Contrarian Reuters media critic Jack Shafer checks in with this latest post:

Fake press releases are a public service

Yesterday, an enterprising clown used PRWeb to publish a fake press release about the purported purchasing of WiFi provider ICOA by Google for $400 million. The Associated Press,Business Insider, Forbes, Techcrunch and other websites ran stories about the transaction — without gaining confirmation from Google — and shortly after AllThingsD unmasked the release as fraudulent, the hoodwinked news organizations donned hair shirts in penance for their journalistic malpractice.

The pranked news organizations were right to self-flagellate, and the apologies and self-recriminations appeared to be sincere. “We were wrong on this post, for not following up with Google and the other company involved but posting rather than getting waiting [sic] on a solid confirmation beforehand from either source. We apologize to our readers,” confessed Techcrunch.

You don’t even have to be a talented liar to fool the press into publishing one of your lies. You just have to have gumption.

Which plenty of flacks, it goes without saying, have.

So what’s Shafer’s point?

Apparently this:

Theoretically, journalists should be the last people to fall for press releases, phony or otherwise. They’re lied to day-in and day-out on the phone by the people who write the genuine press releases I worry more about getting , and a good many of those genuine press releases aren’t exactly honest. I worry about counterfeit press releases, but I’m more suspicious about the real things, which claim to be true.

As much as some critics would like to blame the warp-speed of the Web for their mistakes, the reality is that such hoaxes and their victims have long been with us. Fake press releases are like the viruses that infect vulnerable computer systems; until you fix the system, they’ll continue to work.

The hardtracking staff’s response?

Yeah, eh?

 


John Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is a media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University.
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