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Standard Deviations: Fake news? Columnist has a prime example of it, right here

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner - | Sep 16, 2018

I stand corrected.

To all of my friends on social media who keep parroting President Donald Trump’s cries of #fakenews, I owe you a sincere apology.

Because, as it turns out, the Standard-Examiner IS publishing fake news.

Specifically, we ran it on Wednesday, Sept. 12.

Page A3, for those keeping score.

On Friday afternoon, I got a call from a very nice Huntsville woman named Susan Montgomery. She was asking about a full-page “story” that ran in last Wednesday’s Standard-Examiner and was hoping I could shed some light on the subject.

The piece in question carried the headline “U.S. State Silver Bars go to residents in 7 states,” with a subhead that read: “U.S. residents who find their state listed below in bold get first dibs at just the $59 minimum set for state residents while all non state residents must pay $134.”

It looked — vaguely — like a news story, complete with fake headlines, a fake dateline, and fake photos with equally fake captions.

Basically, the “news story” claimed that the lucky few of us living in seven Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — could buy U.S. State Silver Bars for the “state minimum set by the Federated Mint” of $59. Outside those states, it warned, folks pay $134 per bar.

But wait, as they say, there’s more …

Heightening the urgency, the executive director of vault operations for the Federated Mint teases: “These valuable U.S. State Silver bars are impossible to get at banks, credit unions or the U.S. Mint.”

Yeah. And you know what else is impossible to get at banks, credit unions or the U.S. Mint? Airline tickets to Cleveland. Brussels sprouts. Sheet music for Justin Bieber songs. Basically, any number of other relatively worthless items that no self-respecting financial institution would be caught dead offering to the public.

And finally, that same official-sounding Federated Mint (“Not affiliated with the U.S. government, a bank or any government agency,” the fine print explains) cautioned that the special price was only good for the next two days.

“This is not a misprint,” the article insisted

No, not a misprint. But certainly misleading.

Susan’s 80-year-old mother, who resides in an assisted living center, first brought the story to Susan’s attention. The two women were captivated by the promise of purchasing such clearly valuable silver bars for far less than the rest of the country, so they decided to break out the credit cards and buy a few hundred dollars’ worth each.

When Susan’s husband got home and heard what she had done, he promptly informed his wife that she’d been duped.

“But it was in a Standard-Examiner news story,” she protested. “They wouldn’t lie to me.”

It wasn’t until Susan’s husband showed her the small “SPECIAL ADVERTISEMENT FEATURE” designation in the upper-left corner of the page that she realized what her elderly mother had found might not have been a legitimate news story after all.

Some advertisers have long tried to trade on a newspaper’s journalistic credibility, attempting to make their product pitches look like actual news to fool the public. This one — which has been running in similar forms for years now — is particularly egregious.

But this supposedly incredible deal being offered to Utah and six other states just doesn’t add up. The $59 one-ounce U.S. State Silver Bars are sold in “Vault Bricks” of five, so for five ounces of silver you’ll pay $295 — plus shipping and handling.

However, according to various precious-metals websites, silver is currently going for roughly $14 an ounce. So, basically, Susan and her mother paid almost $300 each, for $70 worth of silver.

Ah, but don’t feel too bad for these women, because it could have been much worse. If they’d lived in one of the 43 states not in on this special promotion, they would’ve overpaid a full $600 for for a mere 70 bucks worth of silver bars.

Now, I realize this column could be considered biting the very hand that feeds me. Newspapers struggle for advertising these days, and they can’t afford to be extremely choosy about whose money they accept.

But frankly, advertisements like this are just plain wrong. I have to believe there’s a special place in hell for those who would counterfeit a newspaper story to prey on the elderly and those who are less-than-savvy in the ways of unscrupulous advertising.

Of course, I’d also be willing to bet you one of those U.S. State Silver Bars — a $14 value for just $59! — that the majority of people who fall for this deal are the very same folks who routinely get suckered in by #fakepresident Trump’s #fakenews claims.


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