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Lots of media outlets have been reporting that Rumsfeld has decided to ban camera phones in Iraq, in the wake of the photos of prisoner abuse coming out of Abu Ghraib. For instance, the story is on Yahoo! news, the Washington Times, and The Sydney Morning Herald. The Register, at least, points out that there are doubts about the story, while also noting that it would be almost impossible to actually enforce such a ban. But what's the source for this news. The Sydney Morning Herald refers to some British newspaper called The Business. But what's that? Is there such a paper? The story actually seems to come from The Daily Farce, an online satirical magazine who printed the story (as a joke) about two weeks ago. Apparently yet another example of satirical articles being treated as real news. (via The Prison Blog)
Following up on the recent hoaxing of the Daily Mirror, the Guardian offers quick summaries of five other hoaxes that fooled the British media: the Diana tape affair, the Hitler Diaries, the British Leyland 'slush fund,' Martin Boormann alive, and the Zinoviev Letter.
The photos of British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners published by the Daily Mirror turn out to have been staged, as was speculated since the photos first saw the light of day. The board of the Daily Mirror has apologized for printing them and fired its editor, Piers Morgan. Tip-offs that the photos were fake included:
- One soldier was carrying a type of rifle not issued to soldiers in Iraq
- The soldiers were wearing the wrong type of hat
- One of the vehicles shown in a photo was a type not deployed in Iraq
- There was no sweat or injuries on the prisoner who had supposedly been tortured for eight hours
- The people in the pictures looked like they were standing still and posing
What would you be willing to do for a brief shot at fame? Would you embarrass yourself on national TV? Of course, who wouldn't nowadays. But would you lock yourself in a lab and allow yourself to be exposed to all manner of infectious diseases? That sounds a bit dodgy, but this was the premise of the new reality TV show, Quarantine, recently advertised in the Daily Mirror. Remarkably, hundreds of people applied to be on it, and the applications are still rolling in. Thankfully the whole thing was a hoax, an experiment "to discover just how far people will go in their pursuit of fame." (Thanks, 'Ed the doc').
On the Fighting Talk weblog journalism student Patrick Crewdson gives an example of how hoaxes can make the leap from being fiction into becoming fact. He once edited a journal called Critic that published a joke article about "New Zealand's least-known musician": rapper MC Emu. Of course, MC Emu was fictitious, but now references to this rapper have begun to appear in serious histories of New Zealand music... references that seem to credit MC Emu with being a real character.
Every year on April 1 reporters test our wits by mixing in a few joke stories with the real ones. But then there are also the stories that are real, but sound like jokes. These stories challenge us to keep our skepticism under control. This year, the biggest example of that was Google's Gmail announcement that had many people swearing it must be a joke. Then we also had an article released by the British National Archives describing a bizarre WWII plan to place chickens inside of nuclear bombs (to keep the bombs warm). Apparently true. Finally, there's this story about Canadian plans to annex a group of Caribbean islands, thereby transforming Canada into an expansionist, imperialist power. This reminded me of the Canadian World Domination site, which is now unfortunately defunct.
Christopher Frizzelle of The Stranger managed to get a real scoop. He convinced both Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass to sit down and talk with him simultaneously, so that they could compare notes on their careers as rogue journalists. Unfortunately, this dream interview never occurred. The Stranger later published a tongue-in-cheek retraction. And Stephen Glass himself denied that the interview took place. Still, Karl Freske (whom I have to thank for providing me with a heads-up about the story) has an interesting theory. He speculates that "it's just possible that the interview is real and that the 'hoax declaration' is the hoax. Less likely, but well within the Stranger's sense of humor."
In December 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama. NBC News managed to obtain a live interview with an American businessman staying in Panama City, Roger Sizemore, who said he was witnessing the invasion as it happened. But ever since then questions have persisted about who Sizemore really was. After the interview 'Roger Sizemore' disappeared without a trace, never to be found again. Then a man named Brian Seifert came forward claiming that he was the man on the phone pretending to be Sizemore, and that he hadn't been in Panama City. He had phoned from a basement in a suburb of Indianapolis. Seifert says NBC put him up to it. NBC says they were the ones who were hoaxed... if there was indeed a hoax at all. Voice analysis shows that the voices of Sizemore and Seifert do match, which lends credence to Seifert's story. But Seifert is a strange character. In 2002 he was indicted by the FBI on suspicion of filing a false terrorist complaint. So he isn't the most upright character. But on the other hand, everything he's said about the 1989 phone hoax has checked out, so far. If true, it's surprising that this hoax hasn't received more coverage.
The Bush administration is getting some flack for a video it has distributed to news stations showing journalists commenting on the public reaction to the newly passed Medicare law. The problem is that those aren't real journalists. They're actors paid to read from a script. It's a subtle, ambiguous form of deception, since the White House can always say that they really are reporters. After all, they're standing there, in front of a camera, reporting. Doesn't that make them a real reporter? In a sense, yes. But really, no. They're White House press agents. There's still a difference between a press agent and a reporter.
Another journalist is in trouble for possible plagiarism and creating hoax stories. This time it's Jack Kelley of USA Today.
A new book by Peter Lamont chronicles the history of the Indian rope trick. According to him the trick is a hoax, not just in the sense that it's an illusion. Rather, in the sense that the trick never existed. It was never performed. In fact, it began its life in 1890 as the fictional creation of a Chicago reporter. The book is reviewed by The Guardian.
Bob Pagani (aka the cranky media guy) gave me a heads up about a recent Canadian media hoax. It was the launch of Stu, a new 'lad' magazine in the style of Maxim. Stu was the magazine 'for the adequate man.' Articles included advice on how to score with hot-girl's less-than-hot friends, as well as how to find great free merchandise by dumpster diving. The new magazine managed to get quite a bit of press coverage, even though, as it turned out, there was no Stu magazine. Only a press kit.