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LiteratEye #37: Maybe You Haven’t Seen a Ghost but You’ve Probably Read a Book by One

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Satire

Here’s the thirty seventh installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #37: Maybe You Haven’t Seen a Ghost but You’ve Probably Read a Book by One
By W.J. Elvin III
October 30, 2009

“I don’t think that anyone would call me a lesbian, it’s just that I seem to be the type that other women get queer ideas about.”

hedy lamarr-210Well, what do you think? Did film heart-throb Hedy Lamarr actually say that or was the quote concocted by her ghostwriter? She was not at all happy with the work of her ghost. She sued the publisher of her autobiography, Ecstasy, contending that what wasn’t concocted was wild exaggeration.

She hadn’t read her own autobiography before it was published? Reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s comment when asked about his ghost-written autobiography:

“I hear it’s terrific. One of these days I’m going to read it.”

Apparently Lamarr was upset over being portrayed as a nut case due to her sexual antics.

Ecstasy has been variously described as “mediocre” and, by a judge who refused to halt its release, “filthy, nauseating, and revolting.” If the latter is true, the book doesn’t devote deserved attention to her beauty and brains.

It might be of interest as a guessing game, what’s true and what’s just Hollywood hype? (more…)

Obama Hates (Not) the Constitution

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Prank News

Submitted by Wil Welsh: [The Rush Limbaugh video mentioned is at the end of this post]

Shocker for conservatives: Obama may not hate the Constitution
by Alex Koppelman
October 23, 2009

The right, including Rush Limbaugh, falls for a hoax about the president’s college thesis

rushlimbaughOn Friday, it seemed for a moment — at least to Rush Limbaugh’s listeners — that the right had finally found the smoking gun to prove that President Obama secretly hates the U.S., its founders and even the Constitution.

Limbaugh read his radio audience an excerpt from what he said was Obama’s senior thesis, which he wrote while at Columbia University. After more than a year shrouded in secrecy by the Obama campaign and a compliant media, the thesis had finally emerged, and it was even worse than some had feared.

The excerpt read by Limbaugh:

[T]he Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy.

Limbaugh was, naturally, up in arms about this, calling the college-aged Obama a “little boy,” and saying, “he still shares those same feelings.” (more…)

AP To Give Us What They Think We Want

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Filed under: Media Literacy

Another Reason to Worry: The Associated Press’ New “Standard” for “News” Is Popularity
Center for Media and Democracy / PR Watch
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
October 16, 2009

ap-200The Associated Press, which is increasingly relied upon by traditional papers dealing with staff cutbacks and by new media news re-“broadcasters” such as Yahoo, is signaling a worrisome shift in what it considers “news.” Here is an excerpt from the Columbia Journalism Review‘s recent story about the AP’s strategy retreat at Lake Placid:

“‘[T]oo often,’ [senior managing editor John] Daniszewski writes, ‘we expend precious time and scarce resources on work that does not excite and does not get used’ — going forward, AP journalists need to ‘focus on what gets used and eliminate the leftovers.'”

This seems to move the bar from the aspirational slogan of the New York Times of “all the news that’s fit to print” to something more akin to “all the news that’s popular.” It’s a shift that signals the loss of something important. News can be valuable to creating an informed citizenry, even if it’s not popular or hot. While the new standard may seem like the key to success in the marketplace, it seems to fit a very narrow definition of success. Read the whole story and the actual memo here.

LiteratEye #35: Ghost Story: The Riddle of Who Wrote What

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the thirty fifth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #35: Ghost Story: The Riddle of Who Wrote What
By W.J. Elvin III
October 16, 2009

seance-200It may come as a surprise to some that Sean Connery, in his recent book, Being A Scot, provides a truly enlightening cultural history lesson.

The book, issued by Phoenix Illustrated and as yet available only as an expensive import here in the States, surveys Scottish creativity, inventiveness and history. And, since it’s autobiographical in its own quirky way, there’s the necessarily egocentric focus on Connery.

Of particular interest to armchair detectives of the LiteratEye squad is the invitation to help solve a literary mystery.

