Believe It Or Not

Fake newspapers with stories about Santa Claus

If we believe news reports these days, which apparently we can’t, it seems that nothing can be believed. We are being told that the Internet and social media has become a cesspool of misinformation dressed up as legitimate news.

It’s true. I read it on the Internet.

This so called “fake news”, news that is designed to look real but is wholly fabricated, is everywhere.

This is truly scary because now I actually have to think about what I read. Which means, of course, I have to read it first.

The other day, searching the Internet for holiday sportswear for our cat, I came across this headline: Reindeer Games Come to a Close.

I was startled, so I clicked on the headline and came to a site called the North Pole Times. The site bills itself as Santa’s Official Christmas News Source and “provides daily news stories on everything happening in the north pole.”

It looked like a real newspaper, complete with masthead and front page stories. It had editorials and letters to Santa and serious articles written by a staff of reporting elves. It even had celebrity renditions of Mrs. Claus and Rudolph.

What I read truly shocked me. Cupid takes gold in the snowboarding contest. I didn’t even know snowboarding was a Reindeer Game.

Of course, I wanted to believe it, believe it all, which I suppose is the whole point of fake news. But when it comes to Santa, I am old enough to know what is real and what is not.

And besides, what really do I know about The North Pole Times? It could be written by anybody. Even a 400-pound, bearded white guy with a laptop sitting on a bed in Norway. Heck, the same guy could be hacking into a North Pole database and releasing naughty and nice files to WikiLeaks for all I know.

That’s what says anyway.

And did you know that soon reindeer are going to start charging Santa for packages stowed in overhead sleigh compartments? I read that in the Elfington Post.

But seriously, erroneous or misleading news can also emanate from sources seen as completely legitimate. A few days ago, USA Today re-published a story under the headline Santa Grants a Final Wish originally run in the Knoxville News Sentinel about a heavy set, bearded man who tried to fulfill a terminally ill child’s wish to meet Santa Claus by donning a red suit and visiting him in the hospital. The child died in the big man’s arms. The story was picked up by several major news sources and went viral on Facebook.

I teared up when I read it.

Accept that the article ran in USA Today with the disclaimer that the veracity of the story was in doubt because it couldn’t be independently verified.

Which means that a boy who believed in Santa Claus might have been visited by a well-meaning fake Santa Claus trying to fulfill a boy’s dying wish except that the boy might not have died and Santa Claus, who wasn’t real anyway, might never have visited him.

I guess we get to choose what to believe. But at least we are given the option.

But nothing exposes our compulsion to accept as does the famous editorial published in the New York Sun in 1897.

The paper was offered a very explicit challenge from an eight-year-old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon.

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

The well-respected paper published a quick and unequivocal response which is one of the most reprinted editorials of all time. It stated simply, without any attempt to mince the truth:

Yes VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.

One hundred years later, under an article entitled Yes, Virginia, a Thousand Times Yes, the New York Times had this to say about the enduring editorial:

For all who are pure of heart, ''Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus'' has been the only possible answer since 1897, when the world learned something about the power of journalism and of the human capacity to believe.

The power of journalism and of the human capacity to believe. I guess that is why fake news is so compelling.

Because it even has the power to make us believe in Santa Claus.

Santa Claus is coming to town after town. The Washington Post, Dec 3rd, 2016

NORAD prepares to track Santa’s fabled sleigh ride with hundreds of volunteers. The Associated Press, December 22nd, 2015

Santa makes drug bust in Peru. The New York Times, December 14, 2016

Whatever you choose to believe, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Just remember, you read it hear first.