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LiteratEye #49: Biff! Bam! Super-Journalist Takes On the Academics

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Filed under: Media Literacy

Here’s the forty-ninth 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 #49: Biff! Bam! Super-Journalist Takes On the Academics
By W.J. Elvin III
January 29, 2010

“I have never done any research that shows blondes are more aggressive, entitled, angry or ‘warlike’ than brunette or redheads.” Aaron Sell, Center for Evolutionary Psychology, in a letter to the Times of London.

You probably noticed the anti-British journalist rant posted on this site yesterday, provoked by the article referred to above. If not, it’s still available for your reading enjoyment.

The controversy has been getting a lot of play on sites catering to scholars such as Arts & Letters Daily as well as some more popular arenas like Defamer.

Thus far, though, no one seems to be standing up for British journalists. Until now, that is. Here in the LiteratEye bunker we’re taking a contrarian position on the matter. We declare British journalists to be the best and brightest in the business.

As I recall, old school British journalists could typically run circles around their American counterparts as news-getters and as entertaining writers. The few I’ve known as editors could no doubt have donned general’s uniforms and tidied up Afghanistan and Iraq in short order.

Their secret – and I’m speaking here of those I knew in the good old days — is that they understood and served reader interest. I’m sure they could have produced brilliant thumb-sucker think pieces or razor-sharp analysis of yet another boring issue. Or they could have written suck-up puff stories touting their intimate buddy-buddy relationships with the high and mighty. But, no, they wrote for the fellow who, over his morning coffee, would peek from behind the paper to say: “Jumpin’ cheeses, Alice, listen to this!” (more…)

Freedom of the Press vs. The Truth

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Filed under: Media Literacy

Submitted by W.J. Elvin III: British Journalism 101: Don’t let facts stand in the way of a good story…


British Newspapers Make Things Up
by Satoshi Kanazawa
Psychology Today
January 24, 2010

In April 2008, I wrote that British journalists interpret “freedom of the press” to mean that they can make up anything they want and publish it as fact in British newspapers. Now another evolutionary psychologist has learned the lesson the hard way.

In the earlier post, I explain that, by the American standards, all British newspapers are tabloids because they don’t distinguish between what is true and what they make up. I knew this from my own experiences of dealing with British journalists, but, as it turns out, even the British government admits, in an official government publication, that British newspapers make things up and report them as facts.

Most British people consider the Times of London to be the most respectable “broadsheet” newspaper (as opposed to “tabloid” newspapers) in the UK, despite the fact that the Times, along with most British “broadsheet” newspapers, is now published in the tabloid size to make it easier for people to read it in crowded London subways. Last week, the Sunday Times published an article with the headline “Blonde women born to be warrior princesses.” The article reported that “Researchers claim that blondes are more likely to display a “warlike” streak because they attract more attention than other women and are used to getting their own way – the so-called “princess effect.”” The Times article quotes the evolutionary psychologist at the University of California – Santa Barbara, Aaron Sell, and his findings are purportedly published in his article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, written with the two Deans of Modern Evolutionary Psychology, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby.

As it turns out, however, none of this is true, as Sell explains in his angry letter to the Times. He and his coauthors do not mention blondes at all in their paper and they don’t even have hair color in their data. The supplementary analyses that Sell performed after the publication of the paper, as a personal favor to the Times reporter, show the exact opposite of what the Times article claims. After he presumably listened to Sell explain all of this on the phone, the Times reporter nonetheless made up the whole thing, and attributed it to Sell. (more…)

LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the fortieth 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 #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author
By W.J. Elvin III
November 20, 2009

pride, prejudice, zombies200It seems a sad thing that writers who keep on pumping out books after they are dead aren’t around to enjoy the benefits. Maybe there are literary awards passed out in heaven? “Best Book By A Recently-Deceased Author.”

I got to thinking about that after learning that mystery writer and outdoor expert William G. Tapply, who had become just plain “Bill” over the course of our correspondence last year, died recently. He left several books still to be published.

What that leads into is the issue of after-death publishing, not the posthumous publication of completed works as in Tapply’s case but works produced under an author’s name but actually involving other writers.

Sometimes such books are based on partially completed manuscripts, or even derived from ideas jotted on a cocktail napkin. If that.

The issue takes some odd turns. (more…)

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
Salon.com
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

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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

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy

Submitted by Mark Borkowski:


Starsuckers celebrity hoax dupes tabloids
by Paul Lewis
Guardian.co.uk
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?

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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.http://artoftheprank.com/blog/wp-admin/index.php?page=stats

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

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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.

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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

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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
PRWatch.org / Center for Media and Democracy
May 14, 2009

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

Pfizer has produced a great example of stealth advertising with its commercial promoting a Web site called MyTimeToQuit.com. 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

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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…)