The annual assaults can be either subtle or brazen. And, really, people should see them coming. But in a media world addicted to drama and the bizarre, credulity will always take a hit. April Fools' Day 2009 is no different. From the Middle East, where peace threatened to break out, to Switzerland, where the national obsession with neatness created jobs for mountain cleaners, the world once again fell prey to an array of hoaxers, fibbers and tellers of tall tales all excused by a strange yearly tradition of mysterious origin. Here are a few of the bogus news items that have appeared on our radar:
Syria's President Visits Israel
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP)
Fresh on the heels of a regional summit in Doha, where President Bashar al-Assad reaffirmed his support for resistance against Israel while expressing reservations about the Arab Peace Initiative, the Syrian president dropped a bombshell by embarking on an epoch-making visit to Tel Aviv Wednesday morning. "Nobody saw this coming," said Mark Burnes, a State Department analyst who monitors Syrian affairs. "We knew that they were close to a deal, but the Israelis didn't tell us how close."... Official sources say that earlier that same morning, [Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu] had himself embarked upon an epoch-making visit to Syria, touching down in Damascus International Airport only six minutes after President al-Assad arrived in Tel Aviv...." [April Fools!] (Read about the top 10 April Fools' pranks in history.)
China's Gift to Taiwan: Fake Pandas!
Taipei Times "Taiwan-China relations were dealt a severe setback yesterday when it was found that Taipei Zoo's "pandas" are not what they seem. Zookeepers discovered at feeding time yesterday that the two pandas are in fact Wenzhou brown forest bears that had been dyed to create the panda's distinctive black-and-white appearance. The Taipei Zoo's head of ursidae ex-procynidae care, Connie Liu... said she became suspicious when the pandas Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan began to spend almost all of their waking hours having sex. Pandas are notorious for their low libidos...." [April Fools!]
GM and Chrysler Ordered Out of NASCAR
"In a move sure to spark outrage, the White House announced today that GM and Chrysler must cease participation in NASCAR at the end of the 2009 season if they hope to receive any additional financial aid from the government. Companies around the globe Honda and Audi, to name two have drawn down racing operations, and NASCAR itself has already felt the pinch in the form of reduced team spending. A complete withdrawal from America's premier racing series is expected to save more than $250 million between GM and Chrysler, a substantial amount considering the drastic measures being implemented elsewhere." [April Fools!]
Rush Limbaugh to Speak at Left-Leaning Anti-Poverty Conference
In an inspiring display of bipartisan bridge-building, talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh has accepted Jim Wallis' invitation to deliver a keynote address at Sojourners' Mobilization to End Poverty conference in April. "I've always said the monologue of the extreme right is over, and a new dialogue has begun," said Wallis. "Well, that dialogue is about to get a whole lot louder." Limbaugh, longtime champion of conservative media, announced his acceptance of the invitation on his daily radio show. Interrupted occasionally by call-ins of incredulous listeners, Limbaugh detailed months of off-the-record conversations with Wallis during which the two forged a deep friendship despite political, theological, philosophical, ideological, ecological, anthropological, eschatological, and soteriological differences." [April Fools!]
Association of Swiss Mountain Cleaners
The Swiss Tourism Board announced it was seeking volunteers to join the Association of Mountain Cleaners. It claimed, 'The Association of Mountain Cleaners... makes sure that our holiday guests can always enjoy perfect mountains. Using brooms, brushes, water and muscle power, they clean the rocks of any bird droppings." Visitors to myswitzerland.com were invited to take a Mountain cleaner aptitude test and submit their name for a chance to win a week's holiday in Switzerland. See YouTube video.)... [April Fools!]
Guardian Goes All-Twitter
"Consolidating its position at the cutting edge of new media technology, the Guardian today announces that it will become the first newspaper in the world to be published exclusively via Twitter, the sensationally popular social networking service that has transformed online communication.... The move, described as 'epochal' by media commentators, will see all Guardian content tailored to fit the format of Twitter's brief text messages, known as 'tweets,' which are limited to 140 characters each.... [April Fools!]
The origins of April Fools' Day are shrouded in mystery. One long accepted explanation had to do with the transition between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, when folks who continued to celebrate the old new year (which fell in late March or early April) were called April Fools. But that proved to be a bit of a joke because the calendar change was actually gradual and no one was quite caught off guard. Various other festivals have been cited as inspirations, including the east Asian festival of the burning of the scholars on the new moon of the fourth lunar month (the equivalent of April 1 in the western calendar). The holiday began to evolve (or devolve) 2,200 years ago after Qin Shihuangdi, the unifier of China, infamously set fire to books and gazettes that he disagreed with; today it is celebrated by "sacrificing" jokey messages to the gods, setting slips of paper aflame like incense in hopes that the amused divinities will rain down good fortune.
Once in a while, though, the gods are inadvertently enraged and burn journalists. April Fools!