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Media Caught Out By Fake Press Release

News organisations seem to like complaining about the apparent lack of respect that the wider community is paying them, mainly about people wanting to keep reading their news for free. When challenged about their slipping standards of reporting and failure to provide actual news, many of these news organisations point back to falling revenues, wringing their hands about how hard it is to be them in an electronic world where information is available almost instantly to anyone, anywhere in the world.

They really haven't helped their case with a recent egregious failure to fact check, or even sanity check a fake press release and fake media conference that signalled a massive change in direction for a significant organisation representing US business interests.

The US Chamber of Commerce is a body that claims to represent more than 300,000 US businesses, of all sizes and types, and provides a common voice for these businesses in environments where they normally wouldn't be heard. A number of public defections by large companies like Apple and Nike over the management and Climate Change stance of the Chamber set the environment for The Yes Men to fake a press release and media conference where the Chamber of Commerce would be announcing an about turn on its Climate Change stance.

It didn't take much more for the media to bite. Not everyone was completely sucked in, but Reuters did take the bait, and as a result, so did a number of major media sites and newspapers, including the Washington Post and The New York Times. Retractions may have soon followed, but the fact was that they had already reported the fake press release and media conference as real news.

When media conglomerate owners and boards are publicly calling for consumers to pay to access their content online, being publicly caught out blindly reporting on a hoax isn't going to help the argument that they are still relevant and an important source of accurate news. It isn't the first time that major media organisations have been caught out taking hoaxed material on blind faith as being accurate, but as alternative media sources proliferate, it is becoming harder for them to avoid scrutiny when this happens.

The rush to avoid being seen as the purveyor of yesterday's news shouldn't mean that common sense and accuracy are disregarded in order to do so.

22 October 2009

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