7 Clearly Fake News Stories That Fooled The Mainstream Media
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John Kerry Embraces His Metrosexuality
Presidential candidates have countless issues they must follow closely during election season. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Democrat candidate John Kerry seemed to be most concerned about issues concerning his image. Specifically, he wanted to make sure America knew that on the issue of his manliness, he came down squarely on the "I'm not gay!" side of the aisle. He spent time on camera hunting, fishing, mountain biking and even windsurfing to prove it. If the entire country hadn't fallen asleep halfway through the DNC, we probably would have all seen footage of Kerry buying his teenage son a prostitute.
The Bush campaign used this to their advantage with the famous "Windsurfing" campaign ad. Fox News decided that hanging a man with his own words was too subtle, and opted to run a story with a "Yes huh, John Kerry is totally gay!" message.
"Forget the dog-rape story, we're gonna run with this metrosexual thing."
The story included quotes from the Democratic loser bragging about his post-debate manicure and how having nice nails would help him win the women vote. He also compared himself to his opponent as the "metrosexual" vs. the "cowboy."
The story actually started as one of those interoffice mailings that employees share with each other for a goof. Then it appeared on a reporter's Trail Tales blog and the manicure comment got repeated over and over again in interviews on shows such as Special Report with Brit Hume and The O'Reilly Factor. The network eventually issued a retraction and an apology saying the comments were "written in jest," which in addition to their other failed attempt at topical comedy, The Half Hour News Hour, proves that Fox News should never be relied on for having a sense of humor.
Cheney Challenges Hillary Clinton to Hunting Contest
Satire certainly is in the eye of the beholder. One person will immediately understand what the author hoped to achieve. Another will become insulted that their beliefs and philosophies are being challenged. A bleary eyed copy editor with two hours sleep and a hole to fill will take it to be an actual news.
That's the only explanation we can fathom for how an Andy Borowitz story about former vice president Dick Cheney inviting Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton on a hunting trip ended up in a major metropolitan newspaper.
Apparently the Boston Herald thought the story was an Associated Press wire piece and printed it as such. A Boston Magazine blogger saw the story, and justifiably ridiculed them. Herald editor Kevin Convey said the story somehow got lumped into their wire pile and printed as fact and admitted they were "bamboozled." He added the paper was also "hornswaggled," "duptasticfied" and "trickydicked."
Lion Mutilates 42 Midgets in Cambodian Ring Fight
There's really not much to add that isn't in the header. This was a fake BBC News story about 42 midgets being severely mutilated while competing under the "Cambodian Midget Fighting League." We would point out to any professional journalists reading this the tried and true Cracked.com rule of journalism: Any story involving at least 40 midgets is bound to be too good to be true.
Fittingly, the most ridiculous fake news story ever covered by the mainstream media had the most ridiculous beginning. A couple of friends got into a discussion over whether or not a group of 40 unarmed midgets could use the power of teamwork to defeat a fully-grown African lion. The discussion became so heated that the friend on the "pro-lion" side of the argument created a fake webpage.
The layout of the story looked so good that several high profile blog sites including FARK.com posted a link to the fake story as if it were real news. Eventually the New York Post reported the story as real as part of their daily journalistic requirement to include at least three midget related stories in their daily output.
The story grew so fast and so quickly that the site's owner eventually had to put a huge disclaimer at the top of the page pointing out that it was fake, a separate page explaining the reason behind the fake story and a CafePress store that sold mutilated midget T-shirts.
Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, humorist, reporter and midget wrangler. He can be found on the web at DannyGallagher.net and on MySpace.
And check out some more lies that fucked with the entire planet, in 7 Bullshit Rumors That Caused Real World Catastrophes. Or check out some stories that might become front page news, in 7 Retarded Food Myths the Internet Thinks Are True.
And visit the most reputable sources of news on the Internet at Cracked.com's Top Picks.