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10 Fake Stories The World Fell For In 2015
It was a crazy year for news in 2015. Paris suffered two separate terror attacks, one million refugees arrived in Europe, we flew closer to Pluto than ever before, and Donald Trump turned being a loudmouth into a viable political career.
But for some people, all this wasn’t enough. They had to go and invent a whole new level of crazy to satisfy their cravings. From the clearly mad to the almost plausible to the downright offensive, here are the fake stories that fooled the media (and even some of us) in 2015.
10Poland’s Nazi Gold Train
It was a story that instantly hooked the eight-year-old in all of us. Back in August, two treasure hunters claimed they had discovered a Nazi train stacked to the gills with gold and jewels buried outside the Polish town of Walbrzych. The media immediately went into meltdown. Fortune seekers descended on the town, the press had a field day, and the world was hooked.
That is, until some real scientists went to check things out. After surveying the train’s alleged location, they concluded that there was nothing there. The treasure hunters’ false readings had likely been created by overhead power lines.
As of late 2015, this story still hasn’t dragged its sorry carcass off and died. The treasure hunters continue to claim that the train is there, and some in the media are still reporting their side of the story. It’s not hard to see why. A story of hidden treasure smacks of adventure, derring-do, and excitement. A story about two amateur treasure hunters getting worked up over some false readings smacks only of desperation.
Still, 2015 wasn’t all bad news for treasure hunters. In December, Colombia located a sunken Spanish galleon off the coast of Cartagena. Its contents were worth at least $1 billion.
9Men Catcalling Their Own Mothers
In late 2014, the video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” went viral, starting a trend of hidden cameras catching supposed sexism. This reached its apotheosis in January 2015 with the video “Whistling at Your Mom.” Shot in Peru, it showed two unrepentant catcallers tricked into wolf-whistling their own mothers. The resultant shame on those idiots’ faces was a victory for feminism everywhere.
At least, it would have been if the video had been real. The whole thing was staged by company Everlast as a way of piggybacking on the success of “10 Hours.” Although they tried to dress the whole thing up as real, their Spanish-language release included a brief disclaimer saying that “this performance by actors is based on interviews with real subjects.” When the video was subtitled in English and copied to YouTube, this crucial bit of information was left out.
As a result, outlets like Jezebel and The Huffington Post reported it as fact, despite the idea that lecherous, chauvinistic men failing to recognize their own mothers is clearly absurd.
8El Chapo Declares War On ISIS
Mexican drug lord El Chapo is one of the baddest dudes who ever lived. If terrorist death-cult ISIS would be scared of anyone, it’s him. So when the Middle East’s top murdering militant group accidentally messed with the Sinoloa Cartel’s drug trade, we were treated to the edifying sight of El Chapo declaring war on ISIS. Sensing a story, outlets like The Washington Times and the New York Post picked up the report and ran with it.
If two of America’s deadliest enemies wiping each other out sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The above “story” was sourced from the website Thug Life Videos (TLV) and later picked up on CartelBlog.com. In case the name wasn’t enough of a giveaway, TLV is the same site behind the fake story about El Chapo putting a bounty on Donald Trump.
That didn’t stop the story from cropping up all over social media, where people responded by cheering on the murderous drug lord. No word yet on what El Chapo thought about the whole sorry mess.
7The Paris Attacks Were Planned On A PlayStation 4
In November 2015, the Paris attacks brought terror into the heart of Europe. They also triggered a wave of fake stories and false reporting. We’ve covered some of the refugee-focused ones here, but it wasn’t just outsiders who came under suspicion. Technology was dealt a blow when Forbes published a hysterical piece claiming that the attacks were planned on a PlayStation 4 (PS4).
It was a perfect storm of irrational fears and irrational speculation. The PlayStation Network allows people with a PS4 to communicate with each other via text and voice. It’s the sort of environment that NSA hawks are forever warning us will become a den of terrorists and pedophiles. Forbes’ story seemed to corroborate this. Multiple outlets picked it up and ran with it, turning it into a major news piece.
Someone should have checked the source link. Forbes has an open blogging platform (any URL that starts with www.forbes.com/sites) that is about as reliable as the Onion. They let almost anyone publish there, whether or not they are experts or even know what they’re talking about. In this case, the “reporter” had misread a police report and concocted a whole fantasy out of his own mistake. While it may turn out that ISIS is using the PlayStation Network to plan attacks, there’s no proof as of yet that this was the case with Paris.
6The Ebola Nurse Relapse
In October 2015, Pauline Cafferkey was admitted to a London hospital in critical condition. This was major news. Cafferkey was the British nurse who nearly died of Ebola earlier in the year. She had made a full recovery, and Ebola relapses are supposed to be almost impossible.
The Guardian ran an article claiming that it changed everything we knew about the virus. The Daily Mail fanned the flames of panic by claiming she was being treated for Ebola. The UK press went into meltdown.
You can put that hazmat suit away and come back out of your bunker. Cafferkey didn’t have Ebola. She had meningitis.
The two were connected. The Ebola virus had persisted in her brain, leading to viral meningitis. If she had not had Ebola, she would not have had meningitis. However, she was not sick with the symptoms of Ebola and was not capable of transmitting the disease. As a result, Britain was spared the awful specter of a resurgent Ebola epidemic.
