News today is fast. So fast, in fact, that even the guys who make the news have trouble keeping up. With unconfirmed reports flooding in from Twitter and Facebook the minute any story breaks, it’s no surprise journalists can have trouble sorting fact from fiction.
Sometimes, they even wind up printing stories so improbable, you can only sit back and admire the cojones of the guy or girl who sent it to them . . .
10Journalist Fools Papers Into Printing His Hilariously Fake Diet Study
In early 2015, a scientific study blew up that seemed too good to be true. According to Dr. Johannes Bohannon from the Institute of Diet and Health, chocolate had been proven to speed up weight loss. The tabloids went wild. Even respectable outlets like Huffington Post and some morning shows ran the story. After all, Dr. Bohannon’s results were publicly available in scientific journals. They had to be true, right?
In reality, Dr. Bohannon is a journalist with an auspicious track record in fooling shoddy science writers. Fed up with the way the media printed any old dross and called it “science,” he set out to hoist the world’s editors by their own petard. After setting up a website for the totally fake “Institute of Diet and Health,” Bohannon contacted some researcher friends and set up a phony study using real participants (which has since fueled claims that the hoax was unethical). He then produced reams of junk science all pointing toward the conclusion that chocolate makes you lose weight. Then he sent it to a journal notorious for printing junk science articles and waited. A few weeks later, the media went nuts.
This isn’t the first time Dr. Bohannon’s screwed with the medical media. In 2013, he convinced numerous scientific journals to accept a paper deliberately riddled with inaccuracies.
94Chan Convinces America Its Kids Are Huffing Poop
In 1998, the New York Times reported that street kids in Zambia had taken to inhaling gases produced by raw sewage (known as “Jenkem”) to get high. By 2007, the trend had made the leap to the USA. By September, the press was in uproar. Fox 30 in Florida was warning parents to be vigilant against abuse of “butt hash.” KXAN News in Austin, Texas, told adults to beware of “funky smells” coming from their children. WSBT in Indiana even suggested smelling children’s breath before they went to bed, just in case they’d been huffing their own poop. Jenkem became a full-blown moral panic.
You can probably guess where this story came from. Jenkem was the brainchild of 4Chan’s notorious /b/ board. After the Zambia story broke, it eventually made its way onto forums, where it became the butt of gross-out jokes. Eventually, a user on Totse uploaded a fake video of himself “trying” Jenkem. It was reposted on 4Chan, who immediately saw the comic potential. Posing as concerned parents, they forwarded the video to high school principals across the US, who contacted the media, who fact checked it against the old NYT article and proceeded to make utter fools of themselves.
8TV Station Wins An Emmy For A Documentary On A Fake Dog Brothel
In 1976, New York’s Village Voice carried one of the most disturbing adverts of all time. Titled “Cathouse for Dogs,” it promised “a savory selection of hot bitches,” including Fifi, the French poodle, and Lady, the Tramp. Terrified that a dog brothel had opened in the heart of NYC, the media hightailed it down there and filmed hours of shock footage of dogs being pimped, copulating, and starring in a porno. Local affiliate WABC TV even produced a documentary on the subject, winning its producer an Emmy. The media furor was so great, the Attorney General’s office got involved.
Sadly for the Emmy-winning producer, the dog brothel wasn’t quite as plausible as it first seemed. It was a great big hoax, dreamed up by none other than Joey Skaggs. A conceptual artist, Joey Skaggs has been trolling the media for years. Before he fooled the Emmys into honoring a canine bordello documentary, he convinced ABC he was hiring out commandos to beat up dieters who strayed too near the refrigerator. Not long after, he got them all worked up about his “condos for fish.” The best part? He’s still going strong in 2015.
7The 15-Year-Old Who Became Europe’s Online Soccer Guru
For a couple of years, Dominic Jones and Samuel Rhodes were the greatest European soccer insiders on Twitter. Reporters for Goal and the Telegraph, they knew everything that was about to happen. Jones predicted Roberto Di Matteo’s shock firing from Chelsea a day before anyone else knew. Fans, serious sports journalists, and even professional soccer players all got in touch with them for insider information. At no point did it occur to anyone that Jones and Rhodes might be the same person. If it had, they would never have guessed that person was a 15-year-old boy.
In early 2012, Sam Gardiner was a frustrated kid with a Twitter feed no one was following. Although he considered himself an authority on soccer, nobody wanted to listen. Fed up with people who knew less than him getting all the attention simply because they were older, he decided to set up fake adult accounts and keep tweeting the same stuff. And it worked. He wound up with thousands upon thousands of followers, none of whom figured out he wasn’t a real journalist for two whole years. He even got professional players messaging him with insider news—effectively proving his point a million times over.
6The New York Times Is Flummoxed By Teenagers (Repeatedly)
Teenagers are notoriously tricky to understand. At least, they are if you happen to write for the New York Times. Despite being one of the most respected newspapers on Earth, the NYT has one area where it repeatedly drops the ball: youth cultures.
In 1992, the paper’s style supplement carried a feature on the new world of grunge. Baffled by these Seattle kids who listened to Nirvana and didn’t want to get jobs, the NYT sent a correspondent to find out what it was all about. The reporter came back with a dictionary of grunge slang words the paper then printed as a glossary, despite their being obviously, hilariously false.
Among the words the NYT highlighted were “Cob Nobbler” (loser), “Wack Slacks” (jeans), and “swingin’ on the flippity-flop” (hanging out). “Bound-and-hagged” meant staying home on a Friday night, and a “big bag of bloatation” was supposedly a drunk. Despite sounding like a Chris Morris parody, the newspaper didn’t realize it had been fooled for nearly a year.
This isn’t the only time the NYT has slipped up with young people. In 2015, it tried to source interviews with vaping teens over Twitter and wound up at the center of a bizarre plan to get Lil Ugly Mane’s name in print. Once again, the NYT fell for it.
