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Journalist Who Posed as Middle Eastern Tycoon Gets Prison Term

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

UK journalist Mahzer Mahmood didn’t let ethics or truth get in the way of a hot scoop, and now he’s headed to prison. It’s a story that beggars belief, involving politics, pop star drug scandals, royalty real and fake. We’re left to wonder what’s up with the screen rights.


“British Reporter ‘Fake Sheikh’ Jailed for 15 Months”
by Danica Kirka
AP
October 21, 2016

aotpmazhermahmoodA judge sentenced a British journalist who often posed as a Middle Eastern tycoon in sting operations to 15 months in prison on Friday, after the tabloid reporter was convicted of perverting the course of justice in an effort to get scoops.

Mazher Mahmood, a tabloid reporter nicknamed the “Fake Sheikh,” was found guilty earlier this month of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drug trial of pop star and actress Tulisa Contostavlos. The case against Contostavlos originally was based on interviews Mahmood, 53, conducted for the Sun newspaper.

The Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing another 25 convictions linked to Mahmood’s work and has dropped active criminal cases in which Mahmood was to be a witness.

As he was led away to prison, a man in the crowd shouted, “Your turn now, Mazher.”

One of his most famous scoops involved the wife of Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II. Edward’s wife. Posing as an aide to a Saudi Arabian prince interested in hiring her public relations company, Mahmood charmed Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, into making indiscreet comments about the British government in 2001.

The countess also was caught on tape describing then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, as “horrid, horrid, horrid.”

For the sting involving Contostavlos, Mahmood posed as a film producer and discussed a movie role with her that would have her share screen time with Leonardo DiCaprio. Prosecutors said Mahmood gave evidence to police that led to Contostavlos being charged with supplying illicit drugs. Continue reading.

Election 2016 Gets the Weird Al Treatment

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Filed under: Parody, Political Pranks, Prank News

Perhaps no comedian can do justice to this year’s election cycle, but America’s most successful parodist takes a crack at it.


Watch the video:

R.I.P. Tom Hayden (1939-2016)

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Yippie activist, Chicago 7 defendant, California State Assemblyman, author, publisher, rabble-rouser, and Los Angeles legend Tom Hayden has passed away at the age of 76.


“Prominent Antiwar Activist and Member of the ‘Chicago 7’ Tom Hayden Dead at 76”
by Reuters Staff
The Huffington Post
October 24, 2016

aotptomhaydenVeteran social activist and politician Tom Hayden, a stalwart of America’s New Left who served 18 years in California’s state legislature and gained a dash of Hollywood glamour by marrying actress Jane Fonda, has died at age 76, according to media reports.

Hayden died in Santa Monica, California, after a lengthy illness, The Los Angeles Times reported on its website.

“A political giant and dear friend has passed,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter, adding “Tom Hayden fought harder for what he believed than just about anyone I have known.”

Hayden, who forged his political activism as a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society, which stood at the core of the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movements, was principal author of the group’s revolutionary manifesto, the Port Huron Statement.

The University of Michigan student ventured into the Deep South, where he joined voter registration campaigns and was arrested and beaten while taking part in the “freedom rider” protests against racial segregation.

Hayden, however, became perhaps best known as one of the “Chicago Seven” activists tried on conspiracy and incitement charges following protests at the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges. Read more.

James O’Keefe’s October Surprise

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

It wouldn’t feel like an election year without a fresh sting from right-wing culture jammer James O’Keefe.


“Everything We Know About the Latest James O’Keefe Video Sting”
by Philip Elliot
Time
October 18, 2016

James O'keefe

The latest ‘gotcha’ videos from conservative provocateur James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action have some shocking claims that, if they are true, would indicate Democrats are playing dirty to get Hillary Clinton elected.

In one video, a contractor seems to brag about sending homeless and mentally ill people to harass Republicans. Someone identified as a Democratic National Committee staffer appears to claim credit for pushing Republican contender Donald Trump’s rally in Chicago toward violence. In another, consultants look like they are describing a plan to bus voters across state lines and registering immigrants in the country illegally to vote.

But if O’Keefe’s previous efforts to infiltrate and expose his foes such as ACORN and NPR are to offer a hint, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. O’Keefe has previously spliced videos together to imply its subjects were saying things they were not.

Even so, the latest video has cost someone identified by the Democratic National Committee chairwoman “a temporary, regional sub-contractor” his job. Another established DNC vendor gave up his contract. Another protester who says she was at the Chicago melee linked herself to Clinton’s campaign, although she was paid for work in Arizona in the weeks before anything happened in Illinois.

The release of the videos made conservatives giddy that O’Keefe had claimed yet more scalps for his long-standing effort to show liberal hypocrisy through hidden-camera footage. And more embarrassing videos are expected to come before Election Day, O’Keefe promised. Donald Trump urged his audiences in Colorado on Tuesday to go online and watch them. Read more.

