The worry I have is that some people may not realise that a particular post is satire and take what is written as truth, when it definitely is not. For this blog, that means that there is a potential loss of reputation for perceived lack of truthfulness, and worse, is out of step with our Catholic faith.
From the Catechism, The Eighth Commandment:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.253
It was said to the men of old, "You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn."254
2464 The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.
Offenses Against Truth:
2475 Christ's disciples have "put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."274 By "putting away falsehood," they are to "put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander."275
2476 False witness and perjury. When it is made publicly, a statement contrary to the truth takes on a particular gravity. In court it becomes false witness.276 When it is under oath, it is perjury. Acts such as these contribute to condemnation of the innocent, exoneration of the guilty, or the increased punishment of the accused.277 They gravely compromise the exercise of justice and the fairness of judicial decisions.
2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280
2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.
2480 Every word or attitude is forbidden which by flattery, adulation, or complaisance encourages and confirms another in malicious acts and perverse conduct. Adulation is a grave fault if it makes one an accomplice in another's vices or grave sins. Neither the desire to be of service nor friendship justifies duplicitous speech. Adulation is a venial sin when it only seeks to be agreeable, to avoid evil, to meet a need, or to obtain legitimate advantages.
2481 Boasting or bragging is an offense against truth. So is irony aimed at disparaging someone by maliciously caricaturing some aspect of his behavior.
2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."281 The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: "You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."282
2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.
2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.
2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.
2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.
2487 Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another's reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience.
Satire is not so much lying in order to deceive, as it is lying in order to be funny; therefore it can skirt on the edge, especially if it tends towards malice rather than friendly jibbing. The Catechism says that irony is an offense against truth if it is "aimed at disparaging someone by maliciously caricaturing some aspect of his behavior."
Given that satirists use irony, let's have a look at a case in the media today, whereby the leader of the Conservative Party, took issue with some satire that purported to quote him:
Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig was among the first to point out the National MP’s mistake.
“Williamson likes to talk about big gay rainbows,” said Craig, “but it would help if he understood what the rainbow actually means. After Noah’s flood, God painted a giant rainbow across the sky, which was a message that he would never again flood the world, unless we made him very angry. And we have.”
At the outset, I have to say that in my opinion, the quote above is pretty mild. There's nothing obviously malicious in it, but, it does caricature some aspect of his behavior, which is his assumed belief in the Bible and an erroneous statement about God flooding the world again "if we made [H]im very angry." The rainbow was a promise not to flood the world again to the extent of the Great Flood, period. The statement could be considered derogatory, in that it attributes a level of ignorance to Colin Craig about what God's promise to mankind was.
The graver aspect of all of this is that The Civilian, to a person that might have just happened upon that one post and that one post only, is not an obvious satire site. As I said above, my preference for satire when posted on this site is that it is clearly marked so that the cursory reader will not be mislead. Looking at the title of the site, it reads The Civilian, followed by: "All the news that's fit on a page."
The About Us page likewise speaks of the posts on the site as "news".
Several months ago, however, I came upon a small, promising but possibly illegal business venture that allowed me to accrue enough funds to return to life in a moderately well equipped apartment building in the heart of our nation’s cultural capital, Greymouth. It was from here that I decided to spite my wife by doing the one thing she told me that I could never do: start a newspaper.
The inspiration for said newspaper came one afternoon as I was sitting in my apartment watching popular television show The News. Did you know the news is watched by more than one million people every week? That makes it one of the most watched television programmes in all of New Zealand, only slightly behind such favourites as Border Security and that one with Alison Mau. And I was thinking on this as I watched it, and I suddenly realised “Wait, why doesn’t anyone put the news on the internet?”
It was that idea that gave birth to The Civilian, and it is that idea that is at the very heart of it today.
The Civilian is not just a newspaper. It is a newspaper on the internet.
It is here that you will find the news in a format that you are unlikely to have ever seen it before: online. And so I encourage you, and all those who believe in the common decency of me, to read and share what you find here, to tweet it and like it on Facebook. Together, I believe that we can better inform the public and, much more importantly, make this newspaper New Zealand’s pre-eminent source of news.
The Civilian misrepresents his site as news, but it is satirised news, and should be clearly identified as such so that there is no misunderstanding. News implies an attempt at reporting the truth, (even though we know that many news outlets fall short of this standard) and by using the word news without any explanation other than what he has said, he risks fooling people and possibly annoying his targets enough to use lawyers, as has happened.
