The debate on fake news in the media scaled new heights in the recent past, when some people blamed the POTUS and his inner circle for disseminating misguided information during the presidential campaign. They argued that some of this fake news influenced how some of the voters decided to cast their ballots in the election.
We are in the midst of a crisis in the shape of fake news. The best word that can be used to describe how atrocious a subject it is at the moment is epidemic. It is impossible to sum up the effect fake news has on the public, but one glance at the White House can give you a definite idea. The smear campaigns that were a constituent of the presidential debates are just but an example. The constant tales that surround the Black Lives Matter movement can also serve as a warning to the effect fake news can have on society. We are in an age where any form of misinformation can make its way to different parts of the world. This is a worrying factor, as it is almost impossible to contain such information once it starts to spread due to it being packaged very well.
15. The Zombie uprising
In 2012, various media outlets reported on a man, Ronald Poppo, who had his face bitten off during a brutal attack. This led to various sections of the public speculating that the person who perpetrated the attack was high on a super drug referred to as bath salts. They further claimed that the ingestion of this drug would lead to the rise of a super horde of zombies that would eventually terrorize the world. This fear was eventually quelled when scientists proved that bath salts were indeed harmful, but their effects would only lead to normal ailments such as infections and high fevers.
14. The Washington Post’s 1980 Story About An Eight-year-old heroin addict
This story by Janet Cooke ran on the front page of the Washington Post in 1980 and was only proven fake after she won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. It detailed how an eight-year-old from the southeast side of Washington was battling a heroin addiction. To make it worse, the newspaper reported that the child’s mother had accepted the fact that her son was a drug user, and was even enabling the shocking habit. The story caused a lot of reaction from the police and local media and they launched efforts to find the child. Unfortunately, they did not find the boy and six months later, Janet finally confessed that the whole thing was a work of fiction.
13. Rolling Stone’s Coverage of the gang rape at the University of Virginia
The depths some reporters go to in order to increase the circulation of their magazines and newspapers are astonishing. In 2014, Rolling Stones published a story that detailed the account of a victim of sexual assault by a gang of fraternity members. The story elicited immediate debate, with sections of the public dismissing it due to how detailed it was. Furthermore, key elements of the story began to fall apart when it started being scrutinized by various media and law enforcement outlets. The magazine was forced to retract the story after a jury ruled that the reporter’s account was actually false, and was thus a defamatory article.
12. The proto-Tea Party wild gun scare
Over the years, there have been some memorable examples of fake news taking the country by storm. A good example of this is in 2009 when MSNBC claimed that white people were attending the 2009 health care reform rallies armed with various types of guns. The news media outlet further attributed this habit to the overwhelming anger expressed by various sections of the country over the election of a black president. They tried to illustrate their allegations with footage of an armed white man attending one of President Obama’s speeches. What they did not realize was that the footage was actually edited, and the man, in that case, was actually a black man.
11. Forbes’ tale of a 15-year-old hacker who did not exist
Sometimes spotting fake news in the media is not rocket science. Particularly in the age of the internet, it has become easier to verify most of the information some of these newspapers and websites shove down our throats. A case that perfectly exemplifies this point is a 1998 article by Forbes Magazine. It explained how a 15-year-old hacker was hired by a giant Tech Company to show them how he breached their firewall. This story had fake written all over it. It was written by Stephen Glass, a journalist notorious for fabricating many of his published articles. But this one takes the cake! The article went onto to claim that the young hacker, “an adolescent version of Bill Gates,” would hold the company hostage unless his demands were met (which includes, amongst other things, a trip to Disney World and X-Men comic books). This lie never stood a chance. They just make it too easy for us.
10. Pizzagate – a story ran by various fake news purveyors
This conspiracy theory had Hollywood written all over it. Somebody definitely took their time when cooking up this story, just not enough of it. The details that followed it were just erroneous. Several media websites ran the story, which allegedly detailed how a number of restaurants across the United States were trafficking humans with the help of members of the Democratic Party. Despite some of the fallacies that surrounded it, the story went viral and even led to different sections of the public demonstrating for further investigations to be conducted into it. The fake news onslaught really stirred a lot of anger with this one; within hours of its publication, thousands of messages started flooding the various social networking sites.
9. New York Times’ Walter Duranty Was Trying to Spread Communism
Perhaps the mother of every other fake story can be found back in 1933 when New York Times writer Walter Duranty helped Russia conceal one of the most heinous crimes in history. Instead of writing about the crimes that were taking place in the country, his articles helped market communism around the world. The sad part is one of the fake stories he wrote actually garnered a Pulitzer Prize, which up to date has not yet been revoked. Sad, isn’t it? As he was spreading Stalin’s ideologies across the world, more than a million people were losing their lives between the years 1933 and 1934, as the communists forcefully starved them. Although Duranty was criticized by many of his editors, The Times kept him as a correspondent until 1941.
