In the olden days when shoes were a luxury and smallpox was a right of passage, men like William Randolph Hearst used their complete control over communication airwaves to tell the general populace whatever lie happened to be convenient (see marijuana is evil) or interesting (see below).
With the advent of the Internet, the situation has changed so that instead of powerful media moguls spreading bullshit, pretty much anybody can do it. After all, if the story is good enough, the mainstream media will report it, no matter how transparently retarded it is.
#7. Thirteen-Year-Old Uses His Dad's Credit Card to Buy Two Halo-Playing Hookers
A boy in Texas stole his father's identity, obtained a credit card, and took his friends on a whirlwind-shopping spree of video games, electronic gadgets and two $1,000-an-hour hookers. It might not have been enough to hook the media if it weren't for an additional to-good-to-be-true detail: he didn't hire them for a night of wild sex. He only needed someone to play some Halo with him.
"Oh, so when you said 'joystick,' you meant... OK, I understand now."
The Police finally caught the boy and several of his friends before the hookers could show them five ways to please a man with a "Gravity Hammer." Given the adorable little "we only needed a fourth player" plot-twist, we can understand why someone might want to believe the story. But there's also the ending, which would make Michael Bay and the entire Church of Scientology call bullshit. Allegedly, the hookers weren't charged because the boys convinced them they were really a group of midgets from a traveling circus seeking some non-sexual companionship.
Internet marketer and writer Lyndon Anticliff dreamed up the whole story as part of a ploy to get some quick hits to his site, which according to Wired garnered him roughly 6,000 links. The coverage reached such staggering heights that he had to put a disclaimer on the story that the whole thing was intended to be a parody and satirical, two concepts that are completely lost on news outlets like Fox News.
The story appeared on the network's late night gabfest "Red Eye" where the network's judicial analyst, Jeanine Pirro, wondered why the hookers weren't thrown in a furnace occupied by hungry lions, while the show's four remaining male-panelists wondered why the police didn't bestow the boy with a knighthood.
#6. Congress Threatens to Leave D.C. Unless New Capitol is Built
Sports teams have long threatened to leave towns and their ever-patient fans if their cities don't build them a new stadium, so why should Congress be any different? It could be a believable story under the right circumstances. Both usually work three to four days a week, getting paid a lot for doing little and demand the Earth, sky and moon for putting in so much hard work.
China's state-run newspaper, the Beijing Evening News, saw the story on the Internet and assumed it was true, rewrote a few paragraphs and printed it in their paper, all without bothering to check or confirm any of the sources mentioned in the story including then House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt.
You'd think a story like this would come from some bitter senatorial page, maybe as some kind of nerd "in joke" with a bunch of other senatorial pages, but you'd be wrong. This story came from The Onion.
When the Beijing paper found themselves with egg-fu-yung on their face, the paper's International Editor angrily declined to print a retraction in an interview with the Los Angeles Times saying, "How do you know whether or not we checked the source before we published the story? How can you prove it's not correct?" The Times then presumably opened up any other article The Onion had ever run and quietly directed the Editor's attention to it.
#5. Photographs Prove Man Flies on Lung-Powered Plane
OK, so maybe Fox News and the Chinese government aren't bastions of journalistic integrity. Maybe you'd be more impressed by a story that fooled nearly every major American newspaper with the 1930s equivalent of a shitty photoshop?
Flight had been a dream possessed by man long before the Wright Brothers built and successfully flew their own airplane in an attempt to "get the fuck out of boring-as-shit Kitty Hawk."
"Yes! Eat my shit, Kitty Hawk!"
In 1934, a pilot in Germany completed something that sounded almost too good to be true. Reporters confirmed pilot, Erich Kocher, invented a flying device powered by the lungs of the person strapped to it and even included a photograph to prove it.
According to the Museum of Hoaxes , the International News Photo wire agency picked up the news and almost every major American newspaper printed the story and the photograph on their front page. The photo and the story turned out to be part of an elaborate hoax by a German magazine for their April Fools' Day issue.
The wire agency and the news outlets that fell for the joke failed to spot some glaring clues from the original story. The original spelling of Kocher's name was "Koycher," a German word meaning to wheeze or gasp. Sources also claimed the device turned the pilot's carbon dioxide into a fuel that powered a small motor, in laughable defiance of even Depression-era laws of physics. Oh, and Kocher appears to have an elongated snow shoe coming out of his ass.
#4. Study Finds That President George W. Bush has Lowest IQ Among Presidents of Last 50 Years
It was hard for most mainstream media outlets not to jump on the "Beat up Bush" bandwagon, as over the years he demonstrated what seemed to be an extremely tenuous grasp of the economy, geopolitics, national security, emergency preparedness and fundamental rules of human communication.
So when an email circular claimed that ol' Dubya had the lowest IQ in presidential history, the typing fingers of every journalist not currently employed by Fox began twitching with anticipation.
Poor bastard. The Internet is just full of pictures of him looking retarded.
The story claimed the Lovenstein Institute of Scranton conducted a four-month study of President Bush's IQ levels and concluded he ranked at a solid 91 due to his lack of grasp over the English language, limited use of vocabulary and lack of scholarly achievements, unless you count being able to say the alphabet backwards after doing five straight keg stands.
Seriously. Photo research for this entry was a joke.
Proving that The Guardian newspaper and Doonesbury cartoonist, Gary Trudeau treat email forwards with the same level of skepticism as your mom, both picked up the story and ran with it. Had they bothered to check the source of the email, they would have traced it back to the reputable news source linkydinky.com, and the original press release, which claimed that Dr. Lovenstein "lives in a mobile home in Scranton, Pennsylvania running an Internet business called www.collegedegreesforsale.com.