Sure, in reading his site, the more switched on readers will immediately realise that they are reading satire and treat it as such. Not everyone will however, and so some sort of disclaimer or explanation is prudent, preferably on each page itself.
As an example of what a much larger satirical website does with regards to informing readers on the nature of what they publish, I give you The Onion, who have an explicit statement explaining that what they publish is satire in their Frequently Asked Questions page:
The Onion is a satirical weekly publication published 52 times a year on Thursdays. The Onion is published by Onion, Inc. The contents of this material are © Copyright 2010 by Onion, Inc. and may not be reprinted or re-transmitted in whole or in part without the express written consent of the publisher. The Onion is not intended for readers under 18 years of age.
The Onion uses invented names in all its stories, except in cases where public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental.
While there is no disclaimer on each page, The Onion is famous enough that most people will know that is a satirical look at the news, while as The Civilian cannot claim quite that sort of fame, in spite of the boost Colin Craig may have given him. However, The Onion also state that they are satirical, which may be what many consider the obvious, yet they've still done it.
You only have to look at fiction books to see that disclaimers are par for the course. From the inside of a Dean Koontz novel, I find the following:
All characters in this publication are ficticious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.Just in case some person out there thinks that Dean Koontz is writing all about him and goes bonkers and sets fire to the author's letterbox in retaliation (unlikely, yes) they have this statement in the beginning of most, if not all fiction books. And not just Dean Koontz's novels, all the others, too.
Colin Craig has also said that people actually thought that what was quoted on The Civilian was what he said, which shows the satirical nature of The Civilian site was not obvious to all readers:
Mr Craig said he knew the post was satire, but others had not recognised it as such.That's pretty significant, having people think that what they've read was actually true. Maybe those people are morons, as David Farrar says when referring to the types of people that wouldn't realise that The Civilian's site was satire, but sometimes you have to cater for all types when publishing and not discriminate against morons. However, I think it's more likely that there are more people out there who are not morons, that are very trusting of websites that call themselves "news" sites, not expecting that there are people around that don't have that same regard for truthfulness as they themselves do.
"I've had people say, 'Gee, I'm surprised you said that Colin'. Not everybody is able to tell the difference.
"I take these things pretty seriously. We are a serious political party and want to go a long way, so making sure that what is reported on what I have said, is accurate is important."
Colin Craig's reaction to being misrepresented by The Civilian does seem heavy handed to some in the Blogosphere and the media. Personally, I'm not sure a kindly email would have done anything, except maybe generate another satirical post, while as the letter from the lawyers got an immediate reaction and a change to the post. Not only that, but it generated a whole lot of media attention, which would have then potentially informed those people who didn't realise that The Civilian was a satire site, of the true nature of the site and the posts.
The Civilian couldn't help but throw in another dig at Colin Craig in his amended post, however, when he says, he apologises for potential harm to Mr Craig's "impeccable reputation".
This article is the subject of a legal dispute between The Civilian and Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig, which came about as the result of a legal notice that you can read in full here.
In this article, The Civilian published a statement which it attributed to Colin Craig regarding Maurice Williamson, “big gay rainbows” and the passing of the gay marriage legislation. We accept, upon further review, that Mr. Craig never made the statement attributed to him. We retract the statement and apologise to Mr. Craig for any harm we have caused to his impeccable reputation.
We would like to note that we have also taken the additional measure of bolding the statement in question so that everybody knows which thing it was that Mr. Craig did not say.
Colin Craig has now also withdrawn the threat of legal action.
So, in conclusion, I hold truth to be important, and I think that Colin Craig was justified in the reaction he had to being misrepresented on a satire site that wasn't necessarily obviously satirical. I think that if he had been satirised in one of Tom Scott's cartoons, he would have just taken it like any of Tom Scott's other targets. That it was the nature of the post and the site that didn't clearly identify itself as satire that was the problem. However, politically, it might have been better to handle it differently, as not everyone in New Zealand believes in truth, and as a conservative, Colin Craig to them is fair game. But then, the outcome was probably as good as can be expected.
And yes, I somewhat disagree with ZenTiger.
Maurice Williamson looking pretty stupid after floods ~ The Civilian
Colin Craig warns on satirical quote ~ NZ Herald
Chapter Two:"You shall love your neighbor as yourself : The Eighth Commandment" ~ Catechism of the Catholic Church
Colin Craig threatens The Civilian with Defamation ~ KiwiBlog