Thursday, November 13, 2008

On scams, frauds, and front groups

You may have read recently about two notable hoaxes that targeted the media. The Yes Men, a group of activists who engage in a form of culture jamming they call "identity correction," printed up thousands of copies of a fake version of the Times and distributed them around town yesterday (you can read the reaction of one New York Times staffer on the prank on his official NYT blog). In another example of an elaborate hoax, it was reported today that the recent story about anonymous McCain campaign aides leaking news that Palin's grasp of geography was woefully weak was in fact a prank. The source of the leak, one Mike Eisenstadt, turned out to be a complete fiction, as did his think tank, the Harding Institute. Two filmmakers had for months used Mike Eisenstadt as a source of a number of seemingly plausible sources of information from inside the McCain camp. As the Times reported, the pranksters were annoyed at how quickly the media gobbled up any scrap of news in its effort to keep the 24-hours a day news cycle rolling along.

With this in mind, you may be interested in checking out, a web site that tries to keep track, as they put it, of "the names behind the news." One interesting section of their site is the page on "Front Groups," which include the Greening Earth Society, the "grassroots" group committed to understanding climate change that also happened to be underwritten by the Western Fuels Association (many of us have brought up that group's web site when teaching in classrooms about evaluation of web sources).

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