The media’s new mission: fact-checking songs

I’ve got a bone to pick with Bob Marley.

Back in 1977, he sang a song called “Three Little Birds,” with the impossibly catchy chorus “Don’t worry about thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

Millions of us have been grooving to that tune ever since, buying into the notion that if we just paused to listen to the pretty singing birds in the morning, everything would be all right.

I’m here to tell you the whole song is a lie.

Need proof? I submit 2020. Everything is most definitely not all right.

Besides, the latest thing for newspapers to do is “fact-check” songs, and I’m jumping on that bandwagon in a big way today.

About 10 days ago, a Florida bar singer named Austin Forman came up with a song called “Pallets Full of Ballots.” Now, if you’ve got conservative leanings or like funny songs delivered by a guy who looks like he should be sitting in a lawn chair with his hat on backward and 11 empty cans of Budweiser next to his guitar case, this is the tune for you. On the other hand, if you’re likely to get riled up by any suggestion, humorous or otherwise, that cheating took place —  or if you’d rather not hear the-ultimate-four-letter-word peppering every other verse — you’d best stick with Bob Marley.

His song, which begins “I went to sleep, Trump had the lead” and goes on to describe Joe Biden supporters filling out “pallets full of ballots” at 3 a.m., quickly picked up a few hundred thousand views on YouTube, where it seemed destined to fade into Florida bar-singer obscurity.

Enter the New York Times.

In what may be a first for the publication once known as “the paper of record,” they saw fit to fact-check a song — a song almost none of its readers would ever hear — in a 26-inch-story. (For the record, that’s about the same length as this column, proving that somewhere, there really is a person who overwrites as badly as I do.)

Running beneath the headline “No, the ‘pallets full of ballots’ song isn’t true,” the story picks apart the lyrics and even notes the song “omitted that Mr. Biden had won both the vote in the Electoral College and the popular vote in the election.”

(Personally, as a very poor songwriter myself, I’d have a hard time coming up with a word that rhymes with ‘election’ that wouldn’t offend most of my listeners too, but I digress.)

Forman was interviewed for the story. He said his aim was “comic relief” and added many Democrats told him the song made them laugh too. In other words, he didn’t seem to take the song as seriously as, say, the New York Times. He also noted it seemed to be “the first time the mainstream media fact-checked a song.”

I think he has a point. I look back on the anthems I’ve taken to heart in my life, and I’m disillusioned.

Probably the first song that made a big impact on me was Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I’ve played that song thousands of times and I’ve listened to a lot of wind.

Not once have I gotten an answer about anything.

Dylan got a lot of facts wrong in his 1976 song “Hurricane,” which was about a man convicted of a triple murder; no laughing matter. The Times never fact-checked that one and, in fact, sang the song’s praises in an interview with him just five months ago. And he’s Bob Dylan, not Austin Forman.

But enough serious talk. Let’s get back to fact-checking songs.

How about “Folsom Prison Blues?” Johnny Cash never shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. And if he did, he wouldn’t have been thrown into Folsom Prison anyway. He would have been incarcerated in Nevada. Nobody ever seems to catch that.

We all know Mick Jagger got plenty of satisfaction.

I’ll bet the Who got fooled again — and again and again and again.

I don’t think Dolly Parton ever worked a 9-to-5 job in her life.

How do we know Merle Haggard’s mama really tried? And come on. People smoked marijuana in Muskogee.

And then there’s Jimmy Buffett. He built a half-billion-dollar empire with one song that claims — without evidence, to quote a popular term of the day — he cut his heel by stepping on a pop-top. You know what’s even worse? He readily admits he doesn’t like margaritas and prefers a glass of red wine after his shows.

Where are the fact checkers for these songs, each of which have been part of our national musical conscience for at least 40 years?

Why are these every-day-lies accepted as the Gospel iTunes Truth while one of the biggest newspapers in the world felt compelled to fact-check a silly two-minute song nobody ever heard of by a guy nobody had ever heard of until they wrote a story about him?

I have no answers, other than to say both the song and the newspaper article were just another wedge in a country whose continental divide couldn’t possibly be more pronounced, or tone-deaf, to begin with.

I guess one could say the answer is blowin’ in the wind. But obviously, that’s not true either.

Mike Wolcott is editor of the Enterprise-Record. When he’s not strummin’ his six-string, you can reach him via email at mwolcott@chicoer.com, or follow him on Twitter @m_mwolcott.

ABOUT Mike Wolcott

Mike Wolcott
Mike Wolcott is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record. His proudest musical moment came when he was scolded by Who bassist John Entwistle for making too much noise at a Roger Daltrey concert. He especially likes classic rock, classic old-time country, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Dylan and all three Hanks. Parsons calls him “Wally.” When he’s not slaying deadlines, you can find Wally playing guitar in a Corning-based cover band called Punches the Clown.

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