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Last week two Russian submersibles descended to the seabed beneath the North Pole and planted a flag, as a symbolic gesture of staking a claim to much of the Arctic Sea. When Reuters ran the story it seemed to have scooped all of its rivals by obtaining an actual photo of the Russian submarines beneath the North Pole. It ran a picture with the caption: "Russian miniature submarines are seen under water in the Arctic Ocean in this image taken from a television broadcast yesterday." The image was subsequently reproduced by many newspapers around the world.

But a 13-year-old Finnish schoolboy who saw the picture thought there was something strange about it. He had seen it before. And then he remembered where. It was a scene from James Cameron's Titanic. He contacted his local newspaper to share his realization.

Turns out that it was a film still from the movie. Reuters had simply lifted some images that appeared on Russian State TV, and the Russians were, in turn, using stock footage of submersibles searching for the Titanic (footage that Cameron evidently also used in his movie). Most news sources now seem to have pulled the image, but is still running the story with the incorrectly captioned Titanic footage. In case they yank it soon, see the screenshot below.

Categories: Journalism, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Aug 11, 2007
Comments (5)
image China's food industry, already reeling from reports of toxins in pet food originating in China, took another blow when Beijing TV recently reported that snack vendors in eastern Beijing were selling "steamed dumplings stuffed with cardboard soaked in caustic soda and seasoned with pork flavoring." Yuck! In this case, however, the accusation appears to have been unwarranted. CNN reports that:
Beijing authorities said investigations had found that an employee surnamed Zi had fabricated the report to garner "higher audience ratings", the China Daily said on Thursday. "Zi had provided all the cardboard and asked the vendor to soak it. It's all cheating," the paper quoted a government notice as saying.
So this appears to belong to the genre of the "gross things found in food" hoax. Assuming, that is, that the Beijing authorities are telling the truth, and that the cardboard buns were actually the invention of a rogue reporter. I wouldn't put it past the Beijing authorities to cry hoax to cover up a real problem.

Also, it's worth noting that even if Beijing vendors aren't supplementing their buns with cardboard, reports of Chinese manufacturers using human hair to make soy sauce continue to appear to be true. So I wouldn't put much past the Chinese food industry. (Thanks Cranky and Joe)
Categories: Food, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 20, 2007
Comments (3)
The Press Club of Dallas has been a much-respected institution for years, offering the annual Katie awards to journalists for high quality work. Recently, though, the organisation’s reputation has been dealt a crippling blow, with the news that their recent president, Elizabeth Albanese, has been falsifying the award results for at least the past two years.

Albanese became involved with the Katies in 2003, the year she first won prizes, and has been reportedly tampering with the results every year since.

For the 2003 awards, unlike following years, a list of judges for the awards was provided. However, it appears that Albanese and her husband had access to each judge’s nominations for weeks before the ceremony, which certainly gave them the opportunity to alter them. Albanese won two awards.

In 2004, Albanese was acting as co-chair for the awards. Tom Stewart, the new president of the Press Club, has told reporters that the list of judges for that year cannot be found.

The judges for the 2005 and 2006 awards have been equally elusive. For the 2006 results, even the entries are missing. Volunteers packed them, and loaded them into Albanese’s car. After that, what happened to them is a mystery. Albanese claims that her husband’s company shipped the forms, but there are no records of this happening, and no-one but Albanese, and possibly her husband, know where they went. Tom Stewart is quoted as saying ”I wish to hell I knew. Greatest mystery to me. For all I know they’re in the damn Trinity River.”
Albanese won four awards that year - the most given to anyone.

Albanese was a social woman, slipping stories of her fascinating life into stories she told her friends.
These included:
*that she had a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas
*being born in Ireland, then moving to New York as a child
*being diagnosed with bone cancer, forcing the family to move to Houston so she could get treatment
*that her mother was a fashion model in New York
*that her father had been assistant manager at Plaza Hotel, and the family lived there
*that she had been a University of Texas cheerleader
*that she had married to Greek basketball player who had died in a car accident
*that she had worked for CNN during the first gulf war
*that she had a Harvard Law degree

What is known of her, much of which contradicts these tales, is this. Lisa Jeanne Albanese was born in White Plains, New York. When her working class family moved to a refinery town near Houston, her father worked in a car dealership. The only high school where she grew up has no record of her graduating, she never graduated college, and she did not even attend Harvard Law School. The family never lived in the Plaza. Albanese has a record of mental illness and delusional behaviour, and also a criminal record. In 1994, she was arrested for writing a bad check for a second-hand car. When the charge was entered into the system, it was discovered she was wanted in Texas for theft of two aeroplane tickets.

