The Museum of Hoaxes
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Hoaxes That Fooled Journalists
Internet Explorer Users Are Dumb, 2011
AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co. released a study revealing that Internet Explorer users scored lower on IQ tests than users of other web browsers and were therefore "dumb". This result was duly reported as fact by numerous news outlets, including CNN, the BBC, NPR, CNET, and Forbes. However, not only was the study fake, but also AptiQuant wasn't a real company. The staff photos and information on its site had been copied from the site of a legitimate French firm. The hoax was the work of Tarandeep Gill, a Canadian web developer, who later said he had hoped to "create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6." [wikipedia]
The Maurice Jarre Wikipedia Hoax
When composer Maurice Jarre died on March 28, 2009, many of the journalists given the job of writing an obituary for him turned to Wikipedia for information about his life. There they found the following quotation attributed to him: "One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear." More…
The Morristown UFO Hoax
On January 5, 2009, mysterious red lights appeared in the night sky above Morris County, New Jersey. They were seen by numerous people, who reported them to the police. The lights were seen again on several nights throughout January and February. The police speculated that the lights were probably the work of a prankster. Nevertheless, the media gave extensive coverage to the theory that the lights were actually UFOs. In February the lights were featured on the History Channel series UFO Hunters. More…
The Yes Men’s Bhopal Hoax, 2004
On December 3, 2004 the BBC broadcast an interview with Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be a representative of Dow Chemical. The date was the 20th anniversary of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and the BBC had sought out a representative from Dow to speak about the tragedy since Dow had inherited responsibility for the disaster via a corporate acquisition. During the interview, Mr. Finisterra shocked the BBC's audience when he said that not only had Dow decided to accept full responsibility for the incident, but that it was going to pay $12 billion in compensation to the victims. In response to the news, Dow's stock value promptly dropped. More…
Bush Voters have lower IQs, 2004
A chart that circulated online during the first months of 2004 purported to show that American states whose populations possess higher average incomes and higher average IQs voted for Gore in the 2000 Presidential elections. Their poorer, lower-IQ counterparts voted for Bush. The implication was that smart people vote Democratic, and stupid people vote Republican. Major newspapers and magazines, including the St. Petersburg Times and the Economist, printed the chart before it was exposed as a hoax. More…
Hunting for Bambi, 2003
A news report by Las Vegas station KLAS-TV about a company selling "Bambi Hunts" sparked nationwide outrage. Bambi Hunts were supposedly games in which men with paintball guns hunted naked women in the Nevada desert. Numerous critics denounced the hunts, demanding to know how such a thing could be legal. Only after a week did it become apparent that the company wasn't really conducting such hunts. It had only claimed to do so as a way to promote a soft-porn video about a fictional Bambi Hunt. Although their stunt almost got them run out of Las Vegas, the company did sell thousands of copies of the video. More…

The Lovenstein Institute IQ Report, 2001
A report circulated via email detailing the findings of a four-month study by the Lovenstein Institute of Scranton, Pennsylvania in which it had calculated the IQ of all the US Presidents of the past 50 years. Franklin Roosevelt ranked at the top with an IQ of 147. But then President George W. Bush came in at the bottom with an IQ of only 91. These findings were repeated as fact by media outlets around the world, including The Guardian. However, the "Lovenstein Institute" wasn't a real organization. Nor had a study of presidential IQ ever been conducted. The report had originated as a joke on a humor website called More…
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Final Farewell
Gabriel Garcia MarquezDuring the summer of 1999 Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature and author of such classics as One Hundred Years of Solitude, was treated for lymphatic cancer. Following this, there were persistent rumors about his failing health. On May 29, 2000 these rumors appeared to be confirmed when a poem signed with his name appeared in the Peruvian daily La Republica. The poem, titled "La Marioneta" or "The Puppet," was said to be a farewell poem Garcia Marquez had written and sent out to his closest friends on account of his worsening condition... More…
Ron’s Angels, 1999
It's legal to sell donor eggs to infertile couples. But Ron Harris, an erotic photographer, proposed taking this process one step further. He established a website at which nubile supermodels auctioned off their eggs to the highest bidders. The concept outraged the infertility industry. News of the website was broken by the New York Times, but suspicions were raised when people noticed that no bids were being logged on the site. It turned out that the supermodel egg auction was a publicity stunt designed to attract visitors to Harris's real business, a pornography site. More…
Final Curtain, 1999
The Final Curtain Cemetery promoted itself as a different kind of cemetery. Artists would design their own tombstones before they died. The result would be a cemetery that would be part memorial, part art gallery, and part theme park. Visitors to the cemetery could dine at restaurants such as Heaven's Gate Cafe, or shop at the museum gift shop. The cemetery received widespread media coverage before being revealed to be a hoax designed by veteran prankster Joey Skaggs who explained that he wanted to draw attention to the death-care industry which he described as "a giant corporate scam, exquisitely successful at commercializing death." More…
Arm the Homeless, 1993
A press release distributed to the media in Columbus, Ohio announced the formation of a new charity for the homeless. But instead of giving food or shelter, this charity planned to provide guns and ammunition. It called itself the "Arm the Homeless Coalition." News of this charity soon spread nationwide and generated enormous controversy. But when an Ohio reporter tried to track down the director of the Coalition, his investigation led him instead to a group of university students who admitted the entire thing was a hoax, designed, they said, "to draw attention to the issues of guns and violence, homelessness and media manipulation in our society." More…
Grunge Speak, 1992
