5 Major News Stories That Forgot to Tell You the Best Part
If there's one thing we've learned in the Internet age, it's that we lose interest in news stories long before they've run their course. And as we've written before, sometimes that means we miss the biggest details that never made the front page. More often than not, those missing details change everything we learned about the story in the first place.
The Shoe Bomber Failed Because of His Sweaty Feet
The reason you have to take off your shoes when going through the security line at an airport is because on December 22, 2001, Richard Reid attempted to blow up his shoes on American Airlines Flight 63. Obviously, his shoes were special, because ordinary footwear does not explode unless something has gone catastrophically wrong during the manufacturing process. Fortunately, his didn't work as intended -- despite Reid's best attempts, he couldn't get the fuse to light, and since the act of striking one match after another to light a fuse can draw attention on a plane (particularly just three months after 9/11), passengers and flight attendants soon started beating the piss out of him.
All his careful efforts to blend in were wasted.
It looked like the people on that flight were saved from a fiery death not only because of their quick reactions, but also because Reid sucked at building bombs. But actually, Richard Reid was a perfectly able bomber. His plans were foiled by something far, far worse than incompetence.
The Story You Didn't Know:
Reid was a victim. A victim of sweaty feet.
Reid's bomb was actually pretty sophisticated and could've easily blown a hole in the floor under his seat. Which, incidentally, was over a fuel tank. It was a pretty good plan that Reid had followed to a T. However, the bomb makers didn't think of the fact that Reid was a living, breathing, leaking human being.
It's pretty much the same problem that gets in the way of giving advice to teenagers.
Reid had attempted to board a flight the previous day, cool as a cucumber. And if he had made that flight, history books would probably be one tragedy richer. Instead, post-9/11 security measures latched on to the massive, peculiar-looking man, and Reid ended up being grilled by airport security and was refused boarding.
But they turned Reid loose and he was free to try again. This time, though, he was nervous as hell -- and sweaty. This, together with the day's moist weather, played merry hell with his footwear. While the bomb was still a viable explosive, it relied on a fuse made of gunpowder to set it off. Since wet gunpowder doesn't work, and sweat makes things wet ... well, Reid instead found out firsthand just how many people you can get tackled by at once.
"Uh, just out of curiosity, are any of the 72 of you virgins? Anyone? Fuck."
The Video That Shut Down ACORN Was a Fake
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was a government-backed group that helped low-income families with health care, neighborhood safety, housing, and a host of social issues. For 40 years, it aided hundreds of thousands of people across the United States. All that came to a grinding halt in 2009, with a single horrendous video clip.
The ludicrously messed-up video that was released onto the Internet showed ACORN employees from several offices eagerly volunteering advice to a young couple starting a criminal enterprise. The gentleman in question wore a fur coat, a top hat, sunglasses, and a goddamn pimp cane. He wanted to know how to get 15-year-old girls "on their feet" even though they were dependents. Watching the video, you couldn't help but wonder how the ACORN employees could possibly think that helping these people would be a good idea.
"He has a point; pimping ain't easy ..."
Said video single-handedly caused a scandal that, in turn, caused Congress to pull federal funds from the organization, ultimately leading to its bankruptcy and closure in 2010.
The Story You Didn't Know:
The video was a fake, set up by self-proclaimed investigative journalist and right-wing extremist James O'Keefe.
O'Keefe and the woman, Hannah Giles, weren't dressed like a pimp and ho when they entered the ACORN offices -- that was a bit of creative editing. Despite what the beginning of the video would indicate -- and what O'Keefe claimed in interviews -- he actually wore a shirt and tie, and Giles wore a dark blouse. The videos were filmed from O'Keefe's perspective, so you never saw them while they were in the ACORN offices.
Furthermore, the ACORN employees who proffered the most enthusiastic -- and illegal -- advice were only playing along. A counselor in San Diego, who was fired after the video showed him offering to help O'Keefe bring girls across the border from Mexico, was just humoring the maniac in front of him to get him to reveal more of his insane plan -- and then actually reported O'Keefe to the police afterward. Not surprisingly, that employee sued the shit out of the video makers, who had to fork over $100,000 to settle it.
