on this story
Rattling the bones in the closets of the high and mighty
by Scott McNutt
There's a rumor going around, gentle reader, that I've slept with every woman in Knoxville. Now, I'm no saint. I have skeletons in my closet that include long-past, drunken sexcapades that would put George W. Bush's youthful indiscretions to shame. So, for all I know, I've had sex with "W." And maybe with you, gentle reader. But that's just between you and me and the governor. It's nobody else's business.
Because "he's slept with every woman in town" is such a tired, commonplace slander, this "rumor" is too feeble to do damage. It's easily dismissed as simple vindictiveness, then forgotten. If you want to hurt someone's reputation, your rumor must be inventive. Without something quirky enough to be memorable, you won't debone any skeletons in my closet: "I've heard Scott McNutt has had sex with every species of mammal in Tennessee that's bigger than a breadbox and smaller than a refrigerator, including Ned McWherter. And chimpanzees." There's a rumor that will put a monkey on your back!
Let me tell you something else about "rumors": Fleetwood Mac released it in 1977. It became one of the most successful records of all time, spending 134 consecutive weeks on the charts. This alone should prove that, once started, rumors have a life of their own. But I'll give you another example to drive home the point: If you read that my good friend Ian Blackburn, systems manager for Metro Pulse, has sex with monkeys, and then repeat it to 10 friends, this rumor might surpass Fleetwood Mac's record! So pass it on! Thank you.
A quick lesson in the difference between rumor, slander, and libel is in order. A rumor is when you spread information that may or may not be true. (Example: "Ian Blackburn may or may not have sex with monkeys. Pass it on.") Slander is when you intentionally spread vicious lies about someone. (Example: "Everyone at Metro Pulse has sex with monkeys. Pass it on.") And libel is when you print such vicious lies in your newspaper column. (Example: "In his latest column, Scott McNutt alleged that the entire United States Congress has sex with monkeys. Several congresspersons issued immediate denials, insisting that they were not journalists.")
Fortunately for me, rumors that deal in opinion are often difficult to prove libelous. For instance, if I write "In my opinion, the President of the United States of America is rumored to be a floozy," a jury must conclude it is not libel, because...well, because he is a floozy. But if I write "In my opinion, the Mayor of Knoxville is rumored to respect and cherish each and every one of his firefighters," the jury might conclude that I had just libeled some firefighters.
The problem with rumors is that, by focusing on the person, attention is diverted from important issues. Yes, if you say "The Sheriff of Knox County is allegedly power-mad, self-aggrandizing, and paranoid," it's true that you are only paraphrasing what you've read in the daily paper. But such accusations, however accurate, only distract from legitimate concerns, such as whether "Deputy Dwight Van de Vate" sounds too alliterative to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers. This is crucial, because we need more heroes. Which begs the question, if the sheriff released a rumor that "Heroes are hard to find because nobody appreciates us, ya buncha ingrates," would it hang around longer than a similarly named Fleetwood Mac release? The answer is, of course, "My lawyer has advised me not to answer that question at this time."
The truth is, if you dig deep enough into any public figure's background and ask enough "acquaintances" about their youthful activities, you will probably find sufficient innuendo and allegations that, if you had the photos, you could start a highly profitable blackmail ring. I should know. Having slept with every woman in Knoxville, I am personally acquainted with each skeleton in the closet and every monkey on the back of all the movers and shakers in town. So if I wanted to, I could force them ALL out of the closet. But that's none of our business, gentle reader. As long as the monkeys involved were consenting adults. Which is always the case at Metro Pulse.
July 27, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 30
© 2000 Metro Pulse