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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
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April 06 2006

From the sublime to the ridiculous - Variety reports on that Wonder Woman joke. Here's the best part about journalists thinking that's Kate Beckinsale April Fool's joke was real. No one bothered to phone Warner Bros to confirm the story.

Well I'm glad to hear that Variety is doing their bit to straighten out the confusion, I wonder if imdb et al will believe that correction or if they will still believe that 'where there is smoke there must be fire'. Now days rumors seem to be their own built in confirmation.
Well Variety is the industry bible and everyone who reported the fake story is a rag in comparison.
Once spake Douglas Adams:

What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust – of course you can’t, it’s just people talking – but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV – a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.

Some folks just never got out of the habit of believing the things they read on a "reliable source." Trust, but verify. It's the way it should be.
The data in imdb is almost entirely community driven. The news section is syndicated from imdb != wenn. This page is also informative about imdb's nature.
True dat, IMForeman. What a wise (and by all accounts decent and kind) fellow Douglas Adams was. If there were any justice he'd still be with us. Can't we swap, say, a Bush and a Limbaugh for one Adams ? Sure, it's not really a fair exchange since he's worth 10 of either one but we'll take the hit ;).

One of the few upsides about this spreading so far and wide is that printing a 'debunk' story is now newsworthy. I know it was all a joke and the misunderstanding was kind of funny but some of those quotes, if taken out of context, were pretty nasty and it'd be too bad if people thought JW was that kind of guy.
I have found this whole thing to be interesting, and a total eye opener. Being your normal average Joe, I have never been in the situation to observe what I know to be a totally bogus story, then do the rounds. Although I have always known that you can't trust everything you read in the news, I had always thought that stories would be properly checked out, and not just a given cursory glance.
I, too, am also a lil disturbed that now maybe those comments attributed to Whedon, a hero of mine, will be thought of as being actually said by the man himself. It was very funny at the time, and I dont blame Jo-Blo in any way shape or form for this, because they even stated it was an April Fools in the exact same article. This has changed the way I look at things, and thats proably a good thing in itself.
We have to ask:

Was this all one big conspiratorial April Fool's joke?

Either way, it had an awesome (and, for many news sources, I'm sure, embarrassing) punchline.
Now this is funny!
Too funny. All we need now is Ashton Kutcher saying, "you got punk'd!"
"An elaborate Internet prank"?

Not really, it was a one-page joke. More like, "An elaborate case of media sources getting their facts wrong and trying to cover their asses."
i like the "elaborate internet prank" also, but i found this to be the best part- "Despite our best efforts" Really? Best efforts. Okay, if that was their best i would hate to see worst. All anyone had to do was read a few paragraphs into the story, or perhaps call WB to check facts. This is truly something that people (as in us) will not forget for some time. I was so hoping that it would be on Access Hollywood or something, that would have been the best thing ever.
As a public librarian who is constantly being told that libraries and librarians are being replaced by the Internet (while I watch my usage statistics go up up up) this is just another instance of the Internet being a wonderful tool, but not a replacement for solid reliable information and the professionals like journalists and librarians who are SUPPOSED to be equipped to help navigate the public through it.

[ edited by GoblinQueen on 2006-04-06 20:46 ]
Great article! I'm so glad to see someone, especially someone at such a trusted publication, just simply checked the facts: went to the original article at JoBlo, pointed out some of the obviously bogus statements, checked with Warner and found out they hadn't been contacted, then did a little research to get a list of a few of the publications that printed the rumor. Now that's journalism! Yay Variety! :-)
Elaborate? Okay, pass me the crack, IMDB.
Something I've learned is similar to the Douglas Adams quote IMForeman posted. Basically, I don't think you can trust anything, whether its the Internet or TV or newspapers. This simple and easily avoidable mistake illustrates that perfectly.

Of course the Internet is so huge and random that any source of information is very difficult to verify. Even reputable websites like Amazon can make massive mistakes. Such as when the UK site kept sending me a weird ambience CD entitled "Serenity" instead of the David Newman score, and I wrote several notes explaining how the information that had been put on the product pages on their website wasn't correct, and only received a standard reply and the problem was never fixed.

I've always found newspapers unreliable, particularly as many have their own agendas which will affect the way in which they report stories. And the number of times an article has been followed up a few weeks later by a much smaller and more subtle article apologising for incorrect facts or complaints made by celebrities about it, and that they have donated money to charity on their behalf.

