Blog Posts

Academic Journalism?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Three academic scholars prove once again that you can’t trust academic journalism, especially when it comes to “grievance studies”. From Vinay Menon in The Star: “They are self-described liberals. They are merely exposing what many others have claimed in recent years, namely that radicals are polluting certain disciplines from the inside. These “social justice warriors,” the argument goes, are sacrificing objective truth for social constructivism. They are blowing up enlightenment values and the scientific method to advance agendas in the culture wars.”

h/t Peter, Linda, Susanne

Universities get schooled on ‘breastaurants’ and ‘fat bodybuilding’
by Vinay Menon
The Star
October 5, 2018

Oh, the humanities.

Fake news grabbed academia by the tweedy lapels this week, after three scholars confessed to a brazen hoax. Over the last year, Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay wrote bogus papers, which they submitted to peer-reviewed journals in various fields they now lump together as “grievance studies.”

James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian (Mike Nayna)

In one “study,” published in a journal of “feminist geography,” they analyzed “rape culture” in three Portland dog parks: “How do human companions manage, contribute, and respond to violence in dogs?”

In another, using a contrived thesis inspired by Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis, they argued artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity due to the underlying “masculinist and imperialist” programming.

They advocated for introducing a new category — “fat bodybuilding” — to the muscle-biased sport. They called for “queer astrology” to be included in astronomy. They offered a “feminist rewrite” of a chapter from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. They searched for postmodern answers to ridiculous queries such as: why do straight men enjoy eating at “breastaurants” such as Hooters? (more…)

Uncle Sam’s Imaginary Pen Pal

Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, The History of Pranks

Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog examines the canon of opinion writer Guy Sims Fitch, a prolific non-existent writer for the United States Information Agency.

“Meet Guy Sims Fitch, a Fake Writer Invented by the United States Government”
by Matt Novak
September 27, 2016

aotp_guysimsfitchGuy Sims Fitch had a lot to say about the world economy in the 1950s and 60s. He wrote articles in newspapers around the globe as an authoritative voice on economic issues during the Cold War. Fitch was a big believer in private American investment and advocated for it as a liberating force internationally. But no matter what you thought of Guy Sims Fitch”™s ideas, he had one big problem. He didn”™t exist.

Guy Sims Fitch was created by the United States Information Agency (USIA), America”™s official news distribution service for the rest of the world. Today, people find the term “propaganda” to be incredibly loaded and even negative. But employees of the USIA used the term freely and proudly in the 1950s and 60s, believing that they were fighting a noble and just cause against the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism. And Guy Sims Fitch was just one tool in the diverse toolbox of the USIA propaganda machine.

“I don”™t mind being called a propagandist, so long as that propaganda is based on the truth,” said Edward R. Murrow in 1962. Murrow took a job as head of the USIA after a long and celebrated career as a journalist, and did quite a few things during his tenure that would make modern journalists who romanticize “the good old days” blush.

But even when USIA peddled its own version of the truth, the propaganda agency wasn”™t always using the most, let”™s say, truthful of methods. Their use of Guy Sims Fitch””a fake person whose opinions would be printed in countries like Brazil, Germany, and Australia, among others””served the cause of America”™s version of the truth against Communism during the Cold War, even if Fitch”™s very existence was a lie.

Read more.

The Strange Case of JT LeRoy

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
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.

Why Hollywood Culture’s Outspoken (Fake) Mystery Critics Threw in the Towel Remains a Mystery

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Literary Hoaxes, Pranksters

Twitter’s ‘Mystery Hollywood’ implodes: @MysteryExec was a fake
by Josh Dickey
August 20, 2015

@MysteryExec, @MysteryVP Thumbnails

@MysteryExec, @MysteryVP thumbnails

The Twitter handle @MysteryExec, the most prominent voice in a small and tight-knit community of showbiz types who for years have tweeted anonymously, candidly and often about their batshit crazy profession, deleted his account sometime late Tuesday night. So did his sidekick, the tart-tongued @MysteryVP.

The reason: Mystery Executive is not an executive at all. Mystery VP is vice president of nothing.

They were catfish. And that’s too bad.