A Visit to Scarfolk, the UK’s Weirdest Fake Town

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The Prank as Art

Atlas Obscura presents a tourist’s guide to Richard Littler’s eerie, anachronistic, made-up universe. Fans of Welcome to Night Vale may be particularly intrigued.


“Digging Through the Archives of Scarfolk, the Internet’s Creepiest Fake Town”
by Cara Giaimo
Atlas Obscura
October 17, 2016

scarfolkIn 1978, the town of Scarfolk, in northwest England, cut its police budget in half. This drastic measure was followed by a wave of violent crime. To deal with the influx of dead bodies, the remaining police did the obvious thing—they teamed up with the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign, and encouraged citizens, especially children, to pick up “victim debris” themselves.

If this sounds too grotesque to be true, don’t worry—it is! There were never any smiling, appendage-finding kids in Scarfolk, because Scarfolk never existed. But the town’s online presence is meticulously detailed and impressively creepy. For three years, graphic designer Richard Littler has been using his design skills and bone-dry wit to write a whole history of Scarfolk, a fictional, supernatural-tinged town that finds humor in dystopia, and is closer to today’s world than we might like to think.

Scarfolk is perpetually stuck in the 1970s, and repeats the decade on loop. On his blog, “Scarfolk Council,” Littler presents the town’s story through materials from the council’s “archive”: posters, pamphlets and packaging that reveal aspects of everyday life. Carefully Photoshopped and inspired by real source material, Littler’s creations pack a punch—with their pastel, large fonted bombast, they could easily be mistaken for actual ’70s artifacts. Read more.

Alex Chang Plumbs the Depths of Telemarketing Scammers

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Prank News, Pranksters, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks

A scambaiting expedition leads to an unexpected conclusion:


aotp_office
“I trolled my IRS scammers for weeks. I learned something really dark.”
by Alex Chang
Vox
October 18, 2016

These scammers had called me so many times that I knew their script.

They always introduced themselves as IRS officers with inconspicuous American names, like “Paul Thomas.” They called to collect the $6,000 I owed the IRS. And if I didn’t pay, they threatened to send the local police to arrest me.

They were unconvincing. I didn’t understand how this scam could work on anyone. But a quick search led me to a couple in Tennessee, a student in Virginia, and thousands of others who’d fallen for the scam. There was something about this scam that worked — and I had to find out what it was.

So I got further and further into the scam. At first, I played along for a few minutes and then hung up. After a few days, I trolled them with the vast amount I learned about their operation. Then, on a hot mid-September day, I decided enough was enough.

I was going to get to the end of this scam.

That’s how I ended up talking to “Steve Smith” for 30 minutes. He was a senior investigations officer — the actual person who walks you through how to send them money. I learned that his secret is maintaining an aura of authority. That’s how he optimizes fear. That’s how he gets people to suspend logic, drive to Walgreens, and buy iTunes gift cards to pay the IRS. The scam takes advantage of the most vulnerable people. Read more.


Improv Everywhere: The Mp3 Experiment Thirteen

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News, Pranksters

Thousands of people listening to synchronized instructions participate in an audio adventure on Governors Island.

mp3 Experiment 13

Watch the video:

Full story here. And check out the recent Surprise Press Conference here.


A Peek Inside the Process of Faux-Documentarian Christopher Guest

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Filed under: Parody, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The Prank as Art

Christopher Guest has built a career on the quirks of his passionate and unusual characters, from rock stars to dog-show emcees, while faithfully mimicking the documentary format. As he returns to explore the inner lives of sports mascots, Time looks at what makes his humanistic comedy machine run.


Mascots and the Very Serious Business of Making a Christopher Guest Movie”
by Eliza Berman
Time
October 14, 2016

poseyWhen Parker Posey got a call from Christopher Guest offering her a part in his next movie, she already knew the drill. Having appeared in all four of the faux-documentaries Guest had written and directed since 1997, she knew he’d give her the basic character sketch—in this case, Cindi Babineaux, a mascot for a Mississippi women’s college basketball team who’s aging out of her tenure as Alvin the Armadillo—and it would be her job to fill in the details. “The nine-banded armadillo is limited,” she says, recalling her attempts to crack the character. “They’re mainly roadkill.” She pauses. “That’s an interesting angle.”

Finding the interesting angle on idiosyncratic subcultures and the Cindi Babineauxs that comprise them has driven Guest’s work over the past two decades. Movies like Best in Show, about competitive dog breeders and trainers, and A Mighty Wind, about a folk-music reunion concert, have won the onetime Saturday Night Live cast member legions of devoted fans. His particular brand of comedy, which originated with the cult classic This Is Spinal Tap in 1984, directed by Rob Reiner and co-written by Reiner, Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean, applies the conventions of self-serious documentary filmmaking to unexpected, if not undeserving, fictional subjects.

