For the purpose of our list and reporting, we are looking only at the traditional sense of fake quotes and stories and hoaxes — fabricated quotes or stories that made it into news media — as opposed to propaganda or deceptive or misleading news. Below, a list of ten top cases where fabrication or fakery made it into a news article. We also offered ways that fact checking or vetting could have caught these before publication.
10. Hello! apologized in April after publishing a fake interview purporting to be with George Clooney about his relationship with his wife, Amal Clooney. The fake interview was a combination of fake quotes and old quotes Clooney had given in earlier interviews. Hello! claimed that it bought the interview from a news agency. How could it have prevented the mistake? Given Clooney’s previous history of complaining about stories about his wife, Hello! could have asked Clooney’s representatives for confirmation. Read Hello! Apologizes for Fake George Clooney Interview
9. Cleveland.com apologized after falsely reporting the National Basketball Association was moving its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina in protest of the bathroom bill, aka HB2. The NBA did actually end up moving the game, but that decision wasn’t announced until July, whereas the Cleveland.com story was published in April and based on a fake story from fake news site abcnews.com.co. If Cleveland.com had carefully checked the source — abcnews.com.co — it would have realized it was a spoof site. Read “Cleveland.com Apologizes, hoaxed by fake NBA All-Star Game.”
8. Also in April, the Los Angeles Times was duped by a fake press release claiming that the United Nations was considering decriminalizing marijuana. The fake press release was published on a site that mimicked the real UN Office on Drugs and Crime website and claimed the announcement was part of an “4/20” policy. To us, the idea of the UN having a 4/20 policy should have been a big red flag. Read “Los Angeles Times corrects after being duped by fake marijuana press release.”
7. Donald Trump has lobbed fake news allegations at real news in recent weeks, but in August a fake quote was attributed to Trump. Russian news agency Interfax unpublished a story after publishing a fake quote attributed to Trump claiming he commented on Russian paralympians. In this case, the claim was that Trump made the comment to the BBC. Interfax could have looked to see if that interview actually existed. Read “Russia’s Interfax unpublishes fake Donald Trump paralympics quote.”
6. In June, the UK Mirror published fake quotes attributed to American televangelist Pat Robertson about the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The Mirror deleted the quotes after Robertson complained. The quotes came from a satire site — if the Mirror had looked at its source, it could have prevented being duped. Read “UK Mirror Deletes after fake quotes from Pat Robertson on Orlando Pulse shooting.”
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5. Brazilian newspaper Edicao de Brasil published a fake interview on its front page claiming journalist and political scientist Leonardo Sakamoto said “retirees are useless to society.” Sakamoto received death threats, and the newspaper acknowledged being duped. This is another case where the outlet could have asked for transcripts or contacted the alleged interviewee to check before publication. But, as we explain below, there is a certain level of trust between reporters and editors where editors don’t and can’t check every source. Read “Retirees are useless to society’ interview was fake, Brazilian journalist gets 37 death threats.”
4. Several news outlets including Mashable, Metro, WGN Chicago, and several Tribune Media-owned TV news stations fell for a teenager’s prank tweet claiming he quit his job at Burger King and took a bag of chicken nuggets when he left. All these news outlets had to do was contact the teen or his former employer to learn the real story. Read “Chicken Nugget Thief Story a Hoax: How 2 Outlets Avoided being Duped.”
3. African news sites were duped by a satire story claiming Eritrea passed a law requiring men to have two wives. But a quick e-mail to the Eritrea Ministry of Information debunked the story, confirming that “this report is a hoax” and polygamy is illegal. Read “Eritrea doesn’t make men have 2 wives, satire story duped African media.”
2. Early this year, The Intercept fired reporter Juan Thompson for fabrication. The Intercept retracted a story claiming Thompson interviewed a cousin of Dylann Roof, the South Carolina man recently convicted in the mass shootings at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church. Roof’s family said there is no family member as named by Thompson. In this case, given the significance of the interview — a relative speaking about race feelings of a then-accused mass murderer in a racial incident — an editor at The Intercept should have looked for evidence of the cousin’s existence on social media or in databases, or again, picked up the phone and tried to contact him. Read “The Intercept Fires Reporter for Fabrication, Retracts Dylann Roof Story.”
1. The Guardian unpublished a trove of articles by freelance writer Joseph Mayton after finding 13 articles with fabrication. The Guardian said it couldn’t find “dozens of sources,” “several people quoted” challenged quotes and organizers of two events he reported on said he never went. In this case, and the above case, it can be harder for outlets to avoid the initial incident because there is a level of trust between editors and reporters that the actual work is getting done. But, with 13 problematic articles, The Guardian could have set up a way to make it easier for people to complain or spot check sourcing. Read “Guardian unpublishes 13 articles by Joseph Mayton for fabrication.”