There once was a broadcast news executive who was bored as he sat in his penthouse at the top of the skyscraper, watching the world go by. Bored, and a little nervous – for the people down below were ignoring him, and if this kept up, profits would go down, and he might have to get a real job, leave his penthouse, and join the rabble below.
To amuse himself, he scanned his sources for leads, and, to his great relief, found the perfect story: a report from the CDC about a new disease virus that had just been identified. Within hours, his news organization was screaming out, “Plague! Plague! This new plague will kill us all!!”
The customers came running, screaming “Plague, Plague!” at each other, buying masks, cancelling travel plans, locking themselves in their homes and loudly shaming anyone who didn’t, and (most gratifyingly of all) staying glued to their news outlets, greedily sucking up every tidbit of
titillation information. Ratings skyrocketed. So did advertising revenues. The business was very happy, and so was the executive – even after the rent on his penthouse went up.
And after a few months, the new virus went away, and (almost) nobody died. “Plague. Hmph!“, the customers muttered, and went back to their regular lives, once again ignoring the news executive in his penthouse.
One day not long thereafter, the executive got a video call from his CEO. “Revenues are flagging, Ralph”, she said, “we need a boost. That ‘plague’ thing you did was perfect! Do it again!”
“OK, Martha. But what if it doesn’t pan out, again? Won’t people start turning this kind of news off?”
“You mean, like they do on Facebook?”
So, the executive turned back to his sources, and it wasn’t long before he found reports of another new disease. “Plague! Plague! This new plague will kill us all!”
Once again, the customers came running, screaming “Plague, Plague!” at each other, buying masks, cancelling travel plans, locking themselves in their homes and loudly shaming anyone who didn’t, and (most gratifyingly of all) staying glued to their news outlets, greedily sucking up every tidbit of
titillation information. In vain did the CDC and similar non-profit sites try to hold up their hands and say “Hey, wait a minute …!” Ratings skyrocketed. So did advertising revenues. The business was happy happy, and so was the executive – even after the rent on his penthouse went up yet again.
And after a few months, the new disease went away, just like the first one did, and (almost) nobody died. “Plague. Hmph! Fake news!”, the customers muttered a little louder than before.
But not loudly enough to stop the cycle from repeating itself a third time, and a fourth, and a fifth …
Ralph had just closed his latest video call from Martha, in which she advised him of her plans to name him CEO in her stead when she retired next year. Beaming and smug, he scanned his sources for the next plague story …
“Plague! Plague! This new plague will kill us all! This time for sure!”
“Fake news!!!”, the customers screamed back, and proceeded to go about their daily routines, unchanged. In vain did the CDC step up its warnings. Nervous governments were sat upon by business interests that were sick and tired of having their revenues and profits wiped out by travel restrictions and supply chain interruptions, so they did nothing. By the time businesses, governments, and people realized their error, it was too late. The virus was distributed, and wreaking unprecedented havoc, around the globe.
Ralph finished packing, only the few essentials that he could stuff in the single suitcase that his body, flabby with his formerly fat life, could manage. Although the rent on his penthouse had dropped to almost nothing, it was still far more than he could afford, for his business had folded. Even if he had been able to pay to move all his stuff, there was no one to hire to do the moving, at any price. The stuff he left behind was something for the landlord to worry about, not that she didn’t have far more on her mind these days. If indeed she was still alive to worry about any of it.
Ralph and his suitcase descended to the street to try and make his way in the world.
And was soon dead with the rest.