5Pornographers Trick CNN Into Promoting Their New Video
In 2003, a story with just the right amount of shock factor came along to send the media nuts. Out in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas, a company was offering rich men the chance to hunt seminude women with paintball guns. Known as “Bambi” hunts, they cost $1,000 an hour and allowed the women to take home as much as $2,500 if they avoided getting hit.
With its whiff of exploitation, misogyny, and sexual violence, the story was too big to resist. FOX, MSNBC, and, more impressively, CNN all jumped on it, driving Bambi hunts way up the news agenda. The Las Vegas prosecutor’s office got involved, and it became a national story. At which point it transpired that the whole thing was just a marketing stunt to help sell sleazy videos.
The guy behind the hunts, Michael Burdick, didn’t have a business license and couldn’t prove he’d ever organized a hunt. What he did have was a website that sold pornographic videos with plots mimicking the Bambi hunt concept. By convincing the media to work itself up into a frenzy over the hunts, he’d sent his website’s popularity skyrocketing.
4Tricksters Convince Australia’s Media To Run A Ridiculous Spoof Story
In 2000, the documentary Dark Days poked a revealing light into the world of New York City’s “mole people”—homeless guys living underground. Two years later, Australian media got a similar scoop all of their own. Tabloid news Nine Network and Seven Network both broadcast reports on a group of people living in Melbourne’s storm drains. Calling themselves “dole people,” they had the self-admitted goal of ripping off taxpayers by claiming as much welfare as possible.
If that story sounds a little fishy, congratulations: You’re smarter than the Australian media. The day after the two reports aired, a group of Melbourne anarchists came forward to admit they’d made the whole thing up. They’d gotten so annoyed at the way Australian media printed any dumb story about welfare claimants that they made up the dumbest story they could and shopped it around to see if anyone believed it. Despite a total lack of evidence to support the story, both Seven and Nine leapt on it. Nine’s ACA program, in particular, ran a hysterically disproving piece full of the exact same bile the anarchists were satirizing.
3German Media Gets Tricked Into Promoting An Indie Film
When a story appears on the DPA, you know it has to be real. The German equivalent of the Associated Press, the DPA is highly respected and extremely difficult to hoodwink. Unless you know how to use the Internet, in which case you can make DPA believe a German rap duo just suicide-bombed a nonexistent town in California.
One day in 2009, German journalists suddenly began receiving hysterical calls from reporters in Bluewater, California. Two German rappers known as the “Berlin Boys” had just perpetrated a suicide attack on American soil, and it was set to be the biggest story of the year. The reporters directed their German counterparts to official websites of both the Berlin Boys and Bluewater, along with local law enforcement. When the Berlin journalists called the numbers listed, they got harassed American law enforcement officials confirming the attacks. The story was true!
Or so it seemed.
In reality, a small group of filmmakers keen to promote their new satirical indie film had decided the best way to do so would be to cause a media storm. The websites for Bluewater, US law enforcement, and the Berlin Boys were all fakes. The numbers listed on them directed callers straight to actors in Berlin using Skype. Using their fake network, they managed to fool even the DPA, resulting in a massive publicity boost for their film.
2Twitter Users Play Dumb To Show Up Shoddy Reporting
One of the media’s favorite pastimes is scanning teenagers’ Twitter feeds for signs they’re dumb, then writing snarky articles calling them out on it. We saw it when #NowThatchersDead was misinterpreted to mean “now that Cher’s dead.” It’s the sort of writing that allows journalists to revel in their own knowledge or get worked up about the stupidity of kids and Twitter. The only trouble is, those dumb kids are usually nothing of the sort.
When Paul McCartney and Kanye West released their collaboration “Only One” at the end of 2014, music journalists were shocked to see that kids on Twitter didn’t know who Paul McCartney was. Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, Perez Hilton, and ABC News all jumped on the outrage bandwagon—apparently without ever realizing these “dumb kids” were trolling the hell out of them.
The most quoted Tweets all came from one of three sources, all of whom are known on Twitter for deliberately tweeting stupid opinions. They were also so obviously satirical that only a hack with a deadline could mistake them for a real opinion. One read “Kanye has a great ear for talent. This Paul McCartney guy gonna be huge.” Another praised Kanye for taking chances on unknown artists. This sort of stuff happens all the time. That whole #NowThatchersDead thing was just wiseasses playing dumb to troll the media. And the media never seems to realize.
1The Daily Mail Is The Biggest Media Troll On Earth
You probably know the Daily Mail as a race-baiting tabloid that once supported the Nazis. But it has another, secret identity it tries to keep hidden at all costs. The Daily Mail is possibly the biggest news media troll in history.
Thanks to American outlets thinking it’s a respectable news source, the Daily Mail has managed to get the media to print more hoax stories than everyone else on this list combined. In 2014, a New York–based correspondent simply made up a story about Beijing installing giant TV screens so smog-choked residents could watch fake sunrises. Time, CBS, and the Huffington Post all ran with it, despite it being clear nonsense. In 2012, the Daily Mail made up another story about a Polish dentist pulling all her boyfriend’s teeth after he cheated on her. That one fooled most of the Internet, plus MSNBC, the LA Times, and the Daily Telegraph. In 2015, the Daily Mail ran a story that was picked up by other tabloids about a guy on welfare who was too busy working out to get a job. The guy turned out to be an actor.
Go digging, and you’ll find more examples of the Daily Mail flooding the media with more fake stories than we can comfortably list here. Like that time it convinced Fox News a transgender kid was harassing girls in a school bathroom. Or that time it totally made up a poll and the Huffington Post believed it. Okay, we’re calling it now: The Daily Mail is officially the greatest media troll in the world.