An interview with an eight-year-old heroin addict entitled "Jimmy's World" landed Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. Just a year earlier, Cooke had applied at the Post with an impressive resume that included a Phi Beta Kappa degree from Vassar College. Executive editor Ben Bradlee was so taken with this fact that he underlined it before forwarding the resume to managing editor, Bob Woodward (yes, that Bob Woodward), who in turn hired Cooke. Hell, on top of everything else, the woman even spoke three languages -- English, French and Spanish.
You can't fool the greatest investigative reporter who ever lived ... can you?
Immediately after Cooke's gripping tale of the eight-year-old dope addict was published, Washington, D.C., went apeshit searching for little Jimmy. Mayor Marion Barry assigned a special task force to locate the young boy -- presumably to ask him if they shared the same dealer. All schools, social services and police contacts were put on high alert. Word went out on the streets that big reward money was available for tips leading to the pint-size addict's whereabouts, presumably after the idea to leave a trail of heroin baggies into a cleverly disguised net trap was unanimously voted down.
But after a 17 day exhaustive search, Jimmy still couldn't be located. When pressed, Cooke refused to divulge any information that would help find him. She explained that she "needed to protect her sources" and was also worried about "her own safety" from vindictive drug dealers.
Vindictive drug dealers were not available for comment.
Finally, rumors began to circulate that "Jimmy" didn't exist and that Cooke had simply made him up. Even though Cooke wouldn't reveal her source and was quite dodgy about how/where the interview came to be, Woodward and the Washington Post stood firmly behind her.
Bob Woodward. The man who took down the Nixon administration.
In the midst of all this heat coming down on her, when it came time to fill out her Pulitzer application Cooke swung for the fences, scrutiny be damned. While Cooke's original resume cited her ability to speak French and Spanish, on her new one Portuguese and Italian were added to her growing linguistic repertoire. Her single (fake) award from the Ohio Newspaper Women's Association blossomed into six separate awards, along with another from the Ohio AP. The newly improved bio also showed that she graduated magna cum laude from Vassar in 1976 (she was only there one year) and attended the Sorbonne in 1975.
Via Wikimedia Commons
"And also, I invented the modern map."
After winning the Pulitzer, Cooke's newly enhanced biography appeared on the AP wire. Noting that the Pulitzer resume was even more fantabulous than the one they saw when hiring her, the higher-ups at the Washington Post finally decided to question her.
Even after a lengthy interrogation, Cooke stuck firmly to her story. So what finally caused her to come clean, causing her Pulitzer to be revoked and her to resign from the Washington Post?
Someone finally thought to ask her some simple questions in French and it was obvious that she had no idea what was being said. And ... no one thought to do that before? Why the hell aren't our employers this trusting?
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For more bullshit that everyone bought, check out The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies Ever Published as Non-Fiction and 7 Movies Based on a True Story (That Are Complete Bullshit).