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The hoaxing of the BBC has now been all over the news. In case you haven't heard, on Friday the BBC broadcast an interview with a man claiming to be a representative of Dow Chemical, Jude Finisterra (is the guy's last name supposed to mean 'the end of the world'?). During the interview the man said that Dow had decided to accept full responsibility for the chemical disaster that killed thousands of people in Bhopal twenty years ago, and in addition it would pay $12 billion in compensation to the victims. The BBC broadcast the interview twice, causing Dow's stock value to promptly drop. Later that same day it became clear that the man wasn't a representative of Dow, and the BBC apologized for falling for a hoax. Though it tried to duck responsibility somewhat by claiming that it was the victim of an 'elaborate deception'. Was the deception really that elaborate? According to this NY Times article, the BBC was actually the one to make first contact with the hoaxers via a website that 'appeared to be Dow Chemical's web site'. So they fell for a hoax website. That's not that elaborate a deception. The man they interviewed was reportedly (in reality) Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men (a movie about them is currently in theatres).
Categories: Business/Finance, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sat Dec 04, 2004
Comments (0)
Is Indiana Congressman John Hostettler really introducing legislation to change the name of Interstate 69 to Interstate 63, because religious groups feel that I-69 is too risque whereas I-63 is more 'moral sounding'? Of course not. But the story has spread pretty far by now. When I first saw the headline linked to on Blogdex, I assumed it was real after glancing at it quickly. I should have known better. After all, the story comes from the Hoosier Gazette, which is becoming well known as a source of news hoaxes. Check out this article at about Josh Whicker, the creator of the Hoosier Gazette. He's already scored three successful hoaxes before this one. There was the one claiming that a five-year study at Indiana University had discovered that new parents often experience a sudden loss in IQ (that fooled MSNBC). There was the one claiming that Purdue University had given a basketball scholarship to the wrong Jason Smith (to a 5'6" Jason Smith computer geek, not 6'6" Jason Smith point guard). And then there was one about a guy who won the lottery two days after his divorce was final. As for the I-69 name change thing, it's already been picked up as real news by the Sierra Times, and reportedly, according to the Courier Press (requires registration), Hostettler's congressional office has been fielding outraged calls about the issue all day from people who don't realize the story was a joke.
Categories: Journalism, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 16, 2004
Comments (14)
I've said before that I don't trust the Ananova news service, and now here's proof that they really do make some questionable claims. Craig Silverman, of Regret the Error, links to Ananova's corrections page where they apologize for the following strange errors, among others (though personally I think the corrections they've listed are only the tip of the iceberg):
  • Robotic relief - an apology. On September 11, we published a story suggesting that Indian scientists had invented a robot with the ability to improve couple's sex lives.
  • Bill Clinton - an apology. Bill Clinton has asked us to make clear that he won't be appearing in commercials for a Chinese men's clothing brand.
  • Rasta Pasta was never on the menu. A story published on August 31 stated a Wakefield headteacher had been criticised for introducing a dish called Rasta Pasta to school menus during a project on race.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 27, 2004
Comments (4)
Here's another case of the media in one country reporting another country's satire as straight news. About a week ago the Austrian paper Der Standard reported that a Canadian-American company was going to privatise and expand the Bratislava airport, which would involve the relocation of the entire village of Ivanka pri Dunaji. And where did Der Standard get this story? From the website of, a Slovakian paper. It didn't notice that the story was over six months old and dated April 1st. What happened next, of course, was that the news bounced back to Slovakia where it was also reported as true, with the Slovakian media citing Der Standard as their source. Probably gave the villagers in Ivanka pri Dunaji a good scare.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 13, 2004
Comments (0)
Looks like while I was on vacation I missed the riveting spectacle of CBS News falling flat on its face and humiliating itself by falling for an obvious hoax involving President Bush's service (or lack of it) in the National Guard. A lot of ink has already been spilled over this (especially about the difference between Microsoft Word-produced fonts and typewriter-produced fonts), so I won't repeat the whole sorry episode. But I did notice that many commentators have pointed out that this is not the first time the media has fallen for a hoax. But the only previous example of a hoax that anyone seems to mention is the Hitler Diaries. So here are a few more gems that the media has fallen for (not including hoaxes perpetrated by journalists themselves):

1856: Railways and Revolvers in Georgia. The London Times sparked a transatlantic row when it published a letter detailing a series of bloody duels that had supposedly been fought with 'Monte Christo Pistols' on a Georgia train while passengers idly went about their business ignoring the bloodshed. The Times offered the letter as proof of the barbaric nature of American society, but the New York Times angrily denied that the duels had ever occurred. The Times realized it had been duped when it learned that 'Monte Christo Pistols' was Southern slang for bottles of champagne.