Connery presents a gloom-and-doom quote, written two hundred years ago but obviously appropriate in the present day. Sorry if it’s a bit windy and profound, it’s Sir Sean’s puzzle, not mine:

“A democracy is always temporary, and therefore cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It will only exist until the voters discover that they can reward themselves with the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury. A democracy therefore always collapses over loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a great dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

Connery says the quote traces to the voluminous works of a fellow Scot, the historian Alexander Fraser Tytler. It was given new life in a speech by President Ronald Reagan (who, ironically, sparked massive raids on the public treasury to compensate for the economic crimes and disasters resulting from his deregulation debacles).

What Connery wants to know is just where in Tytler’s work does the quote appear? A search of Tytler archives in the U.S. and Scotland failed to turn up the exact source. (more…)

British Tabloids Hoaxed

Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy

Submitted by Mark Borkowski:

Starsuckers celebrity hoax dupes tabloids
by Paul Lewis
14 October 2009

From ‘flamey’ Amy Winehouse to Russell Brand the banker, documentary team’s fake celebrity stories fooled editors

Watch interview with filmmaker Chris Atkins here.
Visit Starsuckers Website here.

starsuckers-200The plan to subvert the pages of some of Fleet Street’s bestselling newspapers was hatched in a windowless office in east London. For months, a team of documentary makers had sat in the Brick Lane film studio they called “the cell”, trawling through tabloid clippings in search of stories they could prove were untrue.

They decided to concoct an experiment to test their theory that tabloid editors sometimes publish celebrity stories with scant regard for the truth.

“We consumed a lot of coffee thinking about it,” said Chris Atkins, the director of the forthcoming film Starsuckers. “How can we do this intelligently? How can we prove our point? But how can we make it funny?” (more…)

LiteratEye #34: Between the Covers: What’s It Like to Be in a Book?

Filed under: Media Literacy

Here’s the thirty fourth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #34: Between the Covers: What’s It Like to Be in a Book?
By W.J. Elvin III
October 9, 2009

FOUR-190Once upon a time it was something of a rarity to appear personally in print, or even to know someone who’d been written about.

Today, it’s routine to be mentioned in someone’s blog, or, failing that, to spend five minutes launching a blog and filling it with “me, me, me.”

But it’s still a bit extraordinary to be in a book unless one has achieved celebrity or notoriety. When it happens to ordinary folk, the experience may come as a welcome surprise or a humiliating shock.

Certainly a book could be written covering all the lawsuits that have resulted from unwelcome attention of that sort.

For me, a career in the news business has meant frequently writing about others and rarely being written about myself.

I was, for many years, a Washington “insider” columnist and feature writer.

I’ve often run across books mentioning intrigues, scandals and skullduggery that I’d unearthed or expanded upon.

But that’s not the same as actually being named and perhaps profiled. (more…)

LiteratEye #24: Home-Made Hocus Pocus Masquerades as Wisdom of an Ancient People

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the twenty fourth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog. In this installment, Elvin continues his survey of literary fraud focused on Australia…

LiteratEye #24: Home-Made Hocus Pocus Masquerades as Wisdom of an Ancient People
By W.J. Elvin III
July 31, 2009

aborigines-425“Jangga Meenya Bomunggur.”

In other words, “The smell of the white man is killing us.”

That’s from the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation’s mission statement, a very powerful statement and well worth checking out.

The Dumbartung group is an arts advocacy organization in Australia.

One thing the indigenous people find stinky about the white man, or in this case, woman, is exploitation through false claims of association and knowledge.

There have been several cases of authors making false claims of that sort. One in particular provoked Aborigine delegations to track down the perpetrator, Marlo Morgan.

They tried to confront Morgan, author of Mutant Message Down Under, in the United States and Japan.

Morgan made millions from Mutant. In it, she claimed she was kidnapped by a mysterious band of Aborigines, forced to go on desert walkabout, and ultimately initiated into realms of secret knowledge. (more…)

And That’s Not the Way It Is

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

And That’s Not the Way It Is
by Frank Rich
The New York Times
July 26, 2009

WHO exactly was the competition in the race to be the most trusted man in America? Lyndon Johnson? Richard Nixon?

walter-cronkite2Not to take anything away from Walter Cronkite, but he beat out Henry Kissinger by only four percentage points when a 1974 Roper poll asked Americans whom they most respected. The successive blows of Vietnam and Watergate during the Cronkite ’60s and ’70s shattered the nation’s faith in most of its institutions, public and private, and toppled many of the men who led them. Such was the dearth of trustworthy figures who survived that an unindicted official in a disgraced White House could make the cut.