5Donald Trump Called Republicans ‘Dumb’
Donald Trump has been the 2015 political story that just keeps on giving. His ill-advised comments on Mexicans, Syrians, and a disabled reporter have filled column inches across the world. He has blatantly called people dumb, including the US government officials who negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Given his divisive nature, some have suggested that Trump is running either for the publicity or to split the Republican vote. In October 2015, we even saw some evidence of that. A viral image spread across social media, captioned with a Trump quote from 1998.
According to the image, Trump had once said to People magazine: “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie, and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”
It was the perfect story, summing up everything that liberals and conservatives hate about The Donald. There’s only one problem. Trump never said any such thing.
Once again, it seems that viral images aren’t the most foolproof way to source news. People’s online database doesn’t have any record of such an interview with Trump. It’s also unlikely that The Donald would have referenced Fox News way back in 1998 when it was a channel with few viewers that was not available across the US. That didn’t stop the quote from becoming widely circulated on social media by pompous progressives.
4Britain Is Running Out Of Garys
In March 2015, the UK found itself facing an unprecedented crisis. No, not an imminent terror attack or a deadly pandemic. The country was running out of people called Gary. According to media reports, scientists had predicted there would be no Garys left by 2050.
Although national papers were largely skeptical, local news outlets jumped all over the story. According to The Independent, Britain’s popular Radio One even hosted a serious phone-in discussing the issue.
If the headline “No Garys Left in Britain by 2050” sounds like a joke, that’s because it is. The story originated on the Daily Mash, a satirical site that’s the British equivalent of the Onion. Just like the Onion, they have a proud tradition of reporters stealing their stories and passing them off as true. Such was the case with Gary.
In this instance, the story got an additional boost because UK tabloids had recently been worrying about the lack of old-fashioned British names being registered for newborns. So the Daily Mash spoofed their worry, only to have the same tabloids pick up their spoof and reprint it as troubling fact. At which point, satire simply devoured itself.
3ISIS Refugees Fought The German Police
Arguably, the most emotive news topic of 2015 hasn’t been mass shootings or the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. It’s been refugees. As over one million migrants and refugees arrive on Europe’s shores, fake news stories have spread far and wide. One of the most pernicious has involved refugees having ties to ISIS.
We saw this most clearly when rumors spread that Syrian refugees were involved in the Paris attacks. Although it has since been proven that all those involved were European nationals, with the majority born in France or Belgium, the anti-refugee stories have persisted. One of the most popular involves an image of refugees attacking German police while waving an ISIS flag. The image has been taken as confirmation that ISIS is smuggling agents into Europe.
Of course, images can be deceiving, and this one has deception written all over it. For starters, it was taken in 2012, not 2015, and the men involved aren’t refugees. They’re EU citizens counterprotesting a far right march in the German city of Bonn. Although that looks like an ISIS flag, the group was at that point an incredibly obscure Al-Qaeda offshoot known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The symbol on the flag was primarily associated with the Prophet Muhammad.
Although this story has been repeatedly debunked, unproven stories linking refugees to ISIS continue to surface in the media. Expect to see more of them in our 2016 roundup.
2The English Language Is Dying Out In UK Schools
On July 24, 2015, Britain’s Daily Express splashed an unbelievable headline on its pages. According to the report, a special investigation had revealed that the English language was dying out in UK schools. With 311 languages spoken, entire lessons were conducted in languages other than English. The paper blamed immigration. The story was so sensational that it was picked up and shared widely across social media.
The reason the headline seemed unbelievable was because no one should have believed it. The Daily Express had distorted the figures badly.
According to former government adviser Jonathan Portes, the data only showed how many pupils did not speak English as a first language. It did not show how many couldn’t speak it at all. The UK’s many bilingual children were lumped in with those unable to speak English for the story. Investigating further, the Independent Press Standards Organization also found that their claim that lessons were taught in languages “other than English” was demonstrably false. Still, it probably helped to sell a few papers.
1It Would Take A Terrorist Six Days To Sneak From Turkey To Paris
In the aftermath of the devastating Paris attacks, UK tabloid The Sun posted a blistering expose on Europe’s safety. Reporter Emile Ghessen had smuggled himself from Turkey to Paris without a passport while posing as a Syrian refugee. He’d crossed through Croatia into the EU and on through Germany, dodging incompetent police and sleeping on trains. It had taken him six days to reach one of the attack sites in Paris.
Unsurprisingly, other outlets leaped on the story. It showed how easily ISIS fighters could get from the Middle East into the heart of Europe and how fresh terror attacks might be staged amid the lax security.
At least, that would have been true if Ghessen had not made the whole thing up. When the story broke, reporters contacted the Croatian government, which responded by releasing a scan they’d taken of Ghessen’s passport as he crossed the border. Ghessen had his British passport on him at all times. He’d also flown from Croatia to Paris—a method that proves nothing more dastardly than that British people are capable of boarding European planes.
Although Ghessen is now facing legal action, his fake story did plenty of damage. It added fuel to the fire of anti-refugee hysteria and arguably did the dirty work of spreading fear for ISIS.