1924: The Zinoviev Letter. A few days before the British general election the Daily Mail published a letter supposedly written by Grigori Zinoviev, president of Comintern, that revealed secret links between the British Communist party and the Labour party. As a result, Labour was defeated in a landslide. Years later, the letter was revealed to be a phony.
1990: Whatever Happened to Buckwheat? 20/20 aired an interview with William Thomas, the actor who played Buckwheat in the 'Our Gang' comedies of the 1930s and '40s. 20/20 claimed that Thomas now lived in Tempe, Arizona where he worked as a grocery bagger. But the man 20/20 interviewed was actually an impostor named Bill English who had been claiming to be Buckwheat for the past 30 years. The week after it aired the segment, 20/20 sheepishly admitted its mistake. In the ensuing scandal, a producer was fired and 20/20 was sued for negligence by the son of the real William Thomas (who had worked as a film technician before dying in 1980 at the age of 49).
1992: President Bush Almost Dies. CNN almost reported that President Bush (the first one) had died, after they received a phone call from a man claiming to be the president's heart specialist on board Air Force One. The caller later turned out to be mentally unstable. Anchorman Don Harrison interrupted the regularly scheduled newscast to deliver the news of Bush's death but was halted at the last second by a producer yelling 'Stop! Stop!' in the background.
1992: Grungegate. The New York Times published an article about the Grunge subculture in which it included a lexicon of 'grunge speak' that included terms such as cob nobbler, lamestain, wack slacks, and swingin' on the flippity-flop. Later it learned that its source, Megan Jasper of Seattle-based Caroline records, had simply made the terms up as a joke.
1996: Diana Tape. The Sun claimed that it had a videotape of Princess Diana frolicking in her underwear with cavalry officer James Hewitt. But the tape was a phony created by an amateur filmmaker who shot it in a suburban house in London using two Diana lookalikes. The total cost to make the film was $1300. What the filmmaker received from The Sun was said to have been in the six figures.
1997: The JFK-Marilyn Letters. ABC had prepared a $2 million three-part documentary series about the relationship between JFK and Marilyn Monroe, alleging that not only had the two had a long-time affair, but that JFK was intending to establish a trustfund for Marilyn Monroe's mother in order to guarantee the actress's silence. ABC's proof: a series of love letters penned by JFK to Marilyn. But upon examination (and just in time to scuttle the series), ABC realized that the letters were produced on a typewriter that wasn't manufactured until after Kennedy's death. Plus, the letters contained zip codes, and zip codes only came into use in 1963.
2001: Lovenstein IQ Report. The Guardian reported that according to research conducted by the prestigious Lovenstein Institute of Scranton, Pennsylvania, President Bush had the lowest IQ of any president for the past fifty years. But the Lovenstein Institute didn't exist. The Guardian had fallen for a joke originally penned by the website.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 27, 2004
Comments (0)
A couple of people have sent me links to this meteor hoax that the AP fell for. The AP reported that a meteor about the size of a small car hit near Olympia, Washington early this morning. Its source for this story was one Bradley Hammermaster, supposedly an Astronomy professor at the University of Washington, who called in a report of the meteor to Seattle's KIRO radio. The AP later had to admit that, "No one by the name of Hammermaster is known to the astronomy department, and the description given by the caller to the station of the object... was clearly bogus." However, it does appear that there really was meteor activity over Washington state, but nothing the size of a small car has been found. This hoax reminds me of a similar hoax perpetrated by the newspaperman Joseph Mulholland back in the 1890s. Mulholland claimed that a meteor had fallen in western Pennsylvania, but he also went on to claim, more dramatically, that it had set fire to much of the surrounding country.
Categories: Journalism, Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 03, 2004
Comments (2)
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)
Categories: Journalism, Military
Posted by Alex on Tue May 25, 2004
Comments (1)
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.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon May 17, 2004
Comments (0)
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
The BBC also has an interesting, short article detailing other famous cases in which newspapers have been hoaxed, the most famous instance probably being the 1983 case of the Hitler Diaries.
Categories: Journalism, Military
Posted by Alex on Sun May 16, 2004
Comments (0)
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').
Categories: Entertainment, Health/Medicine, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue May 11, 2004
Comments (1)
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.
Categories: Entertainment, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 13, 2004
Comments (1)
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.
Categories: April Fools Day, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 02, 2004
Comments (3)
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