May 3

World Press Freedom Day

 

You’d stopped getting a daily newspaper years ago. The sections had gotten smaller, along with the font size. You got most of your information from the Internet, and from a late-night TV comedian’s monologue.

This morning you heard a thump against your front door. When you checked outside, you noticed that a rolled-up section of newsprint, wrapped in a rubber band, had appeared on your porch next to the doormat.

Probably just an advertisement. But for nostalgia value, at the very least, it might be fun to glance through. You took it inside, pulling off the rubber band as you walked back to the kitchen and your essential cup of morning coffee.

A startling headline greeted you as you unrolled the publication. “THEY’RE LYING TO YOU,” in large capital letters across the front page. It was probably the biggest headline you’d ever seen — a kind of Dewey-Defeats-Truman size, like you’d seen on the historical channel.

The other startling thing: it really was a newspaper. Not just one section, but several, with an upper-right index for Business, Classifieds, Comics, Living, and Sports. The masthead indicated the paper’s name, and it seemed familiar, possibly the one you used to subscribe to, back in the day — or was that a Times or Tribune or Dispatch? Well, the city name was right.

And the layout was professional. If this was a fake, or an advertising gimmick, somebody went to an awful lot of trouble.

The byline for the main article credited some Walter fellow, which might have been the name of a reporter you used to trust. The sidebar photographs included headshots of local, national, and international leaders. And a few too-famous celebrities mixed in.

“For many years,” the article began, “the smartest among our readers have suspected that something has gone terribly wrong. Not just a trivial or isolated wrong, or a small mistake that could be corrected with concerted effort. Our publication is sorry to inform you of something far more serious, reaching into the very fabric of all societies, on a global level. This will literally be our last edition of this newspaper, and we fear that many of our readers won’t get the chance to finish reading it.”

You took a sip of coffee before continuing. Although you’d added cream and sugar, the drink tasted bitter.

“Throughout this difficult time, news agencies around the world have not been permitted to convey the full extent of the problem. We had to stay silent, to avoid a mass panic. We presented only part of the picture, to prevent world-wide despair.”

Another sip. Your drink has grown cold, and your lips press against dried, tasteless coffee grounds. Perhaps you’ve been too intent on reading your newspaper, accidentally picked up a full ashtray instead of your mug, and poured ash into your mouth.

“Today, we are not simply repeating crackpot conspiracy theories,” the article said. “We can finally reveal not simply what has happened, but how and why. Those explanations will [Continued on Page 11A]”

You absently set down your mug, needing both hands to unfold and rearrange the large pages of the newspaper.

The rest of the main story can wait. You’re checking the sports scores now…