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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Are these stories true?

Tickle Me Elmo Asthma Inhaler
from "Coal Cares"
As most regular Progressive Charlestown readers know, we like to have fun with this blog. We do a lot of satire and parody, crack jokes and wisecracks and poke fun at some of the most pompous windbags in town. And we also do a lot of serious reporting and investigative journalism. We respect our readers' intelligence enough to trust them to be able to figure which is which.

But two recent stories I posted caused even some very smart readers to ask "did you make those up - that can't possibly be real."

One was the story I did on the "Coal Cares" program which distributes free asthma inhalers to children while dishing out pro-coal and anti-wind power propaganda that sounds strangely like the kind we've heard here in Charlestown.

The other was a story I posted earlier this week about the crazy little town of Quartzsite, Arizona.

After some of the pure satire pieces we've published - fictional allegorical pieces with a high degree of edginess - I suppose it was fair for them to wonder.

Here's the truth about the two stories:

After reading teasers about these stories on some of my favorite aggregator sites, I decided to check out the linked stories thinking that these might be interesting stories for Progressive Charlestown. I did the additional research that enabled me to write the posts.

The Quartzsite story appealed to both the dark and light sides of my personality. The dark side saw it as a cautionary tale. Here's a small rural community, half the size of Charlestown, that is going totally insane. The town is torn into three literally warring camps.

The trigger issues seem to be pretty mundane issues, even trivial. But the personality conflicts and hatreds cause normally basic disagreements to escalate beyond reason.

As I read about Quartzsite, I kept thinking that could happen here. I also wondered what some of Charlestown's really BIG issues and squabbles might look like to an outsider.

At the same time, the bright side of my personality thought that our town's battles may seem to be pretty nasty on occasion (often the occasion of a Town Council meeting), but it could be worse.

Maybe it would be healthy to run the video of the Quartzsite town council meeting at the beginning of every Charlestown Town Council meeting as a precaution.

The "Coal Cares" story interested me not just because it is obscene on its face. It also shows the lengths to which the fossil fuel industry will go to protect its political and financial agenda. I had already been thinking about a story like that after cursing the number of oil and gas industry "public service" ads that run every night on network national news.

But it turns out this story is not true. It’s a pure spoof by a small environmental organization. I am embarrassed to admit that when I wrote the “Coal Cares” piece, I really thought it was for real. I don’t often get punked, but I sure did this time.

Bye, bye Puff and Ash
For the background on how the amazing “Coal Cares” website came into being, read “Making Asthma Cool: Not a Coal Industry Priority After All.” This article describes how a group called Coal is Killing Kids created the site, using parodies of fossil fuel industry propaganda and links to actual research about the health and environmental effects of coal burning power plants.

What really suckered me in was that the parody anti-wind propaganda actually sounded a lot like stuff many of our neighbors have been saying to oppose wind power in town.

Maybe that was why the folks at Yes Men and Coal Is Killing Kids created the hoax website.

My hat is off to them for a truly amazing piece of work. They're my new role models.

Author: Will Collette