In death, “the most trusted man in America” has been embalmed in that most comforting of American sweeteners — nostalgia — to the point where his finest, and most discomforting, achievements are being sanitized or forgotten. We’ve heard much sentimental rumination on the bygone heyday of the “mainstream media,” on the cultural fractionalization inflicted by the Internet, and on the lack of any man who could replicate the undisputed moral authority of Uncle Walter. (Women still need not apply, apparently.) But the reason to celebrate Cronkite has little to do with any of this and least of all to do with his avuncular television persona. (more…)

LiteratEye #23: Did Wikipedia Call You Names and Pull Your Pigtails? Too Bad.

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the twenty third installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #23: Did Wikipedia Call You Names and Pull Your Pigtails? Too Bad.
By W.J. Elvin III
July 24, 2009

wwlogo2-200So, you’ve become famous and you’re ego-tripping along, checking out all the fascinating write-ups on various web sites regarding your marvelousness. You come to the Wikipedia biography. What the heck?

It says you were raised by rainforest monkeys, did a prison stretch for bilking your grandma out of her life savings, and your favorite pastime involves unspeakable activities in some exotic foreign sin-city. And, let’s say, there’s not much truth to that. What do you do?

Apparently, not much. Wikipedia’s policy appears to be that you are an unreliable source for information regarding yourself. So you can’t correct an entry about you.

Well, you could sue. But, sue who? The Wikipedia Foundation slips off the hook almost instantly by claiming malicious or mischievous entries are acts of “vandalism.”

Most often, it appears, the suits go against whoever posted the slanderous, libelous or otherwise objectionable entry. Quite recently a story broke about two Michigan State University students facing a $25,000 suit for defaming a local politician. (more…)

Donald Duck in Germany: a Bird of Arts and Letters

Filed under: Media Literacy

Submitted by W.J. Elvin III (whose LiteratEye series will resume shortly on The Art of the Prank after a brief hiatus):

Why Donald Duck Is the Jerry Lewis of Germany
by Susan Bernofsky
Wall Street Journal
May 23, 2009

ob-ds827_dieduc_d_Germany, the land of Goethe, Thomas Mann and Beethoven, has an unlikely pop culture hero: Donald Duck. Just as the French are obsessed with Jerry Lewis, the Germans see a richness and complexity to the Disney comic that isn’t always immediately evident to people in the cartoon duck’s homeland.

Comics featuring Donald are available at most German newsstands and the national weekly “Micky Maus”—which features the titular mouse, Goofy and, most prominently, Donald Duck—sells an average of 250,000 copies each week, outselling even “Superman.” A lavish 8,000-page German Donald Duck collector’s edition has just come out, and despite the nearly $1,900 price tag, the publisher, Egmont Horizont, says the edition of 3,333 copies is almost completely sold out. Last month the fan group D.O.N.A.L.D (the German acronym stands for “German Organization for Non-commercial Followers of Pure Donaldism”), hosted its 32nd annual congress at the Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, with trivia and trinkets galore, along with lectures devoted to “nephew studies” and Duckburg’s solar system.

“Donald is so popular because almost everyone can identify with him,” says Christian Pfeiler, president of D.O.N.A.L.D. “He has strengths and weaknesses, he lacks polish but is also very cultured and well-read.” But much of the appeal of the hapless, happy-go-lucky duck lies in the translations. Donald quotes from German literature, speaks in grammatically complex sentences and is prone to philosophical musings, while the stories often take a more political tone than their American counterparts. (more…)

Public Service Ads That Sell

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Filed under: Media Literacy

New Advertising Trend: Fake “Public Service” Ads / Center for Media and Democracy
May 14, 2009

Consumer Reports’ AdWatch video for Chantix:
Source: Consumer Reports/, February 17, 2009

Pfizer has produced a great example of stealth advertising with its commercial promoting a Web site called The ad has the look and feel of a public service announcement, and mentions neither Pfizer, nor the popular smoking cessation drug it promotes — Chantix (varenicline). The ad represents a growing trend in drug advertising called “help-seeking ads,” which don’t mention a drug by name, but instead address the condition the drug is meant to treat, and then drive viewers to a toll-free 800 number or a Web site that offers an option to learn more about a prescription drug meant to treat the condition. It is a sneaky, but legal way to advertise drugs that have particularly bad side effects, since avoiding mentioning the drug by name lets the company off the hook for listing its bad side effects in the ad, too, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. Chantix has some serious side effects, according to an alert the agency issued on Chantix, including “serious neuropsychiatric symptoms,” like changes in behavior, depressed mood, suicidal ideation and completed suicide.

