Check Please! Satire Roundup (June 2004)
If the Internet were to have a motto, it would surely be "caveat lector" -- let the reader beware. Yet time and again, in the interests of posting headlines quickly, scooping rivals, or simple carelessness, mainstream media outlets fail to remember this important lesson and report satirical news stories as fact.
Periodically, Check, Please! takes a look at some of the more egregious lapses in judgment perpetrated by mainstream media outlets which ought to know better. We assign ratings (one to five stars) based on level of exposure gained, how careful the news outlet in question usually is, and the plausibility of the story.
If you know of a web-based satire or parody that has been reported as news by a serious news provider, let us know. Please note that for consideration stories must be:
- Material originating on a satire or parody website, with a reasonably accessible disclaimer available on the site; and
- Reprinted by a human editor (i.e., automatic link aggregators don't count).
Media that fell for it
The Hoosier Gazette, "Purdue signs wrong Jason Smith to basketball letter of intent." Reprinted in the San Diego Tribune (Later retraction and discussion here). **** With the website only five weeks old when this story was picked up, it is perhaps not surprising that the Hoosier Gazette was able to sneak under the radar of sports journalists. But the story -- and then the exposure of the story -- made headlines around the country.
The Bentinel, "Howard Stern Retaliates: Refuses To Watch Clear Channel Stations."Quoted by Kiran Chetry on FOX News. (AVI of newscast here). *** FOX is not known for its accuracy in reporting, but this is a national television network after all. The story is not that outrageous, but the reporter ought to have checked her facts.
Inside Edition anchor Deborah Norville.
The Onion, "Study: 58 Percent Of U.S. Exercise Televised," (full article available by subscription access only). Quoted by Deborah Norville on MSNBC (article excerpt and segment transcript here). ***** The Onion is far and away the best known online satire site, and Deborah Norville is a leading national media figure. At her salary, thereπs no way this should have slipped through. She later claimed she was "in on the joke." Sorry, but it doesn't look that way.
The Watley Review, "DNA Study Finds Chihuahuas Aren't Dogs." Printed in the Oslo paper Verdens Gang (article describing the error here). *** VG's failure to spot this spoof could have been due to a language issue, but it was not alone in swallowing this seeming confirmation of a longstanding urban legend: Dozens of radio stations reported this "factoid" when it was posted in late May. Believers persisted despite the story's allegation that Yorkshire Terriers were bred from pigeons.
The Spoof, "John Kerry names Johnny Depp as Running Mate." Reprinted in the PakTribune (story later pulled offline, original link goes to index). *** This story is not remotely plausible, and the name of the site is "The Spoof" for crying out loud. This can only be chalked up to a cultural gap -- someone both failed to understand the word "spoof" and who Johnny Depp is. To the PakTribune's credit, the article was yanked before long.