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Status: Hoax reported as news
Peter Frost has an article in the current issue of Evolution and Human Behavior in which he argues that the trait for blonde hair evolved 10,000 years ago in northern Europe because men found blonde women to be attractive--and because there were more women than men, the women had to compete for the men. (I'm simplifying his argument a lot.) But I'm not bringing this up to make a point about Frost's article. Instead, I'm bringing it up because the London Times discusses his article and concludes with this observation:

Film star blondes such as Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Sharon Stone and Scarlett Johansson are held up as ideals of feminine allure. However, the future of the blonde is uncertain. A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.

They're referring, of course, to the story of the WHO Blonde Report, which was revealed to be a hoax back in 2002. The gene for blonde hair is not actually disappearing, nor did the WHO ever sponsor such a study. Did the Times not realize it was a hoax, or did the reporter slip this in as a joke?
Categories: Journalism, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 28, 2006
Comments (32)
Status: Undetermined
Ananova, All Headline News, the Mumbai Mirror, and a couple of other highly reputable news sources are reporting a story about a Hungarian woman who fell through the ice while ice skating, and stopped herself from drowning by gripping the edge of the ice with her teeth:

The 29-year-old woman was practicing on Lake Velence when the ice cracked and she fell in. With frostbite setting in and her hands unable to move, the only thing left was to grip the edge with her teeth. After being rescued doctors say her quick thinking saved her life.

This boggles my mind. If it was so cold that she couldn't use her arms, how could she still bite down on the edge of the ice? That would have to be very painful. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. But I suppose it could be true, or the story could have been exaggerated and distorted as it made its way its way through the media. I don't know what to believe. The story apparently originally came from the Bilkk newspaper, which I can't find any record of online.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 08, 2006
Comments (19)
Status: Hoax
Ananova reports that an elephant is on the loose in St. Petersburg:

The animal, which was being transported through Russia by an unnamed Finnish company, escaped from its container by smashing through its walls. There have been a number of sightings around the city but no one has tried to catch the elephant yet.

But it appears that Ananova has done its usual thorough job of fact-checking, because the Moscow Times reports that the elephant was probably a hoax:

St. Petersburg police were looking for a mystery phone caller on Thursday after spending much of the night looking for an elephant. A man called the emergency services early Thursday on a cell phone and said an elephant he was transporting for a Finn had vanished, RIA-Novosti reported... Police turned up to investigate, but they could find no sign of the man or trailer, let alone the elephant, an animal that can grow up to 4 meters high and weigh up to 10 tons... Interfax reported that the man had called and said he had caught the elephant himself near 16 Ulitsa Obreli, the street in the city named after a famous Russian biologist. One witness was even reported as saying that he had seen an elephant heading down a street with a man running after it. Police eventually came to the conclusion that the call was a hoax.

Reminds me of the Central Park Zoo Escape of 1874.
Categories: Animals, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 19, 2005
Comments (5)
Status: Hoax
image A reporter for Inside Bay Area (I don't know his name... it's not given with the article) recently recounted how his granddaughter told him that the bear on the California flag was originally supposed to be a pear. Back in 1846, Capt. Jedediah Bartlett, leader of a band of rebels fighting against the Mexican authorities in California, supposedly drew up a flag for the future state. He thought a pear, as a symbol of the region's agriculture, would be a fitting symbol. But his instructions were misread and the flagmaker inserted a bear on the flag instead of a pear. The error was never rectified.

The Inside Bay Area reporter was a little suspicious when he heard this story, but he did some fact-checking, discovered the story was true, and shared this with his readers. What he should also have told his readers was that his fact-checking consisted simply of finding the story listed as true on Snopes and therefore assuming it had to be true. Two weeks later he was forced to admit his error. The story is not true. The California bear was not originally a pear.

In his mea culpa the reporter offered this excuse: "I decided to recount it when I checked a Web site that purports to investigate urban myths to determine their validity. The Web site pronounced it 'True.' So I passed it along. Bad idea."

In other words, he seems to be blaming his error on Snopes. What the guy doesn't seem to realize is that the Pear/Bear story is one of a handful of deliberately false stories that Snopes has on its site (it calls them Lost Legends), placed there precisely to trip up people who are too lazy to do thorough fact-checking. Snopes explains this if you click on the "More information about this page" link at the bottom of the Pear/Bear story (something the reporter evidently still has not gotten around to doing). Journalists should be proud to call this guy one of their own.
Categories: History, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 13, 2005
Comments (15)
Status: Fake; an example of the Weekly World News Effect.
I've received a couple of emails about this article on Yahoo! News detailing a cosmic "chaos cloud" that will obliterate the earth in 2014:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Scared-stiff astronomers have detected a mysterious mass they've dubbed a "chaos cloud" that dissolves everything in its path, including comets, asteroids, planets and entire stars -- and it's headed directly toward Earth! Discovered April 6 by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the swirling, 10 million-mile- wide cosmic dust cloud has been likened to an "acid nebula" and is hurtling toward us at close to the speed of light -- making its estimated time of arrival 9:15 a.m. EDT on June 1, 2014.