In February of 2007, Durhl Caussey - Albanese’s own choice for head of the club’s finance committee - was sent to pick up the financial records from Mac Duvall, their former bookkeeper. This proved to be a big mistake for Albanese. Duvall had proof of over $10,000 racked up on the club’s credit card. Between February and December of 2006, Albanese had been treating the card as if it were her own, blowing hundreds of dollars at a time on clothes, flights and hotel rooms. Duvall also showed Caussey records of the hundreds of emails he had sent Albanese regarding the club’s finances - emails that had never been shown to the rest of the board. Little wonder, with that sort of evidence, that Albanese had spoken to the board about firing Duvall. Caussey phoned Albanese for an explanation, whereupon she claimed it had been an honest mistake, and that she had paid back all the money. The records, however, showed that she still owed the club $3,000.

March 13th, 2007, became a showdown between Albanese and her doubters. At the meeting on this date, Durhl Caussey handed out copies of her credit card transactions to all the board members. Reactions were divided, with her supporters becoming angry at the ambush.
This was the point where Rand LaVonn, president of the Press Club Foundation stepped in. He made one request - “Please identify the judges for the 2006 Katie Awards and provide proof.”
Albanese claimed to not remember who the judges were, but promised to hand over a list of shipping labels to which the entries had been sent. Following the meeting, she told Meredith Dickenson - who considered her a friend - that she had destroyed the list, and was not going to provide any information. She made good on that statement. When Dickenson phoned her to ask about the judges, Albanese came up with strings of excuses - her husband had the labels and was out of town; she couldn’t call him as they didn’t talk when he was on business; she’d replaced her laptop without transferring the files…

Eventually, Albanese did provide a list of judges for the 2006 awards. However, the press club do not believe that the list is real. Some of the phone numbers didn’t work, one was answered by a hospital in Tennessee, and no-one has ever come forward to say they had been involved in the judging.

The club have no proof that any judging took place from 2004 until 2006 and, if that is the case, nearly 600 awards were handed out at Albanese’s whims. Several of her staunch defenders were winners in that timeframe.

Sadly, it looks like the Press Club of Dallas may have to bring to a close the annual award ceremony. Doing so will lose the monetary support the club used to rent its office space and to pay for journalistic scholarships. Some are still hoping that the awards may be revived but, for 2007, their future seems in doubt.

(Thanks to Kathleen for the story, and Madmouse for help with the post.)
Categories: Con Artists, Identity/Imposters, Journalism, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Flora on Mon Jun 25, 2007
Comments (19) has posted an article discussing the interesting law case surrounding Michael Crook. Inspired by the craigslist sex hoax by Jason Fortuny, Michael Crook started up a website to expose ‘perverts’ on the Craigslist site. He’d copied Fortuny’s prank, then posted his results on his webpage.
When 10 Zen Monkeys posted a screen shot of Crook taken from a Fox news report on his previous ‘Forsake our Troops’ hoax, Crook responded with an email falsely claiming that he owned the copyright for his own image.
Crook hadn’t just issued a copyright notice to 10 Zen Monkeys; he’d sent them to other web sites, again pretending to own the copyright on Fox News’ image, to trick the sites into taking his picture down. (There were even cases where he served DMCA notices to websites that published Fair Use quotes from his blog.)
Whilst many sites did remove the image and quotes in question, other web users took advantage of the fact that: ”...deep within the DMCA law is a counter-provision — 512(f), which states that misrepresenting yourself as a copyright owner has consequences.”

Mr Crook has now been effectively sued and is prevented from issuing any notices of copyright infringement, as well as being required to apologise to the Internet community as a whole. You can see his apology at the bottom of the article here.

(Thanks, Destiny Land.)
Categories: Journalism, Law/Police/Crime, Pranks
Posted by Flora on Thu Mar 22, 2007
Comments (4)
English pianist Joyce Hatto had risen to some prominence over the year preceding her death. Whilst she never played in public, recordings of her performances of works by artists such as Liszt, Schubert, Rachmaninov and Dukas, produced by her husband from a private studio, had her hailed as an unknown genius.

However, an iTunes programme that compares recordings with an online database has thrown her abilities into doubt.

A critic for the classical music magazine Gramophone was surprised to find that, when he loaded into his computer a recording of the pianist playing Liszt, the programme identified it as the work of the pianist Laszlo Simon on BIS Records. The critic tried again, this time using a disc of a Hatto recital of Rachmaninov. Once more, his computer listed it as the work of another pianist, Yemif Bronfman.

