The Quick 10: 10 Completely Fake News Stories
You have to love the Weekly World News. With ludicrous stories exposing things like how Adolf Hitler was cloned and has joined Al Qaeda and that the Garden of Eden was recently discovered in Colorado, how could you not love it? But you expect those stories from the WWN. You don't expect them from reputable newspapers. However, yesterday marked the anniversary of an article in The New York Sun (which was once on par with The New York Times) that rivaled even the most ridiculous articles ever published in the WWN. Check out the Great Moon Hoax and nine other journalistic no-nos.
1. The Great Moon Hoax. According to The Sun, there's life on the moon. Not just any life "“ beavers, unicorns, bat people (yes, bat people), goats and bison. It was 1835, so when the story claimed that a high-powered telescope was showing "scientists" these amazing creatures, people were inclined to believe it. And you have to hand it to the writers "“ the descriptions are pretty detailed:
The face, which was of a yellowish color, was an improvement upon that of the large orangutan... so much so that but for their long wings they would look as well on a parade ground as some of the old cockney militia. The hair of the head was a darker color than that of the body, closely curled but apparently not woolly, and arranged in two circles over the temples of the forehead. Their feet could only be seen as they were alternately lifted in walking; but from what we could see of them in so transient a view they appeared thin and very protuberant at the heel...We could perceive that their wings possessed great expansion and were similar in structure of those of the bat, being a semitransparent membrane expanded in curvilinear divisions by means of straight radii, united at the back by dorsal integuments. But what astonished us most was the circumstance of this membrane being continued from the shoulders to the legs, united all the way down, though gradually decreasing in width. The wings seemed completely under the command of volition, for those of the creatures whom we saw bathing in the water spread them instantly to their full width, waved them as ducks do theirs to shake off the water, and then as instantly closed them again in a compact form.
Although it eventually came out that the story was a total lie, people seemed to be more amused than mad and the Sun managed to keep its increased circulation.
2. The Bathtub Hoax. Being trivia buffs as I imagine many of you are, I bet you've heard the story that the bathtub wasn't popular in the United States until Millard Fillmore had one installed in the White house in 1850. It seems to be a "fact" people enjoy because it keeps surfacing despite the fact that it's not true. The original source, a column by Baltimorean writer H.L. Mencken, was a complete fabrication.
3. The Balloon-Hoax. This hoax of 1844 was perpetrated by no less than Edgar Allan Poe. It's believed he was probably inspired by the Great Moon Hoax, which was printed in the same newspaper nine years earlier. Poe reported that "Mr. Monck Mason's flying machine" had crossed the Atlantic in a mere three days. You can read the whole account here. The Sun sort of printed a retraction a few days later, though to have been written by Poe himself:
"The mails from the South last Saturday night not having brought a confirmation of the arrival of the Balloon from England, the particulars of which from our correspondent we detailed in our Extra, we are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous. The description of the Balloon and the voyage was written with a minuteness and scientific ability calculated to obtain credit everywhere, and was read with great pleasure and satisfaction. We by no means think such a project impossible."
4. The New York Zoo Hoax. Apparently completely false stories were popular in the 1800s, because that's when this story takes place as well. The New York Herald claimed that lions, tigers and bears were roaming the city and eating citizens at an alarming rate "“ nearly 50 dead and up to 200 injured. The end of the story said something along the lines of, "Haha, just kidding," but by the time they had read that far in the article, people were so panicked they skimmed right over it. Or perhaps they became distracted by looking out the window for stray beasts.
5. The Hitler Diaries. In this case, the publishing news magazine was the victim of the hoax, not the perpetrator. In 1983, Stern, a West German news magazine, paid the equivalent of millions of dollars to purchase 60 books said to be Hitler's journals. As soon as they started to publish excerpts of the diaries, experts immediately declared them false. To add insult to injury, they weren't even good forgeries.
6. Lucian Yahoo Dragoman. In an age of Pilot Inspektors and Audio Sciences, Lucian Yahoo really doesn't sound like that crazy of a name. A Romanian newspaper reported that little Lucian Yahoo was born in December 2004 to parents who met online and wanted to honor that medium by naming their son after one of its most used search engines. The problem? Little Lucian didn't exist. The reporter completely made the story up.
7. The Great Wall of China Hoax. Psst. Want to buy a historic landmark, cheap? Have I got a deal for you"¦ at least, that's what American newspapers reported back in 1899. Four newspaper reporters from Denver agreed to write independent stories about the Great Wall being torn down to make way for a road. It would have ended there, but other newspapers picked up the story and word quickly spread across the United States.
8. "Jimmy's World." Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke actually won a Pulitzer for her invention, an eight-year-old boy hooked on heroin. When the story hit the presses in 1980, Jimmy's story resonated with the citizens of D.C. and a search was done to try to find and help the poor kid. He was never found. This in combination with the discovery that Cooke had lied about a degree from Vassar and used a large number of anonymous sources led to the discovery that Jimmy probably didn't exist. Her Pulitzer was revoked and she resigned from the Post.
9. Allegra Coleman. Allegra, a supposed Hollywood It Girl, was invented for Esquire in the mid-90s. Writer Martha Sherrill made her up as sort of a commentary on celebrity puff pieces"¦ the problem is that most readers couldn't distinguish the made-up celebrity fluff from the real celebrity fluff and the joke was sort of lost. But it launched Ali Larter's career "“ the then-unknown model was chosen to portray Allegra for the photo shoot; agents immediately started calling Esquire wanting to represent the girl on the cover whether her name was Allegra or Ali.
10. David Manning. Anyone who declares a Rob Schneider movie brilliant has to be fake, right? In 2000, Sony invented Manning, supposedly a movie critic for a small-town Connecticut newspaper, to give rave reviews for movies like The Animal and Hollow Man. When a Newsweek reporter exposed that the critic was entirely made up, Sony had to pay a $1.5 million fine. "It was an incredibly foolish decision," one Sony exec said.