Another employee in San Bernardino smelled bullshit the second the couple stepped in and decided to jokingly counter the couple's outrageous questions with lines that she murdered her husband and ran an escort service of her own. Of course, this was presented by O'Keefe as fact -- and later debunked by literally everyone else. Ultimately, the U.S. Government Accountability Office cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing. ACORN had already been closed down for several months at that point, so that was about as helpful a redemption as the murder suspect getting proven innocent two months after his date with the electric chair.
"If we can't trust shadily made Internet videos, what can we trust?"
The Victims That Navy SEALs Rescued from Somali Pirates Had Intentionally Hung Out in Pirate Territory
In 2009, pirate lovers everywhere realized just how badly Pirates of the Caribbean had lied to them when a highly publicized, real-life pirate attack took place off the coast of Somalia and it didn't look anything at all like the movie. It's way less sword fighting and way more AK-47s and kidnappings.
If you don't remember the incident, an American cargo ship called the Maersk Alabama was overtaken by four villainous Somali pirates. During the four-day ordeal, the captain of the cargo ship offered himself as a hostage and goddamn Navy SEAL snipers intervened by "sniping" three of the four pirates, rescuing Captain Richard Phillips in the process. For his part, Phillips wound up the hero, with Hollywood bigwigs immediately jumping at the chance to tell his story. In fact, he's such a hero that Tom freaking Hanks is going to play him in a movie called, you guessed it, Captain Phillips.
"It took six months and $6 million to come up with that title."
The Story You Didn't Know:
According to the lawsuits filed by more than half of the crew of the Maersk Alabama, the whole adventure was kind of the captain's fault in the first place. Days before the attack, both the captain and the owners of the ship were warned to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia, because duh, pirates. Sailing near Somalia with a ship full of cargo was like sailing near Al Capone's house with a ship full of vodka -- it was a stupid invitation for a drunken shootout.
"In hindsight, it may have been a mistake to paint 'Bring it, pussies!' in Somali on the side of the ship."
But in a move motivated by a Titanic-like insistence on being fast and making money, Captain Phillips got the Alabama within 250 miles of the Somali coast before he was predictably attacked. And in the first American piracy indictment in over a hundred years, the one surviving non-English-speaking Somali hijacker (a teenager who was stabbed and bound for 12 hours during the crisis) was sentenced to 33 years in prison.
Obviously no one's excusing piracy or being a teenager in a lawless, war-torn country, and nobody is saying the victim is to blame. We're just wondering if the part about Captain Hanks/Phillips willfully plowing into pirate territory is going to make it into the Hollywood treatment of the story.
"We cut it out to add a scene where I have to convince a pirate to let me pee."
The Diaper-Wearing Stalker Astronaut Probably Wasn't Wearing a Diaper
History has a tendency to reduce even the most significant people to their basic components. We (inaccurately) think of Napoleon Bonaparte as "the short French emperor dude," whereas John Wayne is a larger-than-life badass archetype who is totally not just some funny-walking guy called Marion. In this context, Lisa Nowak is destined to be forever known as "the psycho kidnapper astronaut who drove across the country wearing diapers." In fact, we're guessing that approximately everyone in the audience who knows the story knows it only as "That time the crazy astronaut lady went on a diaper-wearing rampage."
"Astronauts and a built-in pee premise ... call my agent."
The story, as it was told, was that Nowak resorted to resolving a love triangle by trying to kidnap (and possibly murder) a fellow NASA officer, driving 1,400 miles to abduct her in Orlando. She wore a diaper throughout the trip, because who has time for toilet stops when you're batshit crazy?
Of course, the diaper thing was at least somewhat mitigated by the fact that the device was one of those special absorbent astronaut garments. So, no matter how whacked out the rest of her plan was, at least she pooped her pants astronaut style.
"Heads up, Houston; I'll be bringing back a couple of 'moon rocks'."
