wrongly believed that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks.

Who says truth is stranger than fiction?  Fiction can apparently lead us to war, cause us to derail health care reform, and deny kids the pleasure of eyeballing a few nursing piglets in the animal barns at the fair.

I received news of the outlawed oinkers while vacationing last week on Cape Cod – just after my son, Sascha, arrived from New York, where he works as a writer and media editor for the satirical tabloid, The Onion.  He handed me the latest edition with its headline, "Congress Deadlocked on How to Not Provide Healthcare."

I laughed and asked Sascha to help me.  "Can you spin me a fake Onion-style headline about pigs being banished from the fair?"  

My son just stared into his clam chowder, stymied.  "I can’t come up with anything," he finally admitted. "At the Onion, we take the ordinary and make it outrageous. The pig situation is already absurd.  Call Jon Stewart at the Daily Show.  He does absurd."

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