The story behind ‘one of the best op-ed pieces ever’

“One of the best op-ed pieces ever?” Stanford prof and NPR “Math Guy” Keith Devlin asked after reading Rex Huppke’s Facts, 360 B.C. – A.D. 2012.

“‘Tis,” responded one of his followers.

The Chicago Tribune piece went viral late Thursday, and Huppke’s emailbox quickly filled with reactions to it — “the vast majority from people who got the joke and seemed to concur with the point I was trying to make.”

Huppke tells Romenesko readers how his obit came together:

I had the idea for the obit last week when I read about Rep. Allen West’s claim that 80 or so House Democrats are communists. The manner in which so many on the left and the right are playing so fast and loose with the facts these days is a subject I’d been thinking a lot about anyway. So this seemingly random statement – based in no fact whatsoever – struck me as the death blow to facts having any meaning in our political discourse.

Rex Huppke

I’m lucky to have an editor – Mark Jacob – who’s open to odd ideas, and he liked this one right away. So I ran with it. After poking around a little online I found Mary Poovey, an NYU professor who has written a book about the history of facts and is currently writing about the death of facts. She provided the biographical details necessary for the obituary, and also lent some interesting insight on the broader subject.

Next I spoke with Gary Alan Fine, a psychologist at Northwestern University. He wasn’t so convinced that facts are dead, thus giving a nice counterpoint to the piece. I framed his, in a sense, as so shocked by the death of facts that he was unwilling to accept it.

I told Poovey and Fine that what I was writing was going to be in obituary form and would be satirical, with the hope of making a broader point.

Based on the response, it seems to have worked. I’ve gotten about 50 e-mails (at last count), the vast majority from people who got the joke and seemed to concur with the point I was trying to make. The column also went a bit viral online, and that usually makes me believe I managed to hit a nerve.

Most of the angry/ideologically opinionated responses came via the comments section on the online version. Given the purpose of the column, many of the comments seem to blend in with the satire!

* Facts, 360 B.C. – A.D. 2012
* “If you’ve already read it, read it again. And weep.”