On Tuesday, June 9, there was a special election in Huntsville and Madison County for State Senator in District 7. The two people on the ballot were Laura Hall, a Democrat, and Paul Sanford, the Republican. People expected a regular election without any problems.
Over at a local radio station, a morning talk show host read on the air a “press release” that said that due to the expected high turnout, a coin toss had been held and that Republicans would vote on Tuesday with Democrats voting on Wednesday. He then posted a copy of the release, complete with state seal, on his web site.
However, the coin toss never occurred and the press release never had been released by the state. Instead, they were an election day prank, pulled by the talk show host as a means of generating a laugh from his listeners.
Now, most of the people in the area saw the prank as a joke, and dismissed it. However, some people took it seriously enough to print out the release and then pass it out at polling places around the area, according to local TV news reports.
The host has been punished for his actions. The dust has settled. However, the question remains: why would someone do this type of prank, who would take such a prank seriously, and what place do pranks like this have in the media and in politics?
I do not have any answers, and I am sure there are those who could discourse at length about this subject. However, I believe that all jokes, pranks, and other material aired in radio, on TV, and on the internet should be in good taste. All of us in the media should think twice about not only if something is decent to air, but also if it is both ethically sound and in good taste. If it does not pass those three tests without any reservations, we should question if it should be aired at all, and if it is aired, we should let viewers know before and after that it is a controversial or satirical piece of information. Then, we will restore confidence in American media as a source of information and entertainment.