Many, many years ago, when I was but a youngish music writer and Rihanna was a budding multi-millionairess, I was on an email list through which her publicist relayed all happenings related to Rihanna. One morning, an email from the media relations flack asked a simple question, but one that I found rather odd: “What happened to Rihanna’s bracelet?” “Hmm, I was not aware that there was something going on with this particular pop star’s bracelet,” I remember thinking to myself. This all took place in a span of less than five seconds, after which I sent the email to the trash heap.
I had forgotten about the accessory issue entirely until later that evening, when I flipped on my television only to find one of the nightly pop culture news shows leading with the story. “WHAT HAPPENED TO RIHANNA’S BRACELET?” the announcer said dramatically before cutting to commercial. I searched for the deleted email on my phone, and waited for the program to return from break. Only for the host to shamelessly repeat, nearly word for word from the original press release, a plotline that served no real purpose whatsoever other than to get Rihanna airtime and to plug some bangle brand with which she likely had a sweet endorsement deal.
I tried confirming this account of “Braceletgate” with a simple Google search (we use our investigative resources around here for other things; just read this week’s paper). I couldn’t track down the specific incident, though, because, and this is kind of the whole point of my sharing this story, it turns out that Rihanna—along with every other top celeb—uses the media to push such self-serving garbage on a daily basis. Since the wristwear episode that I remember, her team alone has probably pumped well over a thousand fabricated fashion capers into millions of naive eyes and ears.
You bet this is a rant about fake news. In fact, I was calling for a conversation about fake news long before Democrats began using the term as a scapegoat for the failure of Hillary Clinton to defeat a hot pile of poo for the presidency. Because as I learned back in my music writing days, most media outlets, from cable news channels with their candidate surrogate drones to Mario Lopez and the Extra gang, are worthless mouthpieces through which trash scripted by PR hawks flows without any discernible filter. We will never purge fake news; in a way, it’s the only kind of information that a lot of people ever get. Harsh, sure. But at least we’re finally talking about it.
Be sure to check me next week, when I’ll explain the radio payola game and how your favorite DJs have been screwing you and local artists for decades.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.