Botox Mom: Hoax Story & Checkbook Journalism?

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ABC agreed (but has since changed its position) to pay $10,000 for licensing in its Botox Mom coverage. (Credit: Good Morning America, screenshot)

What’s ethically worse in the “Botox Mom” hoax story?  The fact that news outlets like ABC News and the UK Sun fell for what the “Botox Mom” says is a hoax or the accusations that they reportedly shelled out cash for the story?

The tale started in March when the UK newspaper The Sun reported that Sheena Upton, a 34-year-old from Birmingham currently living in San Francisco, gives her 8-year-old daughter Britney botox injections. The Sun’s March 23 story by Dulcie Pearce also reported that  Britney is quoted as saying she wants “a boob and nose job soon.”

Upton’s story of giving botox injections and virgin waxes to her young daughter went viral.  She was criticized and bloggers early on speculated about the truth in her story.  She appeared on ABC News’ Good Morning America and CBS’s Inside Edition.  Then, child protective services took away her daughter and the story unraveled.

But, now it turns out that Upton says her real name is Kerry Campbell.  And, Upton/Campbell claims not only has the whole story been a hoax, but that she was solicited into acting out the hoax story in exchange for money from news organizations.

“Honestly, I don’t even know what Botox is. I was scripted to do everything,” Upton reportedly stated to TMZ.’s stance on the Botox Mom story is that it “reveals cracks in old media’s attempts at being cool.” went on to call the “traditional media” to “focus on what they should be doing best: accuracy and in depth coverage.”  Why didn’t GMA “do their homework first to see if anything about this story is fishy?” wondered.

ABC  News Agreed to Pay $10K

ABC News, for one, has confirmed it was going to pay for its features on Upton/Campbell, but attempted to justify its checkbook journalism by claiming its payment was to a third-party for photo licensing.

ABC News spokesperson Jeffrey Schneider admitted that it had agreed to pay $10,000 in “photo licensing to a British booker for the story” but not Upton “directly.”  Now that the story has fallen apart, Schneider said ABC wouldn’t be paying the money.

Upton and her daughter appeared on a Good Morning America segment, but the photos that accompanied the segment were provided. On air, there was no botox injection — just an interview with the daughter and mother and photos of a demonstration.

“We had agreed to pay a $10,000 licensing fee to a U.K. freelancer for the pictures, but obviously in light of everything that’s happened, zero money has been sent that way,” Schneider is quoted as saying.

“We have a contract with the freelancer, which obviously stipulates that the images depict what they purport to show, that there’s no staging in any way,” he stated. “So with all those open questions, we’re going to hold [the money] back.”

The Atlantic Wire reported CBS’s Inside Edition paid $9,500.

Upton reportedly told TMZ the Sun solicited her with $200 in exchange for the story, the fake name and consenting to pose for a photo of her staging a botox injection on her daughter. reported that Campbell demonstrated injecting botox into Britney’s forehead both in picture for the Sun and on Good Morning America.

The Sun has rejected claims that it was behind the fake story. It claims that the article “was published in good faith” and didn’t know it was fake.

Upton on May 18 issued a “declaration” that the Sun “solicited” her with $200 to follow “the story, instructions and a script to follow for a recorded interview for paid fee.”

She noted she consented to interviews for ABC in exchange for “a large fee” and admitted “I have never given my daughter Botox, nor allowed her to get any type of waxing, nor is she a beauty pageant contestant.”

Upton also added that a social worker accompanied her to a UCLA Medical Center doctor who confirmed she’s never had Botox.


The Metro reported that Alley Einstein, who acted as an intermediary between the Sun and Upton/Campbell, said she paid Upton “£3,700” and did advise Upton to “act like a ‘super soccer mum,’ including ‘how she should talk, what she should wear and advice on avoiding questions.”

TMZ reported on May 20 that Einstein, who worked as an intermediary, claimed that she was “set up” by Upton. Einstein counters Upton’s claims that Einstein staged the story by saying Upton asked her to come up with the list as a “media briefing sheet” and “NOT a script.”

Einstein’s “affidavit under oath” said she saw “identification showing her name and a birth certificate” showing her name was Kerry Campbell.  She said Campbell/Upton saw her inject her daughter’s forehead with “a small amount from a bottle marked Botox” and put “filler” in her daughter’s lips, and claimed “at least 2 other people” saw the injections.

Einstein also claimed that Upton tried to “extort funds” and that she “wired” Campbell $1,000 US after Upton “locked herself in the toilet” following the GMA interview.”

She stated she/her company paid Upton “$800 for the magazine and $700 from the paper” and later “$5,000 from our own company funds.”  On what appears to be Einstein’s website, she offers “from £200 to more than £2500 for a story.”

iMediaEthics is writing to Good Morning America and Inside Edition for comment and will update with any response.

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Botox Mom: Hoax Story & Checkbook Journalism?

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