Perhaps while you were enjoying your Thanksgiving turkey (or, in my case, your hotel tub and your Hallmark movies), you heard the story of "Diane in 7A."
In short, this was a story tweeted by Elan Gale, a producer on The Bachelor who let us all follow along with a tale in which he encountered a rude passenger on a Thanksgiving Day flight, lectured her via a note written on a coaster on being kinder to service personnel, and then encouraged her to celebrate Thanksgiving by consuming something that was not turkey.
In the story, he sends her crude notes until she slaps him, and then he graciously lets her go without contacting the airport police, but not before explaining to her that she will be able to see on Twitter that he has shamed and humiliated her, and that "maybe next time [she'll] be nice to people who are just trying to help."
The Huffington Post's position: "Elan, you are our Thanksgiving hero."
This was reported as fact in all sorts of places, including the New York Daily News, as well as Buzzfeed, which opined that even with all the families gathering happily around their tables, even with the parades and football games, it was Elan Gale telling this woman in "mom jeans" to "eat [not turkey]" that "won Thanksgiving."
And then, somebody claimed to be a member of her family and claimed she had cancer.
And then Gale disappeared from Twitter.
And then he came back and now seems, kind of, to be acknowledging that — as people had begun to expect — this was ... well, a "hoax" is really too flattering for a dude taking camera phone pictures of a coaster with writing on it. As writer Dave Holmes (no relation) said to me last night: "Shouldn't we demand higher quality hoaxes?"
I say to you, my friends: we should. And we can, and it's not that hard. There were lots and lots of reasons to be skeptical of Gale's story from the beginning. The behavior of the flight attendants didn't make any sense, the fact that he would single-handedly get to decide whether she was arrested didn't make any sense, the part about sending her vodka bottles didn't make any sense, and it didn't particularly make any sense that if Gale was playing Manly Defender Of Flight Attendants And Other Working People, he would tweet a story that would so obviously, if it were true, get the flight attendants who participated in his on-board harassment in so much trouble.
This is before we discuss the fact that he's a producer on The Bachelor, which may not make him a liar, but certainly makes him capable of concluding that the most entertaining and irresistible stories are the ones where women are emotional, infantile dummies who need a talking-to and perhaps could stand to be told not to limit their Thanksgiving feasts to the traditional dishes.
We have been here before, with more stories than I can name. Right here on this blog, we were here long ago with the Dating A Banker Anonymous "support group," which never made any sense either, and which never strictly speaking existed except as "satire," but nevertheless got an entire credulous New York Times piece written about it.
I am begging you: if you can't be a skeptic about stories that circulate on the internet, at least become friends with one and hug him or her tight to you, because they will save you from spending a lot of time rejoicing in the schadenfreude dished out by a TV producer who could literally have had an entire bucket of turkey innards poured on his head by a very real Diane and still arguably deserve, in a cosmic sense, far more comeuppance than she did.
When you see photo "proof," ask yourself: what is that a photograph of? Could I reproduce that evidence myself in under 45 seconds using my cell phone camera, a pen, and a coaster? Is that a shot of something on a computer screen, which means almost nothing? Does that look like a piece of "evidence" that would get by a savvy tenth-grade geometry teacher trying to figure out why a kid was late to class? Does the behavior being described sound like the behavior of a human? Are people in the story reacting the way you would expect people in that story to react? Does it appear that everyone in the story has been scripted by a reality television producer?
There are plenty of times when something people doubt is true turns out to be, in fact, true. There are plenty of times when there's no evidence of something and it happened anyway. It would be really sad if too many knucklehead diversions made us unable to believe anything anybody had to say. In fact, after all this, even Diane could be real! And have cancer! Or not! The "it's a hoax" tweet that supposedly clears the whole thing up is a guy tweeting a picture of a chair. If you have a camera and you have a chair, you could have done the same.
But before you become the 10,000th person to share something that "won Thanksgiving," whether it's a happy story or a story about two jerks shrieking at each other, apply your own common sense.
To paraphrase an old bit of wisdom for our time: If you love a story, set it adrift on an ocean of suspicion that it is horsepucky. If it bobs to the surface and comes back to you and is seaworthy, it is yours to keep as part of the enjoyable flotsam and jetsam of the internet. But if it sinks like a dumbbell and the scavenging critters on the ocean floor immediately chew it to death, it was probably a dude amusing himself at the airport to begin with.