BURRIS: Media hoax anyone?
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 12:56 pm
BY LARRY BURRIS
We know there is some kind of hoax involving Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, and we know the media are also involved, either as part of the hoax itself or as complicit for not checking for obvious flaws in the story. But you know what, there's something to be said for a good media hoax.
Today all you need to do to perpetuate a hoax is to put something out on the Internet, and innumerable gullible people will do the work for you. But back in the early '70s, when Clifford Irving created, and sold, a fake biography of Howard Hughes, he actually worked at creating his hoax; he didn't just create something for everyone to send out via e-mail. Irving had flair, panache, elegance.
But Irving hasn't been the only one to fool the media just for the sake of doing it.
A few years ago the nation was enraptured by the story of little Kodee Kennings, whose father was serving with the Army in Iraq. Newspapers across the country ran letters from Kodee to her father. Reporters talked with her on the phone and in person. When her father, Sergeant Dan Kennings, came home on leave, he was interviewed, in person, by reporters.
The story touched a chord, and groups around the country raised money for the little girl. When stories circulated that Sergeant Kennings was killed in Iraq there were memorial services.
But guess what: it was all a hoax. And the woman who fabricated the story, Jaimie Reynolds, didn't pull this prank off by herself. She recruited numerous helpers. She gave extensive written scripts to the "actors" in the charade, coached them about their demeanor and their fictional personal histories and even provided them with wardrobes and fake military tattoos.
Later a police investigation determined no laws were broken. The report concluded Reynolds spent her own money, and at one point returned more than $200 dollars to a Detroit church, after its members tried to donate the money to Kodee.
Of course, not all media hoaxes end on such happy notes. Some of them have tied up police and firefighters on non-existent emergencies. Hoaxes can destroy reputations and they can steal resources and attention from real victims.
To be sure, we have seen numerous times reporters have uncovered graft and corruption, no matter how deep it has been buried.
But the fact is, a good hoax will trump a good investigation any day.