Who was it who said there’s a sucker born every minute: P.T. Barnum?* Roger Ailes? Well, whoever it was would love this one:
I saw the story on the net Monday—actually I only saw the headline—
—and I thought, c’mon…this is the 21st century, right? No elected national leader in the modern world is believing this, or even going along with it for the sake of his or her people (unlike national leaders who talk man-to-man to Santa Claus or pardon Thanksgiving turkeys for unspecified crimes). Of course, it’s not true.
Evidently, the chance meeting of a Latin American president with a colourful myth too good to fact-check proved irresistible – confirming as it did any number of stereotypes about erratic behaviour from national leaders in the continent of magical realism.
But according to Argentine historian Daniel Balmaceda, there is no link between the two traditions. “The local myth of the lobizón is not in any way connected to the custom that began over 100 years ago by which every seventh son (or seventh daughter) born in Argentina becomes godchild to the president,” he said.
It seems this tradition was born in 1907 when a couple from Russia asked Argentina’s president to be godfather to their seventh son: “The couple wanted to maintain a custom from Czarist Russia, where the Tsar was said to become godfather to seventh sons, and Argentina’s president accepted.” The tradition in Argentina became law in 1974 and President Isabel Peron extended the benefit to seventh daughters; it was subsequently granted to non-Catholic children beginning in 2009. The president’s godchildren receive presidential protection, a gold medal, and a scholarship until their 21st birthday.
It was Mark Twain who said, Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Many publishers and editors have been making a good living following his advice since long before the Internet came along, but now we can get the full story in fewer news cycles. So in that sense we all won the Internet this week!
*(Come to fine out it was not P.T. Barnum, it was someone named David Hannum. Read the interesting backstory here.)