Multiple sources close to the people behind the accounts tell Mashable that @MysteryExec and @MysteryVP were a young male/female writing duo just trying to make it in Hollywood whose prank turned into a mini-phenomenon. What started as an outlet for their frustration turned into a movement that thousands of people, including this writer and dozens of prominent players in Hollywood, readily bought into.

And in recent months, as the ruse began to unravel, the entire Mystery showbiz-on-Twitter community began to crumble, too.

Read the whole story here.

Truman Capote’s Last Write: A Fake Non-Fiction Masterpiece

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Reprinted from 1992 by, here’s the fascinating unraveling of Truman Capote’s mysterious and clearly fake “non-fiction account of an American crime”.

Hoax: Secrets That Truman Capote Took to the Grave
by Peter and Leni Gillman
Sunday Times Magazine
June, 1992

Uncovering the real story behind a supposedly true account.

Truman Capote

Joe Fox was astounded. On his desk, this late autumn day in 1979, was a manuscript bearing the name of Truman Capote. Two months before, Capote had promised Fox a “surprise,” but Fox had been unimpressed: as Capote’s long-suffering editor at the New York publishing company, Random House, he had grown weary of his endless promises. Now Capote had delivered a manuscript to rank with his masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

Published 13 years before, Capote’s true-life account of the murder of a ranching family in Kansas had brought him literary acclaim, with status and royalties to march. Yet Capote had written nothing to match it since. He had supposedly been working on a novel, Answered Prayers, but for more than a decade Fox had watched deadlines come and go with nothing from Capote but a series of excuses.

The gossip-mongers of the literary world were proclaiming that Capote was burnt out, his sources of inspiration dissipated by alcohol and cocaine. Now Capote had confounded them all by delivering a sequel to In Cold Blood. He called it Hand-Carved Coffins, adding the potent subtitle: “A non-fiction account of an American crime.”

Read the whole story here.

Life Cycle of a Wikipedia Hoax

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Practical Jokes and Mischief

Wikipedia is every undergrad’s best friend, and its community of editors works hard to make it informative and accurate. But it can still allow falsehoods to spread, as it did with a stoner prank… for years.

Amelia Bedelia Hoax

Had she not outed herself, EJ Dickson’s kiddie-lit misinfo may have spread even further. She puts a stop to it here, with “I Accidentally Started a Wikipedia Hoax” on The Daily Dot, adding some insights on Wikipedia’s many security holes.

As Wikipedia shenanigans go, Dickson’s is fairly innocent. A lot of Z-listers have obviously created entries for themselves by plugging in their PR boilerplate, and there’s some hardcore defamation out there as well. Rooting out falsehoods continues to be part of the heated discussion (one with the occasional hilarious digression) about Wikipedia’s future.

Cicirelli Fake “Walk-about” Plays Out On Facebook

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Practical Jokes and Mischief

Crazy Facebook Hoax starts with unemployment, ends stranded in mexico
by Cody Permenter
The Daily Dot
August 21, 2013

Dave Cicirelli, an art director from New York City, posted on his Facebook profile in late 2009 that his life was at a standstill and something desperately needed to change. He announced his decision to quit his job and hitchhike across country, taking his laptop and cellphone to document his journey. Along the way, he fell in love with an Amish woman, joined a doomsday cult, got stranded in Mexico, and got inked up with a bowtie tattoo.


Sounds like a pretty crazy adventure, right?

As with most things that sound too good to be true are, Cicirelli”™s story was completely fake””an elaborate scheme played out on Facebook with the help of Photoshop. In his new book Fakebook, Cicirelli tells the story of his six-month hoax that fooled more people than he ever thought it could. (more…)

Literary Camouflage

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Literary Camouflage
by Steven Hayward
Wall Street Journal
June 23, 2011

Eric Blair contemplated calling himself H. Lewis Allways, P.S. Burton, Kenneth Miles””or George Orwell.

