Wednesday, September 15, 2004

There's a CBS News watcher born every minute

P. T. Barnum might say that if he were around today. You might recognize the name from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circuses. Unlike a more modern corporation I could name, Barnum didn't have to give his product away - he could get people to pay to see BS.

No circus was complete without a collection of oddities to display, and in 1869 a real whopper was found in Cardiff, NY - the Cardiff Giant.

Barnum saw the marketing potential of this huge object and tried to buy it for his circus. No sale. OK, Barnum had a Cardiff Giant of his own created and toured with it instead. There's no word on whether he billed it as "inauthentic but accurate".

Whoops, it turned out that the original was a hoax. No problem - Barnum just started billing his version as the "real fake". See it in this link - it's the one that appears to be made of black rock.

There's also no record of Barnum saying anything like "I think the public understands that powerful and extremely well-financed forces are concentrating on questions about the giants because they can't deny the fundamental truth of the story". Of course the existence of fake giants would not prove that there never had been "real" giants. But it's truly perverse, seeing what it cost to create the fraudulent statues and the gain to be had from displaying them, to suggest that the people who proved them fake were the ones who were unscrupulous. Perhaps Barnum had more respect for the intelligence and sophistication of his audience than Dan Rather does.

But keep trying, CBS. Perhaps one day you'll make it up to Barnum's standards for accuracy.

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