Media Scandals From Around The World (That Make America Look Sane)
Americans endure an unending media circus in which the main attraction is having to guess whether the government or the news is less trustworthy. But instead of stumbling around looking for the last shreds of integrity in our institutions, we should take a page from other countries -- specifically the front page of any given newspaper. It turns out that American media scandals are often pretty bland in comparison to the wild stuff they go through. For example ...
A British Rag Had A Spy Posing As A Footman Inside The Royal Palace
In 2003, the tabloid Daily Mirror decided it was a good idea to commit minor treason by spying on the royal family. The paper sent an intern named Ryan Perry to infiltrate Buckingham Palace as a footman and report on any information that was in the public interest. So what royal secrets did he expose? Apparently the Queen is a bit obsessive about her cornflakes, Prince Edward plays hide and seek with a toy monkey, and the royals occasionally swear at the help. And it sure must be hard to pretend you're the British Woodward and Bernstein when your notebook includes details on how much marmalade her majesty's corgis like on their toast.
When The Mirror started publishing every single invasion of privacy, the crown retaliated by seeking an injunction on the story and suing Perry. Fortunately for the snooper, he didn't have a criminal record or a cousin in al-Qaeda, so he could only be prosecuted for breaching his confidentiality clause. But The Mirror and its head editorial ghoul Piers Morgan denied any wrongdoing. They claimed they were justified, having exposed serious security flaws. It's a bit like your landlord claiming you should thank him for showing you how easy it is to install cameras in your bathroom.
Wanting to avoid further embarrassment, the queen quickly settled, dropping the charges if The Mirror stopped publishing details and paid legal fees to the tune of 25,000 pounds ($42,800). Morgan agreed ... while simultaneously bragging that he had already made a small fortune telling everyone the color of Prince Philip's pajamas.
But The Daily Mirror and Ryan Perry did make a single worthwhile contribution to investigative journalism: They exposed what a shit job being a royal footman is. Not only did readers find out it only pays a measly 11,881 pounds ($20,340) per year minus living expenses, but footmen also have to sleep in tiny rooms, share toilets, and are banned from walking in the middle of hallways to avoid wearing out the carpet. Who would have guessed that being the personal attendant to royalty was Britain's equivalent of being a greeter at Walmart?
A Mexican TV Network Made Up A Child Earthquake Survivor
On September 19, 2017, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico City, destroying dozens of buildings, wounding thousands, and killing hundreds. For days, rescue workers and volunteers scoured the rubble for people trapped. Enrique Rebsamen Elementary School collapsed, killing 21 children and five adults. But right as everyone began to lose hope, Televisa -- the biggest television network in the country -- reported that a 12-year-old girl named Frida Sofia had been found trapped under the debris.
For days, the nation followed the rescue of Frida, who had become a symbol of hope. But cracks soon started showing in the story. Sometimes it was reported that Frida was communicating by wiggling her fingers and tapping on the concrete. Other times she could talk to rescuers, giving them her name and telling them about other trapped girls nearby. Also strange: The undersecretary-general of the Mexican Navy declared that all the elementary school children were accounted for, dead or alive, and that Frida Sofia wasn't real and never existed. That's when people started getting real suspicious.
When confronted, the news team took a long look at their own journalistic integrity, shrugged, and blamed it all on lying rescue workers and an uncooperative navy. Blaming the actual rescuers always goes well.
A Conspiracy Theorist YouTube Star Is Advising The Brazilian President
Olavo de Carvalho became famous in Brazil as a celebrity astrologer, but abandoned that esteemed field to become a conspiracy theorist instead. (Psh, typical Taurus.) On his YouTube channel, Carvalho tells his audience the stories no one else dares to talk about, like how climate change is a hoax and Pepsi is made from aborted fetuses. He's like the Alex Jones of Brazil, with one tiny difference: Alex Jones only pretends to be a high-ranking government adviser.
Among Carvalho's biggest fans is the alien pill bug wearing the skin of Henry Kissinger known as Steve Bannon, as well as Jair Bolsonaro. So when Bolsonaro became president of Brazil, he immediately made Carvalho, a man who doesn't believe the Earth revolves around the sun, the "guru" of his administration. And as the president's (far) right-hand man, Carvalho installed several dedicated followers into key governmental roles, including the foreign and education ministers. He also has access to the president's Twitter account, and in this day and age, we don't know which is the more terrifying power.