Eleven years ago, a writer named JT LeRoy stormed the literary world. The 19-year-old son of a truck-stop prostitute, LeRoy published a semi-autobiographical novel called “Sarah” recounting his experiences as a “lot lizard”””a child hustler and prostitute””in the truck stops of West Virginia. The book quickly accumulated prominent supporters, including Winona Ryder and Madonna. Obsessively reclusive, LeRoy allowed himself to be interviewed only by telephone; he refused to give public readings, often having one of his famous admirers stand in for him. There was a second book, a movie deal and by 2005 the literary tastemaker Dave Eggers was commending the young writer to posterity: LeRoy’s two titles would “prove to be among the most influential American books in the last ten years.”

Less than a year later, LeRoy was revealed as a hoax: Laura Albert, a woman old enough to be LeRoy’s mother, confessed, amid mounting media speculation, that she created the alter ego””and had never even visited West Virginia. The film company that had optioned the novel successfully sued Ms. Albert for fraud. Throughout the trial, Ms. Albert defended her right to use a nom de plume, contending that her work should be read as part of a long and distinguished line of pseudonymous texts. “LeRoy was a veil upon a veil,” Ms. Albert later told the Paris Review, “I never saw it as a hoax.”

As Carmela Ciuraru observes in “Nom de Plume,” her “secret history” of pseudonyms, there is nothing new about literary masquerades. (more…)

Steinbeck’s Literary License

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks

A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley
by Charles McGrath
The New York Times
April 3, 2011

In the fall of 1960 an ailing, out-of-sorts John Steinbeck, pretty much depleted as a novelist, decided that his problem was he had lost touch with America. He outfitted a three-quarter-ton pickup truck as a sort of land yacht and set off from his home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., with his French poodle, Charley, to drive cross-country. The idea was that he would travel alone, stay at campgrounds and reconnect himself with the country by talking to the locals he met along the way.

Steinbeck”™s book-length account of his journey, “Travels with Charley,” published in 1962, was generally well reviewed and became a best-seller. It remains in print, regarded by some as a classic of American travel writing. Almost from the beginning, though, a few readers pointed out that many of the conversations in the book had a stagey, wooden quality, not unlike the dialogue in Steinbeck”™s fiction.

Early on in the book, for example, Steinbeck has a New England farmer talking in folksy terms about Nikita S. Khrushchev”™s shoe-pounding (or -brandishing, depending on whom you ask) speech at the United Nations weeks before Khrushchev actually visited the United Nations. A particularly unlikely encounter occurs at a campsite near Alice, N.D., where a Shakespearean actor, mistaking Steinbeck for a fellow thespian, greets him with a sweeping bow, saying, “I see you are of the profession,” and then proceeds to talk about John Gielgud.

Even Steinbeck”™s son John said he was convinced that his father never talked to many of the people he wrote about, and added, “He just sat in his camper and wrote all that [expletive].” (more…)

LiteratEye #48: Newspaper Nostalgia: Biped Beavers, Libidinous Man-Bats on the Moon

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Pranks

Here’s the forty-eighth 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 #48: Newspaper Nostalgia: Biped Beavers, Libidinous Man-Bats on the Moon
By W.J. Elvin III
January 22, 2010

beavers-200The New York Times, you may have noticed, plans to start charging for portions of its web content. One assumes the portions will be the those readers find most interesting.

So then patronage will fall off, and with fewer readers there will be fewer advertisers, and so on until we hear the death rattle of yet another newspaper. Well, in the case of the Times it probably won’t be quite that bad, but the Internet era has certainly seen the downsizing or demise of quite a few news publications.

How bad is it? MSN Money lists newspaper subscriptions among its top ten things not to buy in 2010, citing the popular alternatives.

Which is too bad, because newspapers and news magazines have been a great vehicle for the perpetuation of hoaxes. No doubt our host, Joey Skaggs, is indebted to more than a few for taking the bait. In my own forty years or so in the news business I noticed a fairly cavalier attitude toward great stories that seemed at least a little fishy: “Print first, ask questions later.”

In the good old days, before newspapers got all goody-goody ethical, editors and reporters were among the top pranksters.

