The New York Post ran a story claiming that care packages given to migrant children included copies of Superheroes are Everywhere, a book by vice president Kamala Harris. The story was false and its author, Laura Italiano, has resigned and disclosed that she was 'ordered' to write the 'incorrect story' by her bosses at the tabloid.
"An announcement:" she wrote on Twitter. "Today I handed in my resignation to my editors at the New York Post. The Kamala Harris story — an incorrect story I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against — was my breaking point. It's been a privilege to cover the City of New York for its liveliest, wittiest tabloid — a paper filled with reporters and editors I admire deeply and hold as friends. I'm sad to leave."
Italiano did not apoligize for the story, however.
A few days ago, I was struck by a similarly bogus story in the UK tabloid The Daily Mail, insinuating that president Joe Biden was going to limit the consumption of red meat. Like the Harris story, it soared for hours before the truth got its trousers on, and I imagine most of the people who saw it (or right-wing commentary on it) still don't know it was completely made up.
That story was interesting because "your favorite food will be taken away" was an old stock story used by UK tabloids to agitate against the European Union, a regular turn in an unending stream of jocular lies that did much to create the resentment and contempt behind Brexit. It's not just the usual inchoate made-up clickbait. It's a story with a science to it, a proven formula for influencing public opinion, a hidden spine of specific, goal-oriented deception. To those writing these items (including now-Prime Minister Boris Johnson!) the falsehoods were justified by the virtuous political project to get the undemocratic and unresponsive EU out of British life.
As with UK tabloids, so with the US ones. The reporters are completely in on it, the window of their jobs inherently extends to both formally accurate and fabricated reportage, and they do not need to be "ordered" to work on it. The fact that it is obviously untrue—BIDEN BANS MEAT! SUPERHERO BOOKS FOR MIGRANT KIDS!—is all part of the same tabloid "Schrodinger's asshole" act of irony and sincerity. Disbelieved, it's all just a joke. Believed, it's a home run.
So I think we should be careful taking Italiano, who has admitted writing untruthful things to her "breaking point" and beyond, at her word. It's just as likely that she realized she was going to be scapegoated and beat her bosses to the punch.
But why now? Why is this story the "breaking point"?
Because as with the Mail's red meat story, a threshold's being crossed. It's like the one identified by Harry Frankfurt in On Bullshit, which sought to define the difference between bullshit—which is indifferent to the truth and generally concerned with creating and feeding emotions—and lying, which relies upon knowledge of the truth in pursuit of the concrete functional goal of obscuring it.
After years of our so-called "post-truth" media and "fake news"—which is to say bullshit—outright lying is beginning in earnest.