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Sorting through the fallout from the Obama/GM April Fool's joke

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Now that we're outside of the blast radius of April Fool's Day, it's time to step back and take a look at the most notorious joke of the year: Car and Driver's "article" on how President Obama would be requiring automakers to pull out of NASCAR at the end of the year as a condition of the bailout. (No link; they've since pulled the article.)

The NASCAR Insiders spotted the article in the evening on March 31. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm conditioned to these April Fool's jokes, having attempted a few of my own this year. The key to a successful April Fool's joke is absurdity wrapped in believability, and my first reaction to the Obama/GM/Chrysler article was, "hey, that's pretty good." It met the conditions of a good joke, and it was also quite obviously a goof -- start with the calendar, then move to the fact that the President of the United States is giving exclusive quotes to a car magazine, and it's pretty easy to smoke this one out.

Problem is, an April Fool's joke should startle but not terrify you, and for a huge segment of the population, that's exactly what happened. The idea of GM and Chrysler pulling their eight-figure investments out of NASCAR was not only believable, it was completely devastating. As Diecast Dude notes, the article tapped into some sinister political undercurrents:

Washington does not know the first thing about marketing, and it does not care about the will of the people when said people are viewed with disdain for being likely supporters of whichever party is not currently in control. You think it gives a rat's ass about us rat bastards and our redneck entertainment of watching cars drive in circles? Get real.

In these Tough Economic Times, to overuse a phrase, people aren't much for joking about something that could decimate the livelihood of thousands.

As Nuts n' Bolts points out, Car & Driver didn't exactly help its own cause, pinballing back and forth between running the article straight, then adding a disclaimer, then apologizing, then pulling the article altogether, then gloating about how much media coverage they'd received. Seems to me that there was quite a bit of editorial hand-wringing and interference behind the scenes there.

Naturally, as so often happens when people get angry but can't vent their anger on anything tangible -- the economy doesn't much care what you have to say -- they zeroed in on the writer of the article, Jared Gall. As you might imagine, I don't have a whole lot of patience for this approach. Did Jared make a bad judgment? Yeah, probably, though plenty of people were able to see through the joke instantly. Is Jared responsible for the credulous media outlets or blind-with-rage Obama haters who used the article as one more bullet in their arsenal for why everything's so horrible now? Of course not. A little discretion is necessary when passing along these stories, and anybody who fans the flames for the sake of readership shouldn't escape criticism.

So, your turn. Thoughts on the joke? Did you pick up on it immediately? Did you think it was in bad taste, or obviously a goof?

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