I have been thinking a lot about how the media is changing. New sources and platforms for journalists lead to interesting and exciting possibilities to hear from our audiences and have a meaningful interaction with them. As true today as it was before the internet, for every million true stories that get shared online, the one fake sensational one will get through. It serves as a reminder to us that this can happen. I often wonder how often it is undetected in the not so newsworthy realm.
One fake news story I read about a few years ago had MCNBC’s Keith Olbermann reporting a study that said new parents lost as many as 12 IQ points after the birth of their first child, causing them to think that their child is the cutest, brightest, smartest. Olbermann’s quote following the revelation that the story was indeed fake summed up not just this incident, but also an intriguing journalistic concern regarding ethical decision making. As he laughed at himself and his news team while reading the retraction, Olbermann said, “So there is no survey showing that parenthood will cost you at least 12 IQ points. But did you hear about the one showing how many IQ points newscasters lose when they see a story they really want to run?”
Here are a couple of fake news stories from Uncle John’s bathroom reader that I couldn’t resist posting:
Kenny Rogers: Roasted
The web site Zug.com reported that a book signing by country music star Kenny Rogers had disintegrated into a riot in which 19 people were injured. According to the report, Rogers had refused to sign a female fan’s unspecified body part; the fan turned violent and incited the crowd. Zug linked to a report on the Web site of WTF-TV, based in Hazelton, the location of the riot. MSNBC, ABC, and the Associated Press all carried the story. But they failed to verify all of the facts: WTF-TV wasn’t real (what the f&^$?), and there was no riot. Kenny Roger’s didn’t even write a book. Zug and WTF’s sites both even had disclaimers telling readers the whole thing was a prank. Zug’s intent: to point out that the news media often rushes to report stories without verifying their accuracy.
Terrorists Want to Interrupt Your Diner.
In late 2002 Dan Nichols, a detective in Branch County, Michigan, read an article entitled “Al-Qaida Allegedly Engaging in Telemarketing”. Nichols had been leading an investigation of scams that targeted the elderly, and he jumped on the story, using it as the basis for a press release. He warned the public that buying magazines, time shares, or long-distance service over the phone could be funding terrorist cells. Local and national news picked up the story…which was bogus. Nichols had read it on The Onion. Unaware that it was satire, Nichols says he got the article via a link on the Michigan Attorney General’s website. (The AG’s office denies linking to The Onion-they’re aware it’s fake.) “I enjoy a joke”, Nichols said, “I just hate when it’s on me.”