To all those who rail against the media for overzealous reporting, taking advantage of those in crisis, or using underhanded methods to get a cheap scoop, meet your new hero, Alan Abel, whose lifelong pursuit has been to hang the media out to dry. Preying on mainstream media’s insatiable thirst for the lurid, the perverse, and the wacky, Abel has gotten the better of every major news outlet in the country.
Take, for example, Walter Cronkite’s seven-minute piece for CBS News in 1962 on Abel’s “S.I.N.A.,” the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, which purportedly sought to clothe naked animals. Meant as satire in response to media censorship, many prominent journalists simply didn’t get the joke.
A doc on the self-styled professional media hoaxer, Abel Raises Cain, by Abel’s daughter Jenny Abel and Jeff Hockett, is out on DVD this week. Like a reverse Jon Stewart, Abel has been creating fake news that gets reported as truth since the late 1950s, like the story he staged about a fake lottery winner in the early ’90s, or, more infamously, when he posed as Jim Rogers, a spokesman for Citizens Against Breastfeeding. He racked up some 200 interviews when he brought his message to the 2000 Republican National Convention — it makes you wonder, was the real message about the perversity of breastfeeding in public, or the perversity of a media so ravenous for a lurid scoop, they’ll take a media con man at his word?
Some of the film’s whimsical pranks are also inadvertently timely, like the classic 1964 hoax Abel staged with his wife, Jeanne, as the voice of presidential candidate Yetta Bronstein. She did hundreds of interviews promoting her slogan “Vote for Yetta and things will get betta!” to promote a “platform” that included issues like taking members of Congress off salary and putting them on straight commission — an idea whose time has come.
NPR’s On The Media has an interview with Alan and Jenny Abel on the meaning of his life’s work and its effect on his daughter. It’s worth a listen, not only for the news analysis, but for the delicious audio clips from the film.
Fake reporting on real news, or real reporting on fake news? Alan Abel, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert — who’s your favorite media prankster? What’s your favorite media prank? Post a comment below!