LiteratEye #14: Detecting the Dark Side of Language

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the fourteenth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #14: Detecting the Dark Side of Language
By W.J. Elvin III
May 15, 2009

wwiip6-200It’s 2 o’clock in the morning in London as my email comes breezing in to interrupt John Olsson’s musings. Olsson interests us because he’s an expert at digging out the secrets of deceptive documents, anything from anonymous hate mail to plagiarized books.

My note found him puzzling over hidden clues in regard to the character of Bernard Madoff, the big Wall Street toad whose secret life involved scamming multi-millions from clients.

Might a keen observer have spotted what Madoff was up to, before it all fell down? Olsson pondered the name, “Madoff.” Odd, the wanderings of the mind in the wee small hours. “Made Off…,” he supposed. “Bernard made off…”

Well, John, maybe you’re on to something. And, believe me, you can throw LiteratEye readers a long one and they’ll be out there to catch it. But we better at least start a little closer to the line of scrimmage.

And so, down to business. In Olsson’s case, business is The Forensic Linguistics Institute and his studies are usually of a very serious nature. You can get a fairly good idea of what it’s all about from his new book, Wordcrime. (more…)

Stewart vs. Cramer

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy

The Comedian as Media Critic
by Brian Stelter
March 13, 2009

Is the “weeklong feud of the century” finished?

Jon Stewart, the host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, critiqued CNBC’s coverage of the stock market on Thursday during a highly anticipated appearance by Jim Cramer, the host of the sometimes frantic stock market show “Mad Money” on CNBC.

Mr. Stewart questioned Mr. Cramer about the perception that CNBC acts as a cheerleader for the investment community. “The financial news industry is not just guilty of a sin of omission but a sin of commission,” Mr. Stewart said. Mr. Cramer agreed that he made a number of faulty predictions over the years.


Campaign Spin: Push Polls Disguised as Market Research

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Reach Out and Smear Someone via
September 16, 2008

The Republican Jewish Coalition says it hired the political polling firm Central Research to “understand why Barack Obama continues to have a problem among Jewish voters.” But the poll questions upset many of the hundreds of Jewish voters in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey who received the calls.

Some say it was a push poll, designed to spread negative information and disinformation. Others say the calls, with more than 80 questions, were too long to be push polls; instead, they may be testing messages for future attack ads. One question the pollsters asked is whether it would affect the respondent’s vote if she or he knew that Hamas’ leader had “expressed support for Obama.” The Republican Jewish Coalition, which has endorsed John McCain for President, also helped launch the pro-war lobby group Freedom’s Watch. In the 2000 primary campaign, the Bush team targeted McCain with a push poll in South Carolina that claimed McCain had fathered an illegitimate black baby.

Read the whole article here at


Alternative Ads: Pranking Goes Commercial

Filed under: Co-option (If You Can't Beat 'Em...), Media Literacy, The Future of Pranks

Advertisers are trying harder and harder to trick consumers with ads that mimic the work of pranksters, street artists and media activists. Going viral with your ad has become the brass ring, with customers doing all the heavy lifting (i.e., distributing these ad campaigns through YouTube, blogs and emails) for free for the advertisers.

It’s challenging to tell the difference between true guerrilla theater and this new trend of verité advertising. Here’s a hint: listen to the audio quality and watch for camera angles. Frequently, the main character who’s supposed to be the unsuspecting target of a joke is wearing a hidden microphone and there are at least three distinct camera angles, meaning it’s an expensive multi-camera shoot. If it sounds and looks too good to be true — it probably is.

Check out this article On Advertising: Alternative advertising to grab your attention, by Stephanie Clifford of the International Herald Tribune, August 3, 2008.

And, this viral commercial video submitted by Andrew Boyd yesterday:

Hidden Camera Penny Prank in Jewelry Store

This one, picked up from V. Vale’s RE/Search Newsletter, is just a regular German commercial, but fun (and viral) because of its shock value. (more…)