The Top 10 Hoaxes of 2004
#1: The CBS Bush Memos ('Rathergate')
On Sept. 8 Dan Rather reported on 60 Minutes
had obtained documents showing that President Bush had disobeyed orders while serving in the National Guard and had then used his family's influence in order to cover up his poor service record. The documents allegedly came from the files of Col. Killian, Bush's commanding officer in the Guard. Almost immediately bloggers began pointing out that it looked an awful lot like the documents in question had been written in Microsoft Word, which obviously didn't exist when Bush was serving in the Guard. CBS
didn't pay much attention to the bloggers, but when it realized that its source for the documents, Bill Burkett, had lied about how he obtained them, it decided that it could no longer vouch for their authenticity. Rather apologized for airing the story.
#2: Daily Mirror's Hoax Photos
On May 1, 2004 the British Daily Mirror
published pictures of Iraqi prisoners allegedly being tortured by British soldiers. Almost immediately people began to cry hoax. There were just too many problems with the pictures. First of all, they looked posed. The 'prisoners' didn't appear to be injured or even sweating. And the British soldiers were wearing incorrect uniforms and driving vehicles not deployed in Iraq. Two weeks later the Daily Mirror
admitted that it had been duped and fired its editor, Piers Morgan.
#3: Home Computer of 2004
It's a picture from 1954 of what RAND Corporation scientists imagined that a 'home computer' would look like in 2004 (note the steering wheel). Except that the picture doesn't really date from 1954. It was created in 2004 by Danish software sales and support technician Troels Eklund Andersen as an entry in a Fark Photoshop contest
(theme: "Photoshop this mock-up of a submarine's maneuvering Room"... Andersenin's photo won the contest). He didn't intend for it to fool thousands of people on the internet, but once it slipped beyond the confines of Fark and began circulating via email, that's exactly what it did. It even fooled Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, who displayed it to an audience at a computer conference as evidence of how impossible it is to predict what future technology will look like.
#4: Bush Voters Have Lower IQs
Smart people vote Democratic. Stupid people vote Republican. That, at least, was the implication of a chart
that spread all around the internet during the early part of 2004. Specifically, the chart showed that American states whose populations possess higher average incomes and higher average IQs voted for Gore in the 2000 Presidential elections. Whereas their poorer, dumber counterparts went for Bush. The source of this chart was supposedly an academic book titled IQ and the Wealth of Nations
by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen. Except that IQ and the Wealth of Nations
wasn't the source. The real source was a guy using the screen name 'Robert Calvert' who posted the data to a Mensa newsgroup
back in 2002. Apparently he just made it all up. His phony chart lingered in newsgroup obscurity for two years until somehow it got rediscovered around April, 2004. At which point it began appearing everywhere. Even major newspapers and magazines, such as the St. Petersburg Times
and the Economist
, printed it. Of course, none of them bothered to check the info first. After the election in November the chart started recirculating once again, making this the hoax that refused to die.
#5: The Bhopal Hoax
On Dec. 3 the BBC broadcast an interview with a man claiming to be a representative of Dow Chemical, Jude Finisterra. It was the 20th anniversary of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and Mr. Finisterra said that Dow had decided to accept full responsibility for the incident and pay $12 billion in compensation to the victims. When the markets heard the news, Dow's stock value promptly dropped. But later that day, after Dow had called up the BBC to tell them that they had no idea who Mr. Finisterra was, the BBC realized it had been hoaxed. The man they had actually spoken to was Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men group
. 'Finisterra' was just a made-up name meaning 'the end of the world'. So how had the BBC been hoaxed? Simple. It fell for a hoax website while trying to arrange an interview with someone at Dow to speak about the Bhopal disaster. The website they got their contact info off of looked like it was Dow's official site. But in reality it was a phony site created by the Yes Men. The BBC only realized its mistake after it was far too late.