The critic was aware of certain rumours doubting Hatto's performances which had been floating around the internet, so he sent the recordings to audio expert Andrew Rose, who confirmed that the soundwaves of the Hatto recitals were identical to the ones of the other pianists.

Gramophone reports how Rose produced a section on his website that allows listeners to compare the pattern of soundwaves of Hatto's recordings with other pianists. When Rose went on to compare the Rachmaninov recital with the Bronfman recording, they also matched.
(Thanks, Sophie.)

UPDATE (28/2/07): Gramophone magazine reports that Hatto's husband has admitted to the scam.
(Thanks, Floormaster Squeeze.)
Categories: Art, Con Artists, Journalism, Technology
Posted by Flora on Tue Feb 20, 2007
Comments (10)
Chicken Born With Duck Feet
A chicken in Columbia has surprised everyone by being born with webbed feet and legs like a duck. Vetinary experts say that the chicken is not a result of cross-species breeding, and is just a genetic mishap.
(Thanks, Adam.)

Divine Or Delusional? has a gallery of images showing items on which religious icons have allegedly been found. We've covered a few of them here, but some of the images were new to me. I found I could generally make out the figure or face or whatever was being claimed to be there, if I squinted or tilted my head, however some of them were really beyond my ability to make out, even though I was trying to. Personally, I accredit these phenomena to pareidolia.

Vatican Newspaper Denounces Fake Penitent
The Vatican Newspaper has attacked a reporter who, in the course of writing an article for a magazine, made false confessions to 24 different priests. The article the reporter was writing was researching whether priests followed the strict teachings of the church, and how they handled difficult situations in which to give advice.

Museum of Hoaxes is Site of the Week has this week chosen the Museum of Hoaxes as its Site of the Week.
(Thanks, Hulitoons.)
Categories: Advertising, Animals, Journalism, Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Flora on Sun Feb 11, 2007
Comments (15)
Flora and I have decided on a more efficient way to post links that really don't need (or don't deserve) an entire post of their own. We'll just dump them together in a "quick links" post whenever we accumulate a bunch of them. Should mean more stuff gets posted. Here's the first such set of links:

image Square Watermelon
Soon to be on sale in Britain. Really. "Boxes are placed around the growing fuit which naturally swells to fill the shape." Buy two and get a bonsai kitten free! (Thanks, Lou)

Reuters admits altering Beirut photo
Bloggers spot repeating symmetrical patterns in Beirut smoke. Cry photoshop.

Amazon Milk Reviews
Amazon now selling groceries. I suspect some of these user reviews for "Tuscan Whole Milk" might not be completely serious. (via Metafilter)

Tom Cruise Can't Throw a Baseball
YouTube video offers slow-motion analysis of the scene in War of the Worlds where Tom Cruise throws a baseball. Or rather, pretends to throw a baseball.

The Ring Prank
Annoying online prank inspired by "The Ring." Enter your friends phone number and email address in the online form. Your friend will receive an email with a link to "The Ring" video. Once they watch the video, they'll then receive a phone call with a computer-generated voice telling them "You will die in seven days." The best way to get revenge on someone who does this to you is to fake your death after seven days. They'll feel guilty then.

Popularity Dialer
Mobile phone application allows you to pre-plan excuses to escape from unpleasant meetings. "Via a web interface, you can choose to have your phone called at a particular time (or several times). At the elected time, your phone will be dialed and you will hear a prerecorded message that's one half of a conversation. Thus, you will be prompted to have a fake conversation and will easily fool those around you." Reminds me of Escape-a-date. (via Boing Boing)
Categories: Food, Journalism, Photos/Videos, Pranks, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 07, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: News
Microsoft has accused a Norwegian journalist of fabricating, out of thin air, an interview with Bill Gates. Bjoern Benkow, the journalist in question, claimed that he interviewed Gates while onboard a commercial flight. Gates apparently didn't share any interesting secrets with the guy, only that "rival search engine giant Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) has "been smart," that he never carries more than a "dime" in his pocket and that he occasionally places $1 bets with his wife, Melinda."

