This past week, news outlets in the UK and Canada were hoaxed by a company purporting to be a “celebrity sperm donor service” and an actor posing as the company’s CEO, which all turned out to be a viral marketing promotion. On its website, the company, Fame Daddy, offers to find a “dream donor.”
A few days ago, ITV apologized for being hoaxed by an actor posing as Fame Daddy’s CEO, the BBC reported. ITV had interviewed a man named Dan Richards, who has been revealed as “an actor working for a TV production company” but talked about the “soon-to-launch service” Fame Daddy, the “first celebrity sperm donor service,” according to the BBC.
The UK Independent reported that an unnamed ITV spokesperson said about the fake interview:
“We obviously always make every effort to ensure the legitimacy of all the many stories which we feature on This Morning, as well as the authenticity of all guests. We carry out a range of checks, which in this case included verifying that this company was legally registered, and we did the interview in good faith.”
ITV Studios publicity manager Sarah Hitching sent iMediaEthics ITV’s statement on the apology, noting it was “ITV1’s daytime programme This Morning, not ITV News” that apologized. The statement reads:
“We obviously always make every effort to ensure the legitimacy of all the many stories which we feature on This Morning, as well as the authenticity of all guests. We carry out a range of checks, which in this case included verifying that this company was legally registered, and we did the interview in good faith.
“But it now appears that the man claiming to run a website for celebrity sperm donation was an actor working for a TV production company who clearly went to great lengths to pull the wool over the eyes of the programme and our audience. They also managed to convince other media, appearing on radio and in newspapers. We are very sorry that This Morning and our viewers were deliberately misled by this stunt.”
Time magazine noted that after the interview was revealed as a fake, Fame Daddy itself was exposed as a hoax that was serving as a “promotion for a TV comedy show.” The UK Independent published a statement from “TV company called 2LE Media” reading:
“Fame Daddy is not a real organisation. In fact it’s entirely made up, and is part of a satirical comedy / entertainment programme that we are producing for Channel 4.
“There is a serious side to the programme in that it aims to highlight the sometimes detrimental impact of social media on our news culture. Fame Daddy, for example, after starting out simply as a press released website with a social media footprint has reached Los Angeles, China and Australia.”
The Sun, Telegraph, IB Times, Globe and Mail, Toronto Sun reported on Fame Daddy
A Google News search for “Fame Daddy” produces stories by UK Sun, the UK Telegraph, the Globe and Mail, and others on the site.
The Sun and the Telegraph’s stories both directed to error pages or the home page. In a separate report, the Telegraph noted that it had been hoaxed and unpublished its report. The Telegraph added that it did try to verify the company before reporting on it, writing:
“Companies House records were checked by a Telegraph journalist before the story was published and a ‘company representative’ was interviewed.”
iMediaEthics wrote to the Sun asking if it posted any correction. The Sun’s new ombudsman, Philippa Kennedy, told iMediaEthics by email that:
“The story was not published in the main newspaper. It appeared for a short time online but was taken down after the This Morning TV show revealed that it had been hoaxed. The link no longer exists. The Sun online did not post a clarification.”
The IB Times reported on Fame Daddy as a “new sperm donor service.” As of Oct. 21 at 4 PM EST, the IB Times’ article — complete with quotes from Richards — is still up without news of the service being reported as a the hoax.
Likewise, the Toronto Sun published an Oct. 17 report about the service. The article is by a reporter from QMI Agency. That article included comments from Richards apparently from the fake CEO’s interview with ITV , but sourced to an unnamed “British morning television show.”
iMediaEthics wrote to the Toronto Sun asking if it ran a correction and how it verified the report.
The Toronto Sun’s Senior Web Editor Cynthia McLeod told iMediaEthics that the Sun “ran a clarifying follow-up story Oct. 18.” That story, “Celebrity sperm clinic aborted,” notes that the story was a hoax, writing in part:
“The story was then carried around the globe, though most major media — including QMI Agency — questioned the validity, and even how a company could convince movie stars and sports celebrities to offer up their essence to strangers.”
We’ve also written to QMI Agency’s reporter Thane Burnett and will update with any response.
The Globe and Mail also published an Oct. 17 report about Fame Daddy — albeit skeptically, noting
“It sounds like it could be a hoax designed to prank die-hard celebrity hounds, but Fame Daddy, which claims it expects to launch next year, promises to match hopeful mothers with sperm donated by ‘a top class portfolio of donors from across the celebrity world,’ according to the Fame Daddy website.”
iMediaEthics wrote to the Globe and Mail’s public editor Sylvia Stead asking if the newspaper will correct. Stead told iMediaEthics by email Oct. 21 that she would “look into this” and directed us Oct. 23 to her blog post on the hoax. In that blog post, Stead noted that the Globe and Mail’s report cited two sources that have since been taken down because of the hoax — ITV and the Telegraph. Stead wrote that the Globe and Mail “decided to de-link the article so readers aren’t misled.” When iMediaEthics checked after her blog post was posted, the Globe and Mail’s post on Fame Daddy led to an error page.
Stead added that the Globe and Mail’s executive feature editor Kevin Siu described the blog that hosted the Globe and Mail’s post on Fame Daddy as “not meant to be investigative, but to capture the online discussion and debate around a hot topic.” As part of the Globe and Mail’s “sniff test” on the story, Siu pointed to the UK media outlets that reported on Fame Daddy.
iMediaEthics asked Stead if the Globe and Mail would run any correction for its report on Fame Daddy. She responded via email:
“This was an online only story so there will not be a correction in the newspaper. My blog is the correction.”
See below a screenshot of the Globe and Mail’s report, which included comments from Richards to the Telegraph.
iMediaEthics has written to IB Times, the Telegraph, and the Sun asking if they will correct their reporting on this hoax as fact and how they verified the story before publishing. ITV News was also contacted for any further comment beyond its apology. We will update with any responses.
This hoax-in-the-name-of-marketing reminds iMediaEthics of our report on news outlets being tricked earlier this year by a video purporting to show the alleged fight between Chris Brown and Drake. In that case, Torrey Hughes, who told iMediaEthics he was behind the fake video, explained he posted an old video of a different bar fight, labeled it as from the Chris Brown-Drake fight, and watched media outlets lift his video for reporting. Then, Hughes filed copyright claims through YouTube to drive traffic to his website. Check out that report here.
UPDATE: 10/22/2012 11:19 AM EST: Added info, made small copy edits.
UPDATE: 10/23/2012 11:15 AM EST: Added response from the Sun and ITV
UPDATE: 10/23/2012: 12:08 PM EST: Added info from Sylvia Stead’s blog post.
CLARIFICATION - October 23, 2012 11:25 AM
ITV’s This Morning show aired the interview with actor Dan Richards, not ITV News. This Morning describes itself on Facebook as airing “the latest news, vids and gossip.”