So how is the experiment in governing by comment section going? Not great. Turns out Carvalho's picks were as crazy as, well, him. His education minister was fired after only 92 days for not one but several scandals, including trying to revise the national curriculum to assert that Brazil's former military dictatorship was right to murder dissidents. But Carvalho just had him replaced with another acolyte, and now the education system is run by a guy who thinks communists are trying to overthrow the government by getting everyone high on crack cocaine. It seems that as long as Carvalho is around, Brazil will keep getting a government of crazy uncles, by crazy uncles, for crazy uncles.
A Documentary Exposing Cambodian Sex Slavery Was Branded "Fake News" By The Government
Human trafficking, a fancy PR term for the slave trade, is a major problem in Cambodia. This is what a small film crew tried to expose in their 2019 documentary My Mother Sold Me, which highlighted the sadly common practice of poor Cambodian people selling their children into sex work. The documentary was met with international attention, and the Cambodian government immediately launched a criminal investigation ... into the filmmakers.
The country's ruling People's Party accused the filmmakers of spreading "fake news insulting the nation," which is a criminal offense there. And as with all fake news, it's really hard to know who to believe. On the one hand, the highly corrupt police state claimed they got a (definitely not coerced) statement from the mother and daughter featured in the film that they were paid to lie. On the other hand, several human rights organizations accused the party of trying to cover up the country's crippling poverty and child prostitution rings. It's a real puzzle.
Luckily, the crew were all foreign nationals, placing them out of reach of Cambodian authorities. Except for their translator, Rath Rott Mony, who was arrested and scapegoated to two years in prison on the charge of incitement to cause discrimination. Discrimination against whom, the judge wouldn't say. Politicians, we guess.
Argentina's Biggest Newspaper Mogul Was Accused Of Stealing Her Own Children
Ernestina Herrera de Noble was a former flamenco dancer who inherited her husband's newspaper. She expanded it into the Grupo Clarin, a multi-billion-dollar media empire of TV and radio stations. During the '00s, Noble used that empire to attack the Kirchner government for being corrupt bribe-takers. To which the government responded that while they may take bribes, at least they don't snatch babies.
Yes, to defeat the media mogul, the Argentine government had a two-pronged approach: break up Grupo Clarin, and also have Ernestina convicted of stealing her children. The latter sounds crazy even for Argentine politics, wherein every resignation speech begins with the phrase "So you have discovered my terrible secret." But the government's accusations had its roots in an actual tragedy. During Argentina's military dictatorship in the '70s (also known as the Dirty War), an estimated 500 babies of murdered left-wing dissidents were stolen by the junta and given to childless supporters as rewards. It was around this time that childless regime supporter Ernestina Herrera de Noble adopted her two babies, Marcela and Felipe, under very suspicious circumstances.
And to be fair, both stories of adoption are almost too crazy to be true. Felipe had been taken to the court by his single young mom to start the adoption process, only to be immediately given to Noble because she happened to be hanging around the courthouse. Around the same time, little Marcela just appeared on the mogul's property as a foundling. Hopefully a magical one.
These accusations didn't just come from her enemies, but also from the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo (or Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo), an organization that dedicates itself to reuniting stolen Argentine children with their families. (The organization's chief grandma believed Marcela was her long-lost granddaughter). This was enough for the government to start an investigation and pressure the Noble kids into a DNA test. But Felipe and Marcela, who for some reason didn't want their legitimacy as the heirs to a billion-dollar fortune questioned, refused to cooperate.
This went on until 2009, when the government passed a law allowing compulsory DNA testing of suspected stolen children. This culminated in a high-speed car chase, with armed police chasing Marcela and Felipe's limo through the streets of Buenos Aires. The police arrested them at gunpoint, and took them back home so they could strip and hand over their clothes for testing. But somehow the siblings vanished, then reappeared wearing ill-fitting clothing with several strands of DNA on it. Suddenly, in 2011, the Noble family allowed for extensive DNA testing of Felipe and Marcela's blood, which turned out to be no match with any of the listed dissident families. With that, the illegitimacy story slowly faded away ... right in time for the two kids to inherit their mother's media empire in 2017. Those Nobles sure have a great sense of timing. Must be something in their blood.
Abraham is your friendly neighborhood, Mexican lawyer. You can say hi to him on Twitter here.
For more, check out The 4 Stupidest Things The News Apparently Cares About - Does Not Compute:
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