Still, Microsoft insists the whole thing is bogus. Which makes one wonder how the journalist thought he could get away with this. Maybe he figured that Bill Gates would never read a Norwegian newspaper. Or wouldn't care enough to deny the interview, even if he did read it. Kind of like Clifford Irving figured that Howard Hughes would never emerge from self-imposed exile to deny that Irving had interviewed him.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 04, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Hoax
Here's an amusing article that deserves mention on Regret the Error (the weblog about newspaper corrections), if it isn't already there.
Tabloid Aftonbladet has been forced to withdraw an article about naked Swedish skydivers, after it turned out that the paper had been the victim of a hoax. The article, headed "It's wonderful - but cold", described how Stockholm Skydiving Club had celebrated spring by jumping from a height of 4,000 metres in their birthday suits. The paper quoted Johan Persson, a supposed member of the club, who described the naked jump over the Gärdet area of Stockholm as an annual tradition.
"The scrotum really flaps about when you're freefalling," he'd told the paper, adding, "I've become a dad recently so it can't do any harm."
But appealing though the story was, it turned out that Aftonbladet's journalist had been taken in by a hoaxter.

The article also mentions a picture, but unfortunately doesn't reproduce it. I'm curious to see that picture.
Categories: Journalism, Sports
Posted by Alex on Fri May 12, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: advertising disguised as news
image In Hippo Eats Dwarf I discuss Video News Releases (VNRs) and how their use means that a lot of the news we see on TV is either advertising or propaganda in disguise. (VNRs are video segments created by corporations or the government, that are then aired on TV news, often without their true source ever being revealed). RAW STORY reports that "over a ten month span, 77 television stations from all across the nation aired video news releases without informing their viewers even once that the reports were actually sponsored content."

The article cites a VNR created by GM as a particularly egregious example of fake news. GM created a VNR that discussed how the internet has changed how people shop for cars, in which the claim was made that GM "introduced the first manufacturer web site in 1996." That's totally wrong, states the Center for Media and Democracy. GM did no such thing. Nevertheless, the complete unchanged VNR was aired on TV stations, without any indication being given to viewers that what they were seeing was a piece of corporate pr. On the prwatch website you can compare the original GM VNR with the almost identical version of it that aired on KSLA TV (in Shreveport, Louisiana).
Categories: Advertising, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 06, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Journalistic errors
CNet has an article about April Fool's Day hoaxes on the internet. It has some interesting info in it, but surprisingly it makes two rather large errors. First of all, it describes the Microsoft iLoo (an internet-enabled portable toilet) from 2003 as an April Fool's Day hoax. Microsoft announced the iLoo on April 30, making it a real stretch to describe it as an April Fool's Day hoax. But more importantly, although Microsoft did initially say the iLoo was a hoax, it later changed its mind and admitted that it was a real project. And that was the final word from them about it.

The article also describes a story that ran in the BBC last year about Cold war bombs being warmed by chickens as a hoax. I believe that's wrong. The story was odd, but true. Although when it ran a lot of people suspected it to be a joke. Wikipedia correctly lists the story as genuine but widely interpreted as an April Fools joke.
Categories: April Fools Day, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 01, 2006
Comments (0)
Status: Hoax
15-year old Tom Vandetta found a neat trick described on the internet: how to upload a fake press release to a free wire service, and get Google News to pick it up and disseminate it, thereby making it look like real news. Of course, he couldn't resist trying this trick out, so he decided to write a release from Google itself announcing that they were hiring him:

(I-Newswire) - 15 year old student, Tom Vendetta has been hired by search engine giant Google Inc. The student will receive a lowered salary, which will be placed into a bank account for future education, said Google CEO Larry Page. When asked what role Vendetta will play at the Tech Giant's offices, Page said he wouldnt have a role at the Main Offices. Instead he would work from his home in the New Jersey suburbs. Vendetta will be incharge of working with recent security flaw's in Google's beta e-mail service, "Gmail". Google said they first found out about him when they discovered the student's blog, at The media giant said they looked forward to working with Vendetta's expertise in JavaScript and AJAX.

Soon word of Google's hiring of a 15-year-old kid was posted on, and the attention of the internet (or at least a small part of it) turned on Tom Vandetta. As the hoax spread, Tom wrote in his blog: "My gmail account now has 130 unread email messages, as opposed to the 5 i normally get daily. My myspace has tons of friends requests, as opposed to the 3 i get monthly. This is all going out of control and I am regretting every bit of it."

Fake press releases have long been a favorite tool of hoaxers. One of the first big hoaxes on the internet, back in 1994, was the Microsoft Buys the Catholic Church press release that circulated via email. And plenty of people have, like Tom Vendetta, used the free wire services to upload fake releases. (For instance, there was that press release about Tom Cruise lecturing on the modern science of mental health that I posted about a few months ago.) All of which underlines the importance of Reality Rule 6.1 (from Hippo Eats Dwarf): Just because you read it on the internet doesn't mean it's true.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 14, 2006
Comments (18)
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