If it's not immediately obvious by its subject matter that the story is a joke, then it's source (the Weekly World News) should be a giveaway. It joins the time-traveling insider trader and the bogus japanese-to-english phrase book as examples of WWN stories mistaken as news, thanks to Yahoo!'s policy of not listing them as satire in their news feed.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 20, 2005
Comments (18)
Whenever I see the opinion of a 'man on the street' quoted in a newspaper, I always wonder if the quote is for real since it would be so easy for a reporter to simply make something up without interviewing anyone. Now here's a case, at the Reidsville Review, where that actually happened. The reporters invented quotations, but, strangely enough, attributed the quotations to real people. They should have just gone ahead and put the phony quotes in the mouths of phony people:

The newspaper's "Two Cents Worth" feature includes a small picture of a person, along with their name and response to a question. But on several days in May the item apparently featured people who do not live in Reidsville and did not speak the words attributed to them... One of the people quoted in "Two Cents Worth" was Emma Burgin, a Greensboro resident and senior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her name and photo appeared with a quote naming the Dave Matthews Band as her favorite musical group. Burgin said she was shocked to learn recently of her appearance in the paper, given that she has never visited Reidsville or been interviewed by a reporter from the paper. "I honestly never heard of the Reidsville paper before," Burgin said Wednesday during a telephone interview from Washington.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 31, 2005
Comments (15)
The latest nugget of fake news from the world of journalism concerns a seal hunt that never took place. A Boston Globe writer, Barbara Stewart, described the slaughter of baby seals off the coast of Newfoundland in great detail. What she didn't know was that the hunt had been delayed, and so hadn't begun yet. Oops.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 18, 2005
Comments (12)
As a representative of Westchester Cable Services, Mark Sabia has been allowed into press boxes at sports games for years. The one problem is that Westchester Cable Services doesn't exist. The teams finally figured out he didn't belong there (but it was a good scam while it lasted):

Sabia, who lives in Ossining, was arrested Monday when he showed up to cover Opening Day at Shea and was charged with scamming season passes for almost all of New York's professional teams, as well as for several World Series and League Championship Series dating to 1998. He was charged with five felony counts of falsifying business records and 16 misdemeanor counts ranging from petit larceny to criminal impersonation.
Categories: Journalism, Sports
Posted by Alex on Sun Apr 17, 2005
Comments (5)
So this guy Jeff Gannon shows up at the White House and wants press credentials so that he can attend the President's press conference. But his real name isn't Jeff Gannon, and he isn't really a reporter, although he's been playing one on the internet for a few months. His experience as a journalist seems to consist of posting slightly reworded Republican press releases on the website of Talon News, which is a conservative news outlet that hardly anyone has heard of (and which is also a barely disguised front organization for Republican activists). Oh, and this Gannon character also claims to be a born-again, bible-thumping, red-necked conservative, but he also seems to be connected to the gay porn industry. So what does the White House do when this guy approaches them? Well, they immediately give him press credentials, of course, and allow him to attend the president's Jan. 26 press conference, during which the president actually calls on him and Gannon proceeds to ask a strange, kiss-ass question about how it's possible for republicans to work with democrats since democrats are so 'divorced from reality'. I can only see one possibility--that Gannon was a republican shill. A fake reporter planted in the audience in order to ask softball questions. Very strange. But Gannon himself sounds like such an unusual and contradictory character that you have to wonder if he was simply the pawn in some kind of Manchurian Candidate type of situation... a struggling gay porn actor brainwashed and transformed into an ultra-conservative republican white house reporter.
Categories: Journalism, Politics
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 11, 2005
Comments (39)
image Here's a video going around showing what has to be, quite easily, the worst weather broadcast ever. It's so bad you begin to suspect that it was staged. But I don't think so. It seems to be a student-run news show broadcast by Ohio University Public Television. Not to be harsh, but this guy should really think about pursuing a different career. Reporting the weather doesn't seem to be his thing.
Update: Apparently there's a few more weird weathermen videos going around (weird weathermen must be the internet meme of the moment). One shows a weatherman in North Carolina who thinks he's way funnier than he actually is. And another one shows a Fox news weatherman who breaks out in an inexplicable bout of swearing on-air while the camera is rolling (not safe for work because of language).
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 26, 2005
Comments (19)
I received an email containing this list of THE YEAR'S BEST [ACTUAL] HEADLINES OF 2004! But, of course, these aren't really headlines from 2004. This list has been going around for at least four years. Check out this competition from 2000 in which people created images to match some of these headlines. Plus, I doubt any of these were ever actual headlines either.
  • Crack Found on Governor's Daughter.
  • Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says.
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers.
  • Iraqi Head Seeks Arms!
  • Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
  • Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.
  • Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over.
  • Miners Refuse to Work after Death.
  • War Dims Hope for Peace.
  • If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile.
  • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges.
  • Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge.
  • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group.
  • Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft.
  • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half.
  • Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors.
  • Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead.
  • Police Chief says "when we find prostitutes on our streets, we stay on top of them".
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 05, 2005
Comments (7)
Alan Caruba, Founder of an organization called The National Anxiety Center, has published a list of the 'Most Dubious News Stories of the Year'. Some of the entries include:
  • The University of Szeged in Hungary announcing that mobile phones may damage men's sperm
  • Reuters reporting that tens of millions of people in America may drown when a volcano in Africa cataclysmically collapses into the sea (though scientists only think this will happen 'sometime in the next few thousand years')
  • The New York Times reporting that the collapse of the Earth's magnetic field has begun in earnest (again, look for the effects of this to become evident in a couple of thousand years)
However, although Caruba has a point about the dubious quality of some of this reporting, glancing through the rest of his site I get the feeling that he's pushing a conservative agenda. So that might be worth taking into consideration. He doesn't seem to be that concerned about 'Dubious News Stories' emanating from Republicans.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 08, 2004
Comments (19)
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