Below, see iMediaEthics’ round-up of the top ten cases of fabrication, hoaxes and pranks on the media in 2015.
There isn’t a teenager named Joe Stevonson who likes to smoke Courtroom-flavored e-cigarettes. A tweeter pranked the New York Times after the newspaper put out a call for “a teen that vapes” to interview. The Times quoted this hoaxer as saying “the only thing that’s really missing is feeling like your entire mouth is coated in dirt.” After finding out it was duped, the Times deleted the fake Stevonson’s comments from its article.
A Florida fisherman didn’t get caught having sex with an alligator. A fake news story claimed a 59-year-old man was jailed after someone called the police on him for tying up, blindfolding and raping the alligator over the course of a month.
The local sheriff’s office called the story “fake as crocodile tears.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. was duped by a prankster in April. Like the New York Times, it put out a call for interviews on Twitter. Comedian Lewis Spears responded to the request for people who have dated a step-sibling. Spears gave a fake name and said he was in love with his stepsister.
This year, there was a little bit of resolution for Harper’s magazine, which in 1998 published an article by notorious fabricator Stephen Glass. In October of this year, Glass mailed a $10,000 check to the magazine to pay it back for the faked story. Earlier this month, Harper’s published a letter from Glass identifying everything he faked in his article for Harper’s, which formally retracted it. The breakdown? At least 71% was fake.
Wayne Simmons, who has been a Fox News guest commentator based on his CIA background, was busted for faking his credentials when the U.S. government indicted him in October. Simmons claimed he was an “Outside Paramilitary Special Operations Officer” for the CIA, but he never worked for the CIA.
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Bloomberg Politics was hoaxed in April and falsely claimed Nancy Reagan was backing Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. The story was based on a satire story from National Report.
No, a freelance reporter didn’t travel from Turkey to France without having to ever show his passport. The Sun retracted a December story claiming so after the Croatian government produced images of the reporter’s passport showing that it had been checked at least twice in Croatia.
In May, Canadian journalist Francois Bugingo fessed up to faking some of his reporting. Bugingo was first suspended from Canada’s 98.5 and later quit after Canadian news outlet La Presse accused him of having “invented from scratch” some of his stories, including claims about having “toasted with Serbian snipers in Sarajevo in 1993,” helping get a journalist being held “hostage to terrorists of Al Qaeda in Mauritania in September 2011” freed, and going to Somalia in 2011.
Bugingo also lost his gigs with Le Journal de Montreal, Le Journal de Quebec and TVA Nouvelles.
In late May, journalist John Bohannon came clean to intentionally tricking the media with a bogus study claiming that eating chocolate can help with weight loss. Bohannon owned up to the hoax in a blogpost saying he wanted to see how easy it would be to dupe the media. While there was a real study, it had so many possible results and so few participants, it was meaningless. But he still go it into a journal and sent out a press release, which hooked the media.
Earlier this year, a French woman said she got pregnant by an Australian man on vacation and made a video to look for him. The viral video got tons of media coverage from Australia’s Brisbane Times to Fox News, but it turned out to be a marketing stunt and the woman was an actress. No news outlets contacted the company or the actress to ask for verification before covering it, the viral marketing company told iMediaEthics.