Apparently, October is National Hoax Month -- or so it would seem, given the proliferation of fraudulent stories that appeared over the past couple weeks. It all began with a boy not in a balloon...
By now, you've almost certainly heard of Falcon Heene, the 6-year-old boy from Fort Collins, Colorado who, for a brief period of time, was thought to be trapped inside his father's homemade weather balloon. News crews flocked to capture the scene and helicopters from the Colorado Air National Guard were dispatched to follow his flight. All the while, little Falcon fulfilled his namesake, circling the skies in a silver disc.
And then Falcon emerged from his hiding place in the family's attic and the media jumped on the next story: Was this all a hoax? Yes, yes it was.
But the Heene's were only the opening act. Next up, professional pranksters and documentarians, the Yes Men (along with some help from the Avaaz Action Factory) challenged the news media to see through their Chamber of Commerce hoax.
Known for their uncanny ability to impersonate power, the Yes Men have previously targeted symbols of capitalism such as the World Trade Organization, ExxonMobil, and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative, free-market public policy institute. A typical prank involves one or more of the Yes Men showing up at a corporate function, dressed in the requisite suit and tie, masquerading as an official speaker who spouts unexpected (and completely un-conservative) ideas. Their new movie, "The Yes Men Fix the World" opened October 7th, but they didn't take any time off to celebrate.
In an email press release dated Oct. 19, 2009, the Chamber of Commerce seemed to reverse their previous position against climate change legislation. As the press release stated, "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is throwing their weight behind strong climate legislation, a spokesman for Chamber President Tom J. Donahue announced today at the National Press Club."
A spokesman did in fact appear at a press conference, but that spokesman was Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum.
Reuters, the New York Times, CNBC, and the Washington Post were all duped. And while they had to swallow their pride and issue corrections (or avoid public shaming by simply removing their initial stories), the Chamber of Commerce was angry enough to take action.
According to Portfolio.com, the Chamber of Commerce is now suing the Yes Men, who they claim are using stolen intellectual property for personal financial gain. "The Chamber’s lawsuit accused Jacques Servin, Igor Vamos, and others of misappropriating the Chamber’s logo in a press release, creating a fraudulent website that was an exact copy of the Chamber’s actual site, and holding a fake press conference at the National Press Club," writes Kent Hoover. The Chamber argues that the Yes Men refused to take down their fake-website because it helps promote merchandise and tickets for their new film. But Electronic Freedom Foundation senior staff attorney Matt Zimmerman argued that the fake site, a clear parody, is protected by copyright law.
The Chamber and Yes Men will continue to duke it out, but the media had already moved on to yet one more hoax.
Did you hear about that meteorite in Latvia? No? Well, it was a burning ball of fire and when it smashed into the earth in Mazsalaca near a farm, it left a crater about 20 feet deep and 65 feet wide (or about 30 feet wide; no one's sure) and 20 feet deep and the post-crash scene was caught on video! Can you believe it? Can you?
Well don't, because like every other spectacular story this month, this story has been debunked as a fraud. The hole seems to have been man-made, only about 9 feet deep. And according to statements made to the Times Online by Dr. Ilgonis Vilks, chairman of the scientific council at the University of Latvia’s Institute of Astronomy, a blazing hot meteorite that hit the earth would not leave green grass inside the crater.
Rush Limbaugh heard about all these stories, and to confirm that he's just as diligent as the mainstream media, fell for yet another hoax. This time, the source was a Jumping in Pools blog post titled "Obama College Thesis: 'Constitution is Inherently Flawed.'" In the post, the author says that intrepid Time magazine reporter Joe Klein unearthed a portion of Obama's undergrad thesis written while he was a student at Columbia College in Chicago. According to this blog post, the paper, titled Aristocracy Reborn, "chronicled the long struggle of the working class against, as Obama put it, 'plutocratic thugs with one hand on the money and the other on the government.'"
Limbaugh read the blog as fact, and then took his tirade to the airwaves, quoting an excerpt from the Jumping in Pools post, which in part read, "While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy."
If only Limbaugh had noticed the tags at the bottom of the original Jumping in Pools post. As Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post points out, it clearly says "satire."