The Newest in Fake News: Dateline Hollywood

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Oops at 11!

The following is is a look-before-you-leap advisory for TV stations surfing the Web for news they can use.

Last week, Viacom's WJZ Baltimore reported on its early evening newscast that increasingly unfunny comedian Michael Richards had apologized for appearing in black face at a Whoopi Goldberg roast only a week after his racist rant at an L.A. comedy club.

Problem was, it never happened. A producer got the story from the Web site datelinehollywood.com, which sounds like a syndicated news magazine but is instead an Onion-like send up of Hollywood tabloid stories.

For example, the top story at press time was about an unmentionable part of Britney Spears anatomy that was asking for some privacy. Likely had that obvious parody been the lead when WJZ was surfing the site, the error could have been avoided. But the site also has some more plausible fare, like the:

SONY UNABLE TO RECALL O.J. VIDEO GAME TIE-IN

Hollywood — In an embarrassing side note to the cancellation of O.J. Simpson’s “If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened” TV special and book, Sony has released a video game adaptation for its new Playstation 3 console titled “OJ: How Would YOU Do It if He Did It?”

or

CANADA OUTRAGED OVER MOVIE ABOUT VANCOUVER SHOT IN L.A.

Canadian officials are criticizing the decision by Imagine Entertainment to shoot a drama about life in Vancouver, British Columbia in Los Angeles. “It’s a slap in the face to all Canadians to use downtown L.A. as a substitute for Vancouver,” said Canadian Film Minister, David Bouchard. “These American productions going south of the border to the U.S. must be stopped. It’s un-American.”

 As it was, WJZ fell for the black face and had a red face with some egg on it as the story spread to some major media, including the Washington Post.

"This was an error in judgment by one of our producers," explained WJZ-TV spokeswoman Liz Chuday, "who did not follow our established policies. She failed to verify a story from a publication we were not familiar with before it aired. This was clearly wrong."

The station aired a correction in the 11 p.m. newscast.

Does the station plan to toughen the screening process? "It's always good to go ahead and refresh ourselves on these procedures," the spokeswoman said.  "We review them to prevent this very thing. We take this very seriously."

So, does the site plan to put up some disclaimers up, like:  "This is funny. Please don't report it as news." According to co-editor Ben Fritz, "We figure our site is meant to be enjoyed by people smart enough to recognize pretty obvious satire when they see it. This is the first time one of our stories has been picked up by a TV station --to my knowledge--as real news, though many people have thought our stories are real on websites."

But Fritz might have an unfair advantage in creating the less obvious satire that could hook newsfolk. The other co-editor, Gil Cunha,  was once a TV news writer.

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