Although I am, by and large, a sober and serious member of society, truth be told I have a real penchant for juvenile humor. That’s why I love Gene Weingarten, who writes Below the Beltway for the Washington Post. The thing that comes to mind when you first encounter Weingarten is something along the lines of “Wow — this guy has WAY too much time on his hands!” But the sweet thing is, Gene Weingarten does it for a living: prank calls, prank journalism… it’s all in a day’s work.
Some of what he does could — with a bit of a stretch — fall under the rubric of investigative journalism. Recently, for example, when it was reported that coverage of Pasadena city council meetings would be outsourced to India, Weingarten was struck by the idea, watched a Webcast of a meeting of the local legislature of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India, and offered the resulting report up in Hack for Hire. Here’s a sample:
A man whose name is, I swear, “Somnath Chatterjee,” addressed the state legislature here today. Mr. Chatterjee was introduced as the leader of the “Lok Sabha,” which is evidently some sort of important national lawmaking body about which few details are available at this time.
Mr. Chatterjee is apparently in ill health, as he arrived surrounded by attendants in white hospital garb. However, he proved hale enough to mount the podium, where he delivered a lengthy speech in praise of an elderly, revered local government official whose name sounds something like “Dr. K. Haminahamina,” a name that, unfortunately, didn’t get any Google hits. But it’s got to be pretty close.
Well, it’s funny and also makes a valid point. I think I’ll see if I can track down a report from a Pasadena city council meeting…
Back in March, Weingarten’s inquiring mind led him to test the mettle of Wikipedia editors by editing his own biographical entry. A couple of tidbits:
In the late 1970s, he attained brief, unwanted notoriety when two women with whom he’d been romantically involved — singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris and Russian gymnast Olga Korbut — got into a knife fight over him in a Chicago waterfront bar. No charges were filed.
In 1984 and again in 1986, Weingarten competed in the Alaskan Iditarod, each time assembling a team of 15 mongrel dogs rescued from local shelters, and one very large house cat. He finished third and sixth, respectively.
Apparently, 27 hours into the experiment, diligent editor subwayguy caught him — just before he added the fact that DNA tests had established that he’d fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s baby.
In Zero-based journalism, Weingarten came up with the term Googlenope to describe a phrase that Google doesn’t turn up any results for. He was a little surprised to find that the exact phrase “Santa Claus nude” brought up 278 hits. Boys and girls, do not try this in Google images. (I did — there’s nothing good there.) Prior to his article, the following were among the Googlenopes:
Caviar ‘n’ taters.
much to Paris Hilton’s embarrassment
Of course, immediately after the article, those phrases became Googlewhacks.
Weingarten also hosts Chatalogical humor, a very blog-like forum that he maintains is not a blog but something called a “chat empire.” As he explains, the difference has something to do with underwear. However, you will have to read the… not-blog to find out how.
While researching this blog post, I discovered that Weingarten is best buds with Dave Barry, another veteran juvenile — may he, may they, never, never grow up! In the meantime, I’ll return to sobriety and seriousness.
(Tee-hee… I wrote this at work!) ~ Ivy Wigmore