5 Embarrassing Fake Stories That Were Reported By Real News Organizations

Sometimes April Fools antics pop up more than just one day a year. Other times, news agencies and high-profile individuals mistake fraudulent reporting for the real thing — and this is how rumors get started.

For example, the history of the bathtub has been marred by a hoax even into the present-day, when in 1917 a New York Evening Mail article called “A Neglected Anniversary” by H.L. Mencken explained that the bathtub had been introduced as early as 1842, but was greatly opposed because it was made of mahogany lined with lead; however, when President Millard Fillmore had a bathtub installed in the White House in 1850, the invention caught on and became widely accepted. The article was completely fabricated and has been widely quoted as recently as January 2008 when a Kia TV ad referred to the story without citing its bogus origin.

Here’s a taste of some of the most laughable “gotcha” moments in news that stirred the gossip pot:

1. The Daily Currant Successfully Dupes Again

On Monday, both the Boston Globe’s Boston.com and the conservative online publication Breitbart.com jumped on false reports that Nobel Prize-winning Paul Krugman had filed for personal bankruptcy, picked up by Austria’s Format magazine and originally reported by “the global satirical newspaper of record,” The Daily Currant.

The fake report claimed that Krugman was over $7 million in debt because of “impulsive shopping splurges” on Tiffany jewelry, “Portuguese wines and British dresses from the Victorian period,” and an apartment loan.

The snafu comes one month after the Washington Post mistakenly reported that Sarah Palin was joining the Qatari-owned news network Al Jazeera, once again based on a report from The Daily Currant. The post later issued a correction explaining that writer, Suzi Parker had, “cited a report on the Daily Currant website as the basis for that information without realizing that the piece was satirical.”

2. Manti Te’o and Media Get “Catfished”

Who can forget the oh so bizarre media frenzy that just kept getting weirder with each new development centered around University of Notre Dame star linebacker and Heisman Trophy Finalist Manti Te’o’s faux girlfriend? The emotionally riveting tale began when the South Bend Tribune had reported that Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had lost her battle with leukemia within days of the passing of Te’o’s grandmother, which became a touchstone of the Fighting Irish Cinderella-esque undefeated regular season. 

Later, the story was perpetuated by Te’o even after he had received a phone call on Dec. 6 revealing that his phantom girlfriend was “still alive,” but had faked her death in order to outrun drug dealers. After a slew of media reports, it was finally revealed that the joke was on Te’o and sports fans when hoax mastermind Ronaiah Tuiasosopo came forward and divulged that he had used his falsetto during phone calls to pose as the elusive Kekua all along. Wow…

3. China’s People’s Daily Online Mistakenly Reports Kim Jong-un is Sexiest Man Alive

China state newspaper’s website, People’s Daily Online, failed to get the memo that The Onion, the farcical publication that has named itself as America’s Finest News Source — is just the opposite: home of entertaining and fake news. 

Last fall, People’s Daily ran with The Onion’s story naming North Korea’s Kim Jong-un as the “Sexiest Man Alive,” outdoing the likes of Channing Tatum, Blake Shelton, and Denzel Washington. Despite Kim Jong-un’s absence of six-pack abs or a gaze that melts hearts, People’s Daily Online not only reported the story as legitimate news, but it also constructed a 55-image slideshow to congratulate the leader for the honor. Perhaps the South Korea Times thought they could join in on scoring some brownie points by flattering the Dear Leader, although the newspaper took a more subtle approach by simply reporting the story, but all was for naught. The People’s Daily and South Korea Times both had been duped by the phony report. Both publications can take solace in knowing that other news agencies and reporters have been just as gullible, running with a story before fact-checkers, could vouch for its legitimacy.

4. Iranian News Agency Bamboozled By Fake Poll

The Fars News, Iran’s state-run news agency, ran an essentially ripped off piece by The Onion in an attempt to boost the Iranian president’s ego. It outlandishly reported the results of The Onion’s fake Gallup poll. The article said that, “77 percent of rural Caucasian voters … would much rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Ahmadinejad than spend time with President Obama.”

The tongue-and-cheek article added that 60 percent of rural Caucasians said, “They at least respected that Ahmadjinejad doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s Muslim.”

5. U.S. Capitol Police Forced to Investigate Tweets By The Onion

In September 2011, The Onion turned up the heat on an already boiling budget battle in Congress with a story published on its website titled “Congress Takes Group of Schoolchildren Hostage.” The prank should have been followed by #epicfailure. In an ill-advised move to promote the story on Twitter, the humor site’s official social media account began tweeting breaking-news alerts: “BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen.”

Although, the tweets came from a fake news site, the U.S. Capitol Police were forced to investigate the startling and hardly funny tweets, even issuing an official press release about its efforts. In a pre-Sandy Hook world, this hoax was treated fairly lightly, but if repeated today by the jokester site, it would most likely seriously back-fire.