8. The fake news Freakout
This is perhaps one of the most interesting fake news occurrence in the US. Well, an assistant professor, Melissa Zimdars, decided to come up with a list of fake news websites, which turns out was itself a fake news story. The list was created by the leftist activist who didn’t use any rigorous or academic process during the vetting process. She essentially claimed that these news websites are either false, misleading or clickbait-y, and/or a satirical “news” source. However, the list was highly criticized and removed from her social media platforms, but not after it generated a series of stories on top mainstream media platforms. The fake news story gained a massive following having been themed with a democratic political initiative.
7. Saturday Night Fever
Considered one of the most influential fake news stories in history, Nik Cohn from the New York Magazine definitely takes the cake. Used as the cover story of the magazine under the title, ‘Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night’, the tale was a purported account about Vincent, a dancer from Brooklyn who revelled in the discovery of the nightlife. Cohn later confessed that he had made it all up, despite knowing the rules that governed magazine publishing at that time. His gutsy revelation made it so much juicier, considering the fact that his story was used for the script of a Hollywood film a few years later.
6. NBC’s infamous ploy to rig a truck to explode
One of the more infamous stunts that major news networks employ is the use of staged accidents or hoaxes to generate content. None did it better than NBC in 1993 when they rigged a General Motors truck so that they could prove that they were actually explosion hazards on the road. What followed the report was a historic apology that asked the public to disregard the contents of that news report, as they were indeed unscientific. Various media outlets have since copied the dubious methods that they used, to portray public safety reporting. This is despite the fact that such means have no place in hard news reporting.
5. The homecoming of rescued prisoner of war, Jessica Lynch
New York Times reporter, Jayson Blair, made a career out of falsified news reports up to 2003, which he conjured up in his apartment in Brooklyn. He was so adept at it, that for years he fooled his parent magazine into thinking that the news reports he brought to them were indeed genuine. One of the many articles that the newspaper found to be fake was the rescue of a prisoner of war in Iraq, back in 2003. The story detailed how he had covered the whole event from Palestine, which was, in fact, false as he had not left the States for the duration of that actual event. Even though he left behind a long trail of deception, the redeeming factor is that the New York Times decided to expose him despite the repercussions they would face because of his actions.
4. False News That Destroyed Dan Rather’s Career
Rathergate is still up to date considered one of the biggest blows to the credibility of the media in general. It led to the pitiful demise of CBS News reporter Dan Rather’s once illustrious career. He came up with a phoney story that targeted then-President George W. Bush’s National Guard. The details of the story almost threw the 2004 elections into disarray. The falsified documents that accompanied the story were nevertheless unearthed by various bloggers, who cited several inadequacies concerning their details. This story also dragged CBS News’ name through the dirt as they tried to protect, rather than throw him under the bus.
3. George Zimmerman’s alleged edited 911 call
The killing of unarmed Trayvon Martin raised such a furor around the country that various media outlets were desperate to join in on the action. NBC News did not want to be left out, and inadvertently edited a section of the recording of the call Zimmerman made to 911 that fateful night. They maliciously edited it, so that it would sound as though George was actually obsessed with Trayvon Martin’s skin colour during the events of the shooting. As if that was not enough they even went as far as claiming that in the recording, the police officer had actually used a racial epithet.
2. The False tales that got Brian Williams Fired
The career of one of the most respected anchors at NBC News came to an unnerving halt after it emerged that he had lied about one of his stories. He was accused of lying that he had taken enemy fire while onboard a helicopter in Iraq back in 2003. The soldiers that had accompanied him on the flight denied his account, as they were also aboard that same helicopter. He had for years given this account on various platforms, and the extent of his lie was what cost him his job. The astonishing part about this is that Williams was able to get another job in broadcast journalism. What a funny world we live in.
1. The penetrating bullet
Back in 1994, several newspapers ran the story of a bullet that had been developed, which had the ability to penetrate normal bulletproof jackets. Christened ‘the black rhino’, the terrifying news of the bullet spread across the country, causing uproar amongst many of its citizens. They were afraid for the safety of their loved ones who used these jackets in the line of duty. Various police officers and politicians rallied to Washington to ensure that production of this new kind of bullet was halted. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms quelled the panic that was rising by stating that they had not received test samples for the purported bullet.
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