The sport got up its steam back in the 1830s. That was when Richard Adams Locke, an English journalist serving as editor of The New York Sun, sprang what is regarded as the greatest newspaper hoax of all time. (more…)

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

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 #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty eighth 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 #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark
By W.J. Elvin III
November 6, 2009

There are a great many mysteries in the field of literary deception.

amberwitch-200So it is always a pleasure to learn of a new book that may shed light.

Having seen advance reviews some time ago in the British Press, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Melissa Katsoulis’ Literary Hoaxes.

Well, it’s a grand overview, a nice line-up of the usual suspects, but I’m less than delighted. Hoaxes raises many more questions than it answers, most of the questions resulting from a failure to source the tales therein.

How is it Katsoulis knows so much about William Henry Ireland, the young Shakespeare forger of the late 1700s?

Who told Katsoulis that the American Indian imposter Grey Owl was once recognized through his feathers by his very British aunts, who decided to keep their observation a secret?

And what assurance do we have that the author has her facts straight regarding Pierre Plantard’s part in creating the hoax behind Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?

And so on, and on.

The book has no citations, no bibliography. No index, though the table of contents serves the purpose in a basic way. There just aren’t many signposts to guide those who might want to know more about any given topic. (more…)

The Pynchon Hoax

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Submitted by Peter Markus as seen on

Thomas Pynchon is No Indie Rock Groupie
by The Cajun Boy
August 12 2009

pynchon001-200In 1996 the New Yorker ran a “Talk of the Town” piece about the notoriously reclusive Thomas Pynchon becoming a huge fan of an indie rock band called Lotion, a story the magazine now acknowledges was all a hilarious hoax.

To get an idea of how all this came to be, here’s what the New Yorker’s Andrew Essex wrote about the friendship between Pynchon and Lotion in the 1996 TOTT piece:

The writer and the rockers first met in Cincinnati… After the show, the older guy, who was wearing a Godzilla shirt and ill-fitting pants, swung by to offer his compliments. He introduced himself as Tom. Jim Ferguson was reading “Slow Learner”, Pynchon’s collection of short stories. He’d left his copy backstage in a New York rock club, where Pynchon had been invited to watch the show. Pynchon saw it and asked, “Who’s reading my book?” “I said, ‘No, that’s my book,'” Jim recalls. “It didn’t register until 1 got onstage… After that, Tom began showing up at Lotion performances all over the country. An unlikely friendship was born. A year later, the members of Lotion are still a bit stunned by their guardian angel.

Recently Essex contacted the magazine to say that he and the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checkers had been tricked by the band all those years ago. (more…)

LiteratEye #26: How to Catch a Clever Literary Con Artist

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the twenty sixth 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 #26: How to Catch a Clever Literary Con Artist
By W.J. Elvin III
August 14, 2009

From The Sydney Morning Herald:


“OK, Norma, put down that knife”¦”

Norma Khoury, the author of a fake tragic memoir that was the topic of last week’s LiteratEye column, seems to have a few character defects beyond lying about her past. (more…)

LiteratEye #25: A Case of Catch Me If You Can

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the twenty 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 #25: A Case of Catch Me If You Can
By W.J. Elvin III
August 7, 2009

“All Arab men are taught that it is their responsibility to discipline the women in their lives, and that the best way to do so is corporal punishment.”

51636G4GY0L._SS500_200That’s not a true or false question, at least it didn’t start out that way. It’s a pivotal “fact” in Norma Khouri’s formerly best-selling Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern Jordan. Internationally, with the title changed to Forbidden Love, the book was published in at least 15 countries.

Khouri presented herself as an oppressed young Jordanian woman fleeing the wrath of religion-maddened murderers. Her persecutors were ticked off because of Khouri’s part in her best friend’s very tame love affair, hardly more than a flirtation.

Under Islamic tradition and law, Khouri told readers, such carrying-on warranted killing.

A few years back, Australian journalist Malcolm Knox exposed the book as mostly imagined.

It was revealed that Khouri actually grew up in Chicago as Norma Bagain and later as Mrs. John Touliopoulos. She relocated to Australia, somewhat hurriedly due to the FBI’s desire to question her about a real estate scam.

Khouri admits to fabricating minor details and says she did so in order to protect herself and others.

Reporters and other commentators say she also made up major details. (more…)