Nearly five million Spaniards tuned in to a TV news program this past weekend that promised to reveal a secret that would rewrite modern Spanish history. And it delivered.

Sort of.

The history in question: a 1981 coup that nearly ended Spain’s fledgling democracy.

The coup attempt 23 years ago is engrained in the psyches of Spaniards the way John F. Kennedy's assassination is in ours. On February 23, 1981, a handful of Spanish Civil Guardsmen stormed Parliament during an open session, shooting their weapons in the air. They took legislators hostage, declaring they were now in charge of the country.

As every Spaniard knows, it was the young King Juan Carlos who saved the day. The monarch went on national TV to order Spain’s soldiers not to join the revolt. The coup was crushed.

That’s been the accepted version of history anyway. But Sunday night, respected Spanish journalist Jordi Evole presented new evidence. It turns out the king didn’t save the day: he staged it. The coup was a hoax designed to thwart a real coup still in the works. And to boost the King’s image.

For more than a few Spaniards, it’s safe to say the sky fell.

Except, actually, the hoax was the report itself. Evole, along with other well-known Spanish reporters and senior politicians, produced a “mock-umentary.” It was called Operation Palace. It was a joke. As in ha ha, we tricked you. But few people here seem to be laughing. Evole and company have been lambasted on social media.  How dare they make light of such a sensitive subject, people tweeted. And why?

In the final credits of Operation Palace the players themselves offer clues: It was funny, some say. No historical event should be put on a pedestal, says another.

And then, afterwards, Evole appears.

“I know lots of people probably want to kill me now," he said. “But we wanted to do something like the mock-umentary, Dark Side of the Moon, from 2002, which questioned the lunar landing.”

At least we told you ours was a farce at the end, he said. “A lot of lies get told on TV, and no one steps forward to tell you.”

Evole’s point seems at once cautionary and a shot in his own foot: Question everything you see and hear — even when you hear it from us, your most respected journalists and statesmen.  

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