I hate to sound paranoid but it honestly is true. Even if you find a reliable website there is always a chance that it could be hacked and convincing lies posted which you might go on to believe. My advice is to never fully trust anything you read.
Elaborate? Okay, pass me the crack, IMDB.

So crafty, those guys at Joblo. I don't know what was more cunning, the fact they posted a clearly outrageous story on April 1st or the fact that they state it's an April fool's joke at the end of the article. Does their evil intellect know no bounds ?

Maybe IMDB think they invented the internet solely for this prank. Cos, y'know, I think that'd qualify as 'elaborate'.

Razor, as the old adage goes, 'Believe only half of what you see and none of what you hear'. In the internet age substitute read for hear and the advice stands.
Well, I don't entirely agree with that, Razor. I trust things where the organisation makes an effort. Example: if any of these publications or TV programmes had bothered to call WB's Press department, they would have been told otherwise. But they didn't bother. Which is very lazy. However, if Variety says "Serenity 4: So Very Nude", with quotes from Universal, Joss and that weird homeless guy every town has, then I'll believe it.
Look, i'm not homeless, i'm 'habitationally challenged'. And I prefer 'eccentric' if you don't mind.

I think most stories by the mainstream print and TV media are largely true but they do all have an agenda (luckily, at least in the UK, these agendas are widely known and so you can correct for bias accordingly). I still think it's worth taking everything with a pinch of salt and running it through your own internal 'sanity checker' as well as corroborating important stories independently. Journalists are only human and even the best of them make genuine mistakes or are mislead while the worst of them just tell big fat whopping lies.
As one of those "only human" journalists, I can say that with all honesty I do try to keep personal bias away from my reporting. It's difficult, of course. It's more often (in my case) that an honest mistake will happen rather than an "elaborate" con job.

That being said, I think the horrible, horrible job that is entertainment "news" holds no place in the reality of journalism. That *no one* checked with Warner until Variety did is shameful. those people simply aren't journalists. They're bloggers, with style.
Here's the biggest Non-Surprise of the year: The Sun (UK) ran the story.
this is just another instance of the Internet being a wonderful tool, but not a replacement for solid reliable information and the professionals like journalists

I would say its not so much a failing of the net as it is a cautionary tale of what happens when journalists don't check their sources, regardless of what those sources are. The internet is merely the medium; a site is only as good as its posters/editors.

gossi - I am shocked, shocked I say!
Just saw this:

According to a report in, Whedon is apparently “very happy” with Beckinsale and is planning to start production on the film this September.

The stories continue.
I'm sure XanFan32 that most respectable journalists try to be as objective as possible but bias can creep in in other ways e.g. in the choice of story a paper covers and the prominance they give to different stories. Even the most objective article will have less impact buried on page 24. A sensitive piece on community acceptance of paedophiles is sunk under a headline like 'Perverts Prey on Our Kids' and a lot of these decisions (from the tiny amount I know about newspapers, hey, I used to deliver them ;) are made at an editorial level (i.e. the sort of level that can be pressured by non-journalist owners, advertising revenue etc.).

I agree about entertainment so-called journalists though. If I were one I couldn't sit through a film like 'Good night and Good Luck' without curling into a ball of utter embarrassment.

gossi, wait a minute, that bastion of truth and justice posted something untrue ? World collapsing ... faith in humanity shaken ...

(Was it before or after the dirty phone numbers in the back ? As far as I know The Sun is still the UK's biggest selling daily by a long chalk. Depressing).

zeitgeist, it's certainly not a failing of the net (IMO). The internet is just the medium, trouble is, it's a bit too good at it. News spreads so quickly that it takes on a kind of life of its own as seen in this case. On the other hand this link shows the power of the net to redress the imbalance in communications technology that existed previously. As you imply, it's just a tool and, like any tool, its effect is largely the choice of the user.
Wow, Saje, that link certainly was something. I am impressed with the Internet for once.
Joining my twin UnpluggedCrazy in admiring this link showing the plus side of having a global village, Saje. Yay Internet!
Maybe IMDB think they invented the internet solely for this prank. Cos, y'know, I think that'd qualify as 'elaborate'.