In Mascots, Guest’s first film in a decade, premiering on Netflix Oct. 13, he and co-writer Jim Piddock turn their gaze—with the help of a flock of returning cast members including Posey, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard and Ed Begley Jr.—toward the men and women who dance in poorly ventilated animal suits to bring smiles to the faces of amateur sports fans. Read more.


The Best Trick Wins the War

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Illusion and Magic, Political Pranks, Prank News, Propaganda and Disinformation, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks

Infaltable decoys come of age with military sleight of hand. [Thanks Peter M.]


“A New Weapon In Russia’s Arsenal – And It’s Inflatable”
by Andrew E. Kramer
October 12, 2016
The New York Times

russianmilitarydecoysDeep in the Russian countryside, the grass sways in a late-summer breeze. In the distance, the sun glistens off the golden spires of a village church. It is, to all appearances, a typically Russian scene of imperturbable rural tranquillity.

Until a sleek MIG-31 fighter jet suddenly appears in a field, its muscular, stubby wings spreading to reveal their trademark red star insignia. A few moments later, a missile launcher pops up beside it.

Cars on a nearby road pull over, the drivers gaping in amazement at what appear to be fearsome weapons, encountered so unexpectedly in this serene spot. And then, as quickly as they appeared, the jet and missile launcher vanish.

“If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time,” Aleksei A. Komarov, the military engineer in charge of this sleight of hand, said with a sly smile. “Nobody ever wins honestly.” Read more.


R.I.P. Dario Fo (1926-2016)

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Parody, Political Challenges, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

Revered playwright, comedian, Nobel laureate, and prankster patron saint Dario Fo has passed away at the age of 90.


Nobel laureate Dario Fo, who mocked politics, religion, dies
by Frances D’Emilio and Nicole Winfield
AP
October 13, 2016

Dario Fo

Dario Fo

Italian playwright Dario Fo, whose energetic mocking of Italian political life, social mores and religion won him praise, scorn and the Nobel Prize for Literature, died Thursday. He was 90.

Fo died Thursday morning in Milan’s Luigi Sacco hospital after suffering respiratory complications from a progressive pulmonary disease, said the chief of pulmonology, Dr. Delfino Luigi Legnani. Fo had been working on a new stage production with collaborators in his hospital room up until his final days, Legnani said.

The author of “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” and more than 70 other plays saw himself as playing the role of the jester, combining raunchy humor and scathing satire that continued into his final years. He was admired and reviled in equal measure.

His political activities saw him banned from the United States and censored on Italian television, and his flamboyant artistic antics resulted in repeated arrests. Read more.


Ghostwatch Remembered

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Looking back on a controversial BBC show called Ghostwatch and its creator Stephen Volk, a hoaxer who out-Orsoned War of the Worlds.


“The BBC Halloween Hoax That Traumatized Viewers”
by Jake Rossen
Mental Floss
October 6, 2016

aotp_ghostwatchAfter more than 20,000 phone calls, one induced labor, and thousands of angry letters, the UK’s Broadcasting Standards Council convened for a hearing. On June 27, 1995, they ruled that the producers of Ghostwatch, a BBC program that aired on Halloween night less than three years earlier, had deliberately set out to “cultivate a sense of menace.”

Put another way, the BBC had been found to be complicit in scaring 11 million people senseless.

Airing from Northolt, North London, Ghostwatch alleged to report on the paranormal experiences of the Early family, which had been besieged by the actions of a ghostly apparition they called “Pipes.” Four recognized BBC presenters appeared on the show, which took on the appearance of a straightforward documentary and offered only subtle clues that it was an elaborate hoax. For a significant portion of viewers, it appeared as though they were witnessing documented evidence of a malevolent spirit.

Viewers grew so disturbed by the content that the network became embroiled in a controversy over what audiences felt was a ruse perpetrated by a trustworthy news source; cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in children were even reported in the British Medical Journal. What the BBC had intended to be nothing more alarming than an effective horror movie had petrified a country—and would eventually lead to accusations that it was responsible for someone’s death. Read more.


A Golden Throne for America’s Royal Hiney

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The Prank as Art

In what reads like a pitch for an art film or a postmodern fever dream, journalist Carey Dunne goes on a thoughtful search for the story behind artist Maurizio Cattelan’s “epic troll,” a solid gold toilet named “America”.


