April Fools’ Day brings out the best pranks and humor — usually. There is the cellophane over the toilet trick, the rubber cookie, the bucket of water over the door trick and so many others. But one back in 2004 cost a newspaper editor his job.
The Coastal Journal, a free weekly paper based in Bath, published a rather controversial story on April Fool’s Day back in 2004 that was written by editor Dave Swearingen.
According to the prank article, westbound motorists expecting to cross the Sagadahoc Bridge would have to pay a toll of $5.75 unless they were out-of-staters, in which case they would be given a discount.
Not only that, but the article claimed it had quoted a state government official who said that the revenue would bring in $26 million dollars, which would be used to pay for programs ranging from Medicaid to giving out laptops for parents.
Swearington told the Sun Journal at the time he’d opted against writing a disclaimer, hoping that little jokes in the article — like quoting a dog — would clue people in.
Not everyone got the joke. Enraged readers, many of whom were on fixed incomes, made angry phone calls to the governor’s office. The governor at the time, John Baldacci, apparently didn’t find the humor in the article.
Soon after the article appeared on April Fool’s Day, Swearington was no longer the editor of the Coastal Journal.
The governor’s communications director, Lee Umphrey was quoted by the Sun Journal as saying, “I told the editor that rather than joke about the budget situation, why not say that the governor and his staff were all getting toupees or driving electric cars? Just something with a little humor.”
The commissioner had a point, the prank really wasn’t exactly funny. But still, it wasn’t the first time a newspaper made the dubious decision to try and punk the public on April Fool’s Day.
According to the San Diego-based Museum of Hoaxes, newspapers have been publishing goofy fake news stories on April Fool’s Day since as far back as 1845 when The Boston Post reported that a treasure-filled cave had been discovered under the Boston Commons.
Saturday is April Fool’s Day and folks are getting ready to prank each other all over the country. If you see a “news” item in your Facebook feed that seems too crazy to be true, try Googling it to find a second source before you share it with friends like a sucker. Snopes.com is your friend.