On November 15, 1992 the New York Times published an article analyzing the roots and evolution of the "grunge" movement. It reported that Grungers had developed their own lexicon of "grunge speak" which included phrases such as Cob Nobbler (a loser), Lamestain (an uncool person), and Wack Slacks (old, ripped jeans). Three months later, The Baffler magazine revealed that the Times had been the victim of a hoax. The grunge terms didn't exist. Megan Jasper of Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, whom the Times had used as its source for the glossary, had simply invented the terms as a joke. More…
The Buckwheat Imposter, 1990
Buckwheat was the wide-eyed, African-American character played by William Thomas in the 'Our Gang' comedies of the 1930s and '40s. After leaving the show, Thomas dropped from the public eye. But in 1990, the news show 20/20 claimed it had found him working as a grocery bagger. Unfortunately for 20/20, the man they interviewed was not William Thomas. He was an imposter named Bill English who had been claiming to be Buckwheat for 30 years. The real William Thomas had worked as a film lab technician before dying in 1980 at the age of 49. The week after it aired the segment, 20/20 admitted its mistake. More…
Cockroach Pills, 1981
Dr. Josef Gregor held a press conference in New York in May 1981 to announce he had developed a miraculous pill that could cure colds, acne, anemia, and menstrual cramps. And it could even make people immune to nuclear radiation! The key ingredient in the pill, he said, was a hormone extracted from cockroaches. Over 175 newspapers published articles about the discovery. However, Dr. Josef Gregor was really long-time media hoaxer Joey Skaggs. Upon revealing the hoax, Skaggs commented, "I guess no one reads Kafka anymore." [More info:]
The Death of Alan Abel, 1980
The New York Times announced the death of Alan Abel on its obituary page on January 2, 1980. The well-known media hoaxer, it said, had died of a heart attack at a ski resort in Utah. The Times provided a flattering account of Abel's career, noting that he had gained national recognition during the early 1960s on account of a faux campaign to promote decency by making animals wear clothes. There was just one problem. Abel wasn't dead. The Times learned this when Abel held a press conference the next day in which he revealed that the news of his death was a hoax engineered by himself and a team of twelve accomplices. More…
The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, 1959
G. Clifford Prout was a man with a mission, and that mission was to put clothes on all the millions of naked animals throughout the world. To realize his dream, Prout founded an organization, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (abbreviated as SINA). It was left unexplained why the society was 'for indecency' not 'against indecency'. More…
Ghost Artists, 1952
On February 5, 1952, a small ad ran on the theatrical page of the Washington Post offering the services of a company of "ghost artists": "Too busy to paint? Call on the Ghost Artists? We paint it, you sign it." The idea of ghost artists caught the interest of the media, and a report about the company went out over the wire services and appeared in newspapers nationwide. The ghost artists were said to be earning lucrative fees from executives who wanted to impress their friends. Satisfied clients included military men, government officials, doctors, businessmen, and a Wall Street broker who commissioned an entire exhibition in order to break... More…
WWI Armistice Announced Early
By November 1918 it seemed that the four-year-long conflict between the Allied and Axis powers might finally be coming to an end. Word leaked to the president of the United Press, who was in Europe at the time, that an armistice had been signed on November 7. Excitedly he cabled the news to America, where it then appeared as front page news across the country and sparked nationwide celebrations. The only problem was that the armistice hadn’t actually been signed. Apparently a German agent had planted the false news in order to demonstrate that the public in the Allied countries would welcome peace rather than a continuation of the...
The Worcester Aeroplane Hoax, 1909
Six years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight in a heavier-than-air craft, aviation technology was still fairly primitive. Planes could only fly a few miles. But in 1909, a Massachusetts inventor, Wallace Tillinghast, announced a breakthrough. He claimed to have built a plane capable of flying 300 miles, carrying three passengers, and maintaining a speed of 120 mph. But he refused to show the plane to anyone, saying he was worried about other inventors stealing his ideas. But he did reveal that in a test flight (conducted at night) he had flown from Massachusetts down to New York City, circled the Statue of Liberty,... More…
Hoaxes of Joseph Mulhattan
During the 1870s and 1880s Joseph Mulhattan was perhaps the most famous hoaxer in America. He was a traveling salesman, not a reporter, but he was notorious for repeatedly succeeding in having his farfetched tales reported as news. If an outrageous or bizarre story appeared in the news, reporters would often assume it was the work of Mulhattan. The media showered him with epithets. They called him a "professional liar," "the author of more hoaxes than any other man living," "Munchausen Mulhattan," and the "liar-laureate of the world." He was also widely known by his pseudonym, "Orange Blossom." More…
George Washington Petrified
In early 1877, an article appeared in many American newspapers alleging that the remains of General George Washington had been discovered to be petrified. The reporting was attributed to the Washington correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle. It was only a matter of time before people realized that Washington's remains had not turned to stone. Nevertheless the news continued to circulate as a true story for many months. More…
The Civil War Gold Hoax, 1864
An attempt at stockmarket manipulation. Several New York papers were tricked into printing bad news about the Civil War. In response, investors dumped stocks and bought gold, perceived as a safer investment. But the bad news had been planted by a newspaper insider who had previously invested heavily in gold, hoping to profit from the anticipated rise in its price. He was tracked down and arrested within 3 days. More…
Railways and Revolvers in Georgia, 1856
The London Times offered an example of the violence of American society. It printed a letter from an Englishman living in America who described bloody gunfights fought with "Monte Christo pistols" during a train ride through Georgia. American papers denied the story, but the Times stubbornly defended it, only relenting a year later after learning that "Monte Christo pistols" was slang for bottles of champagne. More…
The Feejee Mermaid, 1842
The exhibition at P.T. Barnum's New York museum of the body of a mermaid supposedly caught near the Feejee Islands generated enormous excitement. Huge crowds waited to see it, lured by ads showing a beautiful, bare-breasted creature. What they found inside was a small, wizened, hideous creature, that was actually the head of an ape stitched onto the body of a fish. The mermaid is remembered as one of Barnum's most infamous humbugs. More…
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.