Hoaxes and Other Bad Information
Below are brief annotated references to articles about hoaxes, and other bad information, which appeared in the news. We offer this listing as anecdotal evidence of what can happen when journalists, experts or other professionals fail to follow proper research procedures. Good research habits include identifying sources, assessing their expertise and verifying information found.
The newspaper links connect you to the publisher's main page rather than the article cited. This is because many publishers either do not make the articles available free of charge, or make them available for free for a short period of time. Consult your local library to learn how to access them in full-text.
Urban Myth Reported as News
Kudos to Brian O'Connor who investigated the facts behind a press release by a misinformed Visa USA. In part, the release stated:A new survey released by Visa USA shows that only 20 percent of Americans know that it is legal for employers to refuse to hire job applicants with low credit scores. Fully 52 percent of Americans mistakenly believe it is illegal for prospective employers to use credit scores as a hiring criteria and another 28 percent of survey respondents are unsure.
Sadly, it's Visa USA that lacks knowledge. Legitimate pre-employment checking agencies do not provide credit scores in employment credit reports. They do often provide select credit history from which employers may make hiring decisions. But causing poor credit job seekers additional worry by spreading false information is irresponsible.
The Detroit News, 15 September 2007
Who Wrote That Letter to the Editor?
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog exposed a public relations campaign masquerading as a letter to the editor in newspapers across the country. Each letter, ostensibly written by different people, actually was generated through script provided by "People Over Profits Grassroots Action Center, a Web site 'proudly sponsored by the American Association for Justice (AAJ)' (the organization formerly known as ATLA).
Wired News Releases Source Review
Several magazines and news media edited or retracted stories written by freelance journalist Michelle Delio. Wired News hired Adam Penenberg, who exposed fabricated articles by Stephen Glass in The New Republic, to review the sourcing and accuracy of her stories. While the result of the investigation is inconclusive as of this writing, Wired News changed its sourcing policy. It now requires freelance journalists to submit contact information for named sources.
Wired News, 9 May 2005
The Christmas Lights Hoax
Radio stations from Denver, Colorado to Australia reported on a Web site -- www.komar.org -- that lets visitors control the owner's home Christmas lights. Shortly following the radio broadcasts, Associated Press picked up the story and distributed it to newspapers around the world. A search of the Factiva news research system found it reproduced in major newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, The Guardian and the Los Angeles Times. Heavy traffic Web sites such as The New York Times and Slashdot linked to it. Problem is, it's a hoax.
The Wall Street Journal, 27 December 2004
Internet Hoax Hoodwinks McNealy
At an Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy showed a copy of what he thought was a photograph from Popular Mechanics. It depicted a home computer in 1954. Problem is, the photograph "is a doctored picture of a nuclear submarine control room mock-up on display at a Smithsonian exhibit. The article mentions that "Lotus founder Mitch Kapor posted the same bogus photo to his blog in November, later noting his mistake."
CNet News, 8 December 2004
The Bhopal Hoax
On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical plant accident that killed 3800 people, the BBC reported that Dow Chemical--the current owners of the plant--would establish a $12 billion compensation fund. The story was based on a cruel hoax, which lured a BBC researcher to a fake Dow Web site. The researcher then contacted an "employee" listed on the site, who provided the false information. Some sources are reporting that the hoax was the work of the Yes Men, a group responsible for some elaborate hoaxes against governments and corporations. (The Yes Men perpetrated the speaker hoax described in The Long and Winding Cyberhoax.)
The Seattle Times, 6 December 2004
Fake News Travels Fast
Satire news site The Hoosier Gazette boasts of fooling mainstream media three times in less than a year. Most recently, MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann relied on information it manufactured to report that parents lose IQ points upon the birth of their first child. Other pranks published by traditional news sources included a man winning the lottery two days after his divorce became final and a university giving a sports scholarship to the wrong player.
The Indianapolis Star, 30 October 2004
Web Hoax Fools News Services
News wire services reported the beheading of an American in Iraq based on a faked video tape. The hoax tape had been available for months on two peer-to-peer networks. It became "news" when it appeared on a Web site frequented by Islamic radical groups.
San Francisco Chronicle, 8 August 2004
AP Meteor Crash Report Was a Hoax
The Associated Press reported on a fake meteor crash based on information provided by a radio station that had received a hoax call.
Editor & Publisher, 3 June 2004
Hoax Soaks Aliso Viejo
This Orange County, California city nearly passed an ordinance banning water after reading information at the hoax site, Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division.
Los Angeles Times, 13 March 2004
Who's the Devil in the Details?
Monthly magazine Details failed to verify the author of a gossip piece submitted by email. The author claimed to be novelist Kurt Andersen. There was some suspicion the editor was involved in the hoax. But he denied it and resigned.
The New York Observer, 26 August 2002
The Long and Winding Cyberhoax
Fooled into believing Gatt.org was the Web site of the World Trade Organization, the Center for International Legal Studies invited a contact person there to speak at its annual conference. Gatt.org accepted the invitation and presented some bizarre ideas, which offended several attendees. Carrying the joke too far, the hoax organization staged a pie throwing incident and faked the death of the speaker. This is probably one of the stranger tales you will read.
New York Times, 7 January 2001
Duped by a hoax document, which had been distributed on the Internet for weeks, former ABC news reporter Pierre Salinger claimed he had "proof" that a U.S. Navy missile had shot down TWA Flight 800. Investigators later determined a spark in the fuel tank caused the explosion. See also, "Pierre Salinger Dies at 79," The Washington Post, 17 October 2004
The Washington Post, 9 November 1996
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