#6: Andy Kaufman Returns
On May 16, 2004 a press release was issued announcing that the comedian Andy Kaufman had been living in New York City on the Upper West Side for the past twenty years. Simultaneously, Andy's new blog
appeared on the internet. The curious thing about the press release and blog was that Andy Kaufman had died of lung cancer twenty years ago. Had Andy fooled everyone all those years ago and faked his own death? This was exactly what the press release claimed. But now he was back! The one thing that made this announcement semi-credible was that during his life Kaufman had been fascinated with the idea of faking his death, and had even promised that if he did 'pull an Elvis' he would return 20 years later to tell everyone about it. Consequently there was a flurry of speculation on the internet about whether Kaufman really had returned from the dead. Of course, he hadn't. After a week or so the joke apparently got old for whoever was behind it, and new posts stopped appearing on Andy's blog.
#7: The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot
Was it true that a bizarre humanoid robot made from the body of a BMW Mini Cooper r50 had been spotted prowling the streets of London and Oxford? And was it true that this robot would sometimes pop up out of nowhere and stop cars from crashing? The questions sound kind of odd, but after viewing the website of Colin Mayhew
, the engineer who supposedly built this autonomous crash-preventing robot, many people were inclined to say that maybe there was something to those sightings. After all, who could argue with that amazing video of Mayhew's robot stopping a car from crashing into a wall? And then there was that book by Rowland Samuel, Men of Metal: Eyewitness Accounts of Humanoid Robots
, described on Casson Publishing's website
. All this evidence made the robot stories seem believable. But in reality the Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot, Colin Mayhew, and Casson Publishing were all just part of an elaborate viral marketing campaign dreamed up by the ad agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky. What were they advertising? The new Mini Cooper obviously.
#8: Lcpl. Boudreaux's Sign
In March a photo
began to circulate around the internet showing an American soldier posing with two Iraqi boys. One of the boys was holding a sign that read, 'Lcpl Boudreaux killed my Dad, then he knocked up my sister!'
The Council on American-Islamic Relations saw the picture and complained to the Pentagon about it. The photo also received coverage in publications such as < Islam Online
. But it turned out that there was more than one version of the sign going around. Many more than one. In another version the sign read "Lcpl Boudreaux saved my dad then he rescued my sister,"
and in yet another version the sign read "Lcpl Boudreaux killed my Dad, then all your Base are Belong to us."
Obviously the sign was being photoshopped... but which was the real version? Nobody knew. Eventually the Marine Corps opened an investigation to answer this question. The results of this investigation do not appear to have been publicly released. Lance Corporal Boudreaux himself insists that the sign originally read 'Welcome Marines'.
#9: Norma Khouri's Forbidden Love
Norma Khouri's bestseller Honor Lost
(published in Australia, where Khouri lives, as Forbidden Love
) tells the story of a Jordanian 'honor killing.' Dalia, a young woman living in Jordan, falls in love with a Christian man and is murdered for this transgression by her father in order to defend the 'honor' of the family. It's a shocking story, made even more shocking by the fact that Khouri claimed that it was entirely true, based on the life (and death) of a woman that she met while growing up in Jordan. But the Sydney Morning Herald
did some investigative work and discovered that Khouri didn't grow up in Jordan. She actually grew up in a suburb of Chicago. And no person matching the Dalia character appears to have existed either. Conclusion: Khouri's book is fiction, not fact. Khouri has now admitted that she changed details in the book, and the Australian publisher of the book has withdrawn it from sale.
Georgia hunting guide Chris Griffin claimed that he shot a 1000lb wild hog. It happened in June on the River Oak Plantation. Now, a 1000lb wild hog is big. Really, really big. So word of it quickly got around. Soon the massive hog had acquired the nickname 'Hogzilla'. Unfortunately, the only proof of Hogzilla'a existence was a single picture, since Griffin said that he buried the oversized hog soon after shooting it. So a lot of people began to suspect that Griffin was telling a tall tale, though Griffin insisted he wasn't. Recently a National Geographic crew travelled down to Georgia to investigate. They confirm that they dug up the remains of a hog, but they're not giving any more details until the show about Hozilla airs, sometime in January. So the legend of Hogzilla may not be a hoax at all, but it's still on the top ten list because it had so many people wondering if it was a hoax.
Text copyright © 2002 Alex Boese