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Lirpa Sloof Panel Ponders Decline In Serious Behavior

I hope to spend this morning reporting on the latest deliberations of the Senate Select Committee on Lirpa Sloof, which is examining the precarious drop in productivity and serious behavior that tends to occur on this day each year.

The panel is looking into the annual spike in antics that the authorities report occurs with the start of the first full month of spring. Washington not being known as a capital of lightness or spoofery, this phenomenon had gone unnoticed on the Hill, but a spate of complaints from around the country has focused the lawmakers' attention on the trend.

I'll let you know what happens. I had to get out of the newsroom because this early April outbreak of tomfoolery seems never to occur where newspeople live. Sadly, newspapers, at least in our oh-so-serious defenders of democracy mode over the past four or five decades, have generally banned participation in First of April trickery. (Other media haven't been quite so demure; National Public Radio, for example, has a rich and creative history of airing such stories, even if you cannot see the tongue in any cheek on the radio. The best of NPR's offerings was a typically elegiac and touching profile of a pickle farmer. Runner-up: A piece about the Post Office selling vanity zip codes.) But there was a grand and wonderful exception in newspaperland, back in 1997, when a slew of the nation's comic strip artists conspired to switch things up and swap characters and story lines for a day.

Among the various compendia of early April antics, Washington plays a predictably tiny role. At a site that has gathered the top 100 such hoaxes of all time, for example, there are but three from this neck of the woods:

In 1994, an article in PC Computing magazine described a bill in Congress that would make it illegal to use the Internet while drunk. House Bill 040194 would have allowed the FBI to tap the phone lines of citizens who might "use or abuse alcohol" while surfing the Web. The article said the bill originated when members of Congress heard the phrase 'Information Highway' and concluded that being drunk on a highway is bad, whatever sort highway it might be. Sen. Ted Kennedy's office felt compelled to release an official denial that he was a sponsor of the bill.

In 2001, on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio show, anchor Michael Enright interviewed former President Jimmy Carter and asked a stunned ex-president this zinger of a question: "I think the question on everyone's mind is, How did a washed-up peanut farmer from Hicksville such as yourself get involved in such a sophisticated bilateral trade argument?" Carter called Enright a "rude person" and hung up. The interview was phony, but the story made it onto the front page of the humor-impaired Toronto Globe and Mail.

And in 1996, America Online subscribers saw a news story detailing the discovery of life on Jupiter. AOL president Ted Leonsis, today the owner of the Washington Capitals, was quoted saying that his company had documents proving that the feds were suppressing evidence of the discovery. The story generated more than a thousand messages.

What's missing from this brief history of spring foolery in the Washington area? Have any great pranks or hoaxes been left out?

By Marc Fisher |  April 1, 2009; 8:18 AM ET
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And a happy April Fools to you too, Mark.

Posted by: dcborn61 | April 1, 2009 8:40 AM

The best of the NPR hoaxes had to have been the Starbucks pipeline to the East Coast. They even got Bruce Babbitt (then the Interior secretary) to record a soundbite.

There's a website which purported to know that lacrosse is going to change to old wooden tennis racquets, and plenty of YouTube users got Rick Rolled ... again.

Posted by: bs2004 | April 3, 2009 9:12 AM

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