The Story You Didn't Know:
First up, NASA doesn't hand out space diapers to astronauts for their own personal use. So we can knock out the idea of Nowak driving around in NASA-issued poop panties right now. That leaves us with a few options. Either:
A) Lisa Nowak was wearing her own adult diapers, or
B) she wasn't, and the media picked up on a story that didn't happen.
The whole thing appears to have been based on a joke. There were toddler diapers found in her car at the time of the arrest (along with a wig and a BB gun and other typical crazy stalker stuff), about "20 to 30" of them in the trunk. So, if you were an insane astronaut driving across the country to accost your lover's other lover, would you use baby diapers to collect your urine and feces? HOW? HOW WOULD YOU DO THAT? And remember, this is a lady driver. The mechanics of using baby diapers to wipe your nether regions would be impossible.
Especially considering all the drive-thru she'd been eating.
Which is why Nowak and her lawyers say it never happened. What did happen was that Nowak told the guy who discovered the diapers that she used them to avoid pit stops. It appears that crazy astronaut Lisa Nowak, who coordinated the stupidest stalking escapade ever recorded, was making an ill-timed joke. It's hard to tell; the police report didn't include sarcastic air quotes. What we know is that she did stop on her way to Orlando. So we can probably take her testimony to the officer who found her diapers with a grain of salt, if not for the fact that, dammit, the story is just way more awesome if she's wearing a diaper the whole time. So, that's the one that got told.
Afghanistan Invited the Soviet Invasion
We have more in common with the former Soviet Union than just a love of chess and hatred of Nazis. For example, we both have Afghanistan. Two decades before the 9/11 attacks prompted the U.S. to invade, the Soviets tried their hand at controlling their Afghan neighbors. After executing the Afghan president, the Reds spent the next 10 years occupying Afghanistan and fighting insurgents (some of whom were equipped and funded by the U.S. government; see Rambo III for details).
"Friends forever, right, guys?"
The Soviets had no idea who they were up against -- not the terrain, the fighters, or the customs they were trying to disrupt with their secular, communist ways. By 1987, the Soviets were looking for their exit strategy, the same familiar one the United States is looking at now: Equip and train the locals to deal with rebels on their own, then hightail it the hell out of Dodge. Troops were withdrawn by 1989, just in time to discover that communism was pretty much over at home.
"We're about done with this whole communism thing, but uh, you know, thanks for the effort. Good talk."
The Story You Didn't Know:
The Afghan government asked the Soviets to come over in the first place. In fact, the two governments had been tight for decades, with the USSR funding major infrastructure projects in the country since the 1950s. There was a mutual need for each other back then -- the Soviets wanted to get closer to Asia and Middle Eastern oil, plus they wanted to keep an eye on U.S.-friendly Pakistan. And Afghanistan liked Russian money. So for a while, everything was cool.
That is, until 1973, when the Afghan monarchy was overthrown by a Marxist faction that could never quite get their shit together. By 1978, the president of Afghanistan had signed a 20-year "friendship treaty" with the Soviet Union. He then begged the USSR to get on the best ship of all -- the "deployment of troops for his gain" ship. The Soviets refused. That guy, by the way, was eventually assassinated via pillow suffocation.
The pillow was well-paid for the hit.
Meanwhile, the Afghan people were fed up with the regime. The KGB learned that the Afghan intellectual class was fleeing, and that loyal Soviet supporters were getting executed by the government left and right. Also, that the government sucked at governing. So the next time the (next) president asked for Soviet help with rebel forces, the USSR said, "Sure, homey!" Then they deployed the shit out of their military, executed the guy who invited them, and proceeded to fight the rest of the country for the next nine years. They came all that way and didn't feel like lugging all their gear back.
But hey, at least they came invited.
Dennis runs a group blog and a crowdsourced dating advice site. He'll clap excitedly if you follow him on Twitter.
For more instances of the news media blowing it, check out 7 Clearly Fake News Stories That Fooled The Mainstream Media and 5 More Clearly Fake News Stories That Fooled the Media.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out Why the Greatest Superman Story Ever Told Was a Ripoff.
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