“Waiting To Pee in ‘America,’ the Gold Toilet at the Guggenheim”
by Carey Dunne
Hyperallergic
September 23, 2016

aotp_americaWhile waiting in line to pee in “America,” a toilet cast in 18-karat gold and installed in a Guggenheim Museum bathroom, I ran into my friend Fritz Mead, who lives in a shack he built himself out of scrap wood in a backyard next to a skate bowl he also built himself. The shack doesn’t have plumbing, so to use a working toilet he has to leave his shack and go into the basement apartment next door.

Given his apparent ambivalence about plumbing — let alone luxury plumbing — I was surprised to see Fritz waiting to use the gold toilet, which is the work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Estimated to be worth as much as $2.5 million, “America” (which opened at the Guggenheim last week), will remain installed in an otherwise ordinary fourth floor bathroom for a year. (When asked exactly how much the toilet cost, a guard said, “If you have to ask, you already know,” a riddle I am still trying to solve.)

Cattelan “intends visitors to use the toilet just as they would any other facility in the building,” according to the wall text. It gets special treatment, though: only one visitor is allowed inside the stall at a time, for no more than five minutes; the toilet seat must not be lifted; a security guard inspects the toilet after each visit; and a cleaning crew cleans it with a special gold-cleaning product every 20 minutes. The wait time when I visited was two hours.

Read the rest of the story here.

Announcing the 2016 Ig Noble Awards

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Filed under: Prank News, Satire, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Organized by the Annals of Improbable Research, the Ig Noble Awards offer ponderous hilarity every year without fail.


From Collecting Flies to Putting Pants on Rats, Here Is This Year’s Ig Nobel-Winning Research
by Mark Pratt
AP
September 22, 2016

ig-nobel-awards-2016(BOSTON) — A Swede who wrote a trilogy about collecting bugs, an Egyptian doctor who put pants on rats to study their sex lives and a British researcher who lived like an animal have been named winners of the Ig Nobels, the annual spoof prizes for quirky scientific achievement.

The winners were honored — or maybe dishonored — Thursday in a zany ceremony at Harvard University.

The 26th annual event featured a paper airplane air raid and a tic-tac-toe contest with a brain surgeon, a rocket scientist and four real Nobel laureates.

Winners receive $10 trillion cash prizes — in virtually worthless Zimbabwean money. Read more here and here.


Facebook Fights the Fakers

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Prank News, Urban Legends

From duplicitous “satire” to malicious BS, Facebook helps people spread untrue stories. With a new step in the sustained controversy over its algorithms and curatorial practices, the big blue giant is now taking measures to cut some of the crap.


“Facebook to roll out tech for combating fake stories in its trending topics”
by Sarah Perez
Techcrunch
September 14, 2016

aotp_facebookFollowing the controversial firing of the editorial team who managed the Trending Topics that appear next to Facebook’s News Feed, the company is now actively working on technology that will help prevent fake news stories from showing up in the Trending section. Similar systems have been rolled out to News Feed in recent months, and now that same technology is making its way to Trending, said Facebook’s News Feed head, Adam Mosseri, at TechCrunch Disrupt SF this morning.

The social network came under attack earlier this year for allegedly suppressing conservative news from appearing in the Trending Topics section. While it was later discovered that this was largely due to individual judgement, not institutional bias, the company took the heavy-handed measure of letting the entire team of Trending Topics news curators go.

Explained Mosseri, Facebook made this decision because “we wanted to be clear – in the wake of a lot of feedback – about our role and the role of people in the Trending product.”

That being said, the remaining product, which is now entirely driven by algorithms, has become much worse, many say. It has even allowed fake news stories to show up as trending topics – something a human-powered editorial team would likely catch.Read more.


The Strange Case of JT LeRoy

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hype, Literary Hoaxes, Prank News, Publicity Stunts

JT LeRoy was widely presumed to be a gay prostitute from West Virginia who became the toast of NYC art-hipsterdom on the strength of his autobiographical books. The problem was that he didn’t exist at all – he was a character invented by a frustrated failed writer named Laura Albert and played by a friend of Albert’s in a blonde wig. Frauds and fabulists ran amok in the Bush years, and LeRoy’s unmasking didn’t garner the same attention and schadenfreude as the downfalls of rouge reporter Jayson Blair or manly-man poseur James Frey. But as a new documentary explores, his story was a hell of a lot weirder.


“JT LeRoy doc explores absorbing literary scandal”
by Lindsey Bahr
AP
September 7, 2016

downloadTo the general public, the name JT LeRoy probably rings only the vaguest of bells, if any at all. It didn’t for this particular critic. But that innocent ignorance is all the more reason to seek out the documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story ,” a fascinating peek into one of the wildest literary scandals in recent years and the bizarre nature of celebrity relationships. Director Jeff Feuerzeig’s film, while undeniably one-sided, will have your mind spinning with questions about authorship, authenticity, art and fame.

Read more.