Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tubs of Fun

Vicente Gonzalez, a congressman from Texas, told CNN this week Sam Hyde killed 26 churchgoers in his state.

Sam Hyde is not a mass murderer, but a comedian and meme, as The New York Times reports.

Gonzalez was recycling fake news a producer had shared, while the congressman had been waiting for a TV interview earlier the same day.

Fake news isn't new.

H.L. Mencken spread some in his own day, reporting in The New York Evening Mail on December 28, 1917, that President Millard Fillmore was responsible for introducing the bathtub to America.

"Bathtubs are so common today that it is almost impossible to imagine a world without them," Mencken wrote. "They are familiar to nearly everyone in all incorporated towns; in most of the large cities it is unlawful to build a dwelling house without putting them in; even on the farm they have begun to come into use."

But no one remembers who popularized the bathtub, Mencken wrote. Turns out, "it was the example of President Millard Fillmore that, even more than the grudging medical approval, gave the bathtub recognition and respectability in the United States." 

Fillmore was "an ardent advocate of the new invention, and on succeeding to the Presidency at Taylor's death, July 9, 1850, he instructed his secretary of war, General Charles M. Conrad, to invite tenders for the construction of a bathtub in the White House."

Within days of Mencken's New York Evening Mail article, Fillmore's introduction of the bathtub solidified into fact: it was cited in trade and professional journals; on the floor of Congress; and in Mencken's own newspaper. And it's still cited today, although Mencken's article was a gag.

"It never occurred to me it would be taken seriously,” he said.
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