At least three fake press releases, including one that was a fake retraction of an Ottawa Citizen article about artist Michel Luc Bellemare, circulated in April. iMediaEthics first started looking into this after seeking J-Source's report on the fake Ottawa Citizen retraction of a December 31 Ottawa Citizen article.
The December article in question claimed that artist Michel Luc Bellemare fudged his resume's claims of "his work in the National Gallery; acquisitions by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Museum of Civilization; a PhD from Carleton University; stories written about his groundbreaking work in the Globe and Mail, the New York Times and USA Today." For example, while Bellemare said "I am sincerely a National Gallery artist" the explanation is that the National Gallery's library has a book he submitted. The gallery's "policy there is to accept books submitted by Canadian artists as a courtesy," the Citizen reported. The Citizen noted that media outlets including itself had published "various false claims" and also suggested that Bellemare explained the apparent fabrications by arguing it was "a kind of performance." See the original Ottawa Citizen article here.
The fake retraction, signed "the Ottawa Citizen" and written as if it were from the newspaper, reads:
"The Ottawa Citizen would like to extend a full apology to professional abstract artist Michel Luc Bellemare for its recent publication “The Artful Dodger” on December 31st 2011, by journalist Zev Singer, due to the factual inaccuracies and general malicious tone of the article, which included the plagiarism of Mr. Bellemare’s images against the artist’s wishes and various misquotes and slandering inaccuracies throughout. It has come to our attention that Mr. Bellemare never made much of the statements that our reporter purported in his article and for this misadventure we are sorry. In conclusion, it is accurate to state in hindsight that Mr. Bellemare did not mislead the public concerning his resume.
"The Ottawa Citizen"
Both Bellemare and the Ottawa Citzen denied writing the retraction, which was published on Free-Press-Release.com, according to J-Source, but the Citizen's Singer tweeted about the fabricated retraction writing April 25 "An artist doesn't like my story about him. Writes his own retraction and signs it 'The Citizen.'" Singer also tweeted that Bellemare "writes full apology to himself, signs our names and posts it on free press-release site." J-Source noted that Singer said he didn't have any evidence that Bellemare wrote the retraction, but that he argued "the retraction has Bellemare's fingerprints all over it" based on "having read dozens of his creations, and no small number of pages of his unique prose stylings."
The Ottawa Citzen's managing editor Andrew Potter confirmed to iMediaEthics that "we certainly didn't send" the press release and "it certainly didn't originate" at the newspaper.
"We stand by the original story 100%," Potter said to iMediaEthics, noting that Bellemare "was not happy with" the December story and called for corrections.
We wrote to Free-Press-Release asking how it verifies press releases - specifically this fake Ottawa Citizen one, and if they could track who sent this press release. An unsigned e-mail from the site's "Support" account didn't offer any information on its verification system, but told us "this press release doesn't fit our Policy" and has been taken down. Free-Press-Release told us that it was sent in from the firstname.lastname@example.org, the e-mail provided as the press release contact.
But, the online trail leads to Bellemare, Potter pointed out to iMediaEthics. While the press release was signed "The Ottawa Citizen," the press release's contact information lists "Tate modern" with the e-mail "email@example.com."
The first Google result for that e-mail address was this Online PR News post from March 6 about Bellemare. The press release closes with the claim that "This conversation was brought to you by The Museum of Modern Art in relation with The Tate Gallery in London." Contact information on that post is for Roger Severn at the Tate Modern Gallery, Bankside, London, SE1, 9TG, with the phone number 613-296-6914.
(Credit: Online PR News, screenshot)
Interestingly, that is Bellemare's cell phone, as listed on Bellemare's personal website here. See below a screenshot from Bellemare's website.
However, Bellemare suggested to iMediaEthics that anyone could have attached his cell phone number to the press releases about him, writing "I believe my contact info. is public knowledge, thus opening a litany of possibilities."
(Credit: Atelier Avant-Garde, screenshot)
We asked the Museum of Modern Art if it was involved with the press release. The MoMA's Margaret Doyle told iMediaEthics by e-mail:
"Thank you for reaching out to us. We did not have any involvement in this press release and we were not aware of its existence. We don't have any comment on it at this time."
Doyle noted that the MoMA asked the website hosting the press release to remove the phony press release. Bellemare told iMediaEthics that he didn't write or release the press release and that the press release is "news to me."
Another press release on the Free-Press-Release website suggests the New York Times published it. The April 25, 2012 press release lists The New York Times as contact person and company but directs to the same firstname.lastname@example.org. See a screenshot of the press release below.
(Credit: Free Press Release, screenshot)
We wrote to the New York Times asking about this press release. New York Times communications director Danielle Rhoades Ha told us by e-mail "That release was not issued by The New York Times. Our press releases are available on NYTCO.com." We asked Bellemare if he knew anything about the Times press release, to which he replied "I do not."
iMediaEthics also asked him if he had looked into who released these press releases, if he didn't. He told us "I do not hold much stock in online pr news, most of it is rubbish, and in my opinion, a good read wasted."
We have written to the e-mail account listed in the press releases (email@example.com) to ask who is behind it and why the press releases are going up. We will update with any response.