Man its nice to see people read comments before posting. *sigh*

News on imdb is a syndication from WENN. imdb does NOT write this stuff. It is ironic that this is on a thread where people are being highly cynical about checking the facts before publishing things to a wider audience!
Mort, you are correct, but imdb does contract these assclowns to publish "news" on their site. The blame is not unfairly placed.
Mort, I'm actually aware IMDB is using WENN syndicated - however it's also IMDB's responsibility to check the content it publishes, along with WENN.
Mort, guess i'll respond since you've quoted my post as chief perp (I feel like a criminal mastermind *strokes white cat* ;). As the posters above have said if IMDB are publishing 'news' on their site and, presumably, benefitting from the publication through higher hits then they should take part of the flak if it turns out to be rubbish (along with the actual authors).

A newspaper, for example, would (or should) take responsibility for any articles it publishes, even if said articles come from an external source (e.g. the Associated Press or a freelance journalist). The fact that large, authoritative web sites are seen as different in this regard is partly why we're in this situation. The buck has to stop somewhere.
saje: Oh, absolutely, bias creeps in. I wouldn't pretend it was any other way. Even the best, most intelligent and honest journalists are human, and therefore have a point of view. It's just that you would hope that the facts listed as such were, indeed, facts. And not, say, an April Fool's joke. Even when you read an opinion piece, you should be able to tell what parts are opinion and on what facts the opinion is based. And those facts should be verifiable. Of course, that sort of thing has fallen by the wayside lately in 24-hour news cycles. *eyeroll*

And you're absolutely right about a newspaper taking responsibility for what it runs, even if it's syndicated or whatever. You trust your syndication group; if it fails you, you don't use it anymore. If it's a simple error, the newspaper is obligated to run a correction and/or retraction.
WENN actually published the correction. The thing that annoyed me was you used the phrase: "Maybe IMDB think they invented the internet solely for this prank" which brought up the fact that imdb were the originators of the "thought". Should a content provider that provides THAT much information carefully research every single story that automatically propogates through its feed? I don't think so.

Anyway, offtrack enough, so agree to disagree if you must. I just don't feel you should blame the messenger. By the way, that Caroline was sure off track by writing that thing about Firefly coming back! Since it's the blog she runs, and it wasn't deleted, it must be hers. Right? :-)

[ edited by Mort on 2006-04-09 21:10 ]
" IMDB has a correction up."

" Elaborate? Okay, pass me the crack, IMDB."

That second comment was the one I was jokingly responding to so i'm not quite sure why my post is being singled out for your ire Mort but, for what it's worth, i'm sorry you found what was a flippant response so annoying.

IMO though, IMDB pay WENN for the service and so WENN becomes another of IMDB's suppliers and since it's IMDB providing the feed to the end user they should share some responsibility. Imagine if McDonalds were sold a batch of bad beef which gave a few customers food poisoning but then went on to say "Well, it's not our beef, we just get it from someone else". Is it McDonalds fault that the beef is bad ? Not at all. But it's surely their responsibility that their customers ate it.

Maybe IMDB shouldn't have to research every story that they publish but I stand by my point that if they don't bother and one of them turns out to be wrong then they should take a hit for publishing it without fact checking. Maybe not as much of a hit as WENN, so in that sense I see your point and accept your criticism, but still a hit (so, yep, on balance I feel like I must agree to disagree).

You raise an interesting point though which is to say when does a news clearing site (like Whedonesque or Slashdot) reach a stage where they have to take responsibility for their published content. I'm not really sure myself but I reckon if the site explicitly links to the actual originators of the story (i.e. users must go off site to read the article) then it's sufficiently obvious that the clearing site hasn't created the story and so they shouldn't have to take responsibility for ensuring its correctness (they might, however, choose to point out if they're linking to a particular site which is often incorrect).
By the way, that Carolyn was sure off track by writing that thing about Firefly coming back! Since it's the blog she runs, and it wasn't deleted, it must be hers. Right? :-)

Isn't it "Caroline"? Or did I miss something?
I can't speak to the moral implications, but legally, if McDonalds sells bad beef, even if they are not responsible for it being bad, they can be held liable for any harm that product causes under the doctrine of strict liability, which is intended to pass on the costs of releasing harmful products into the "stream of commerce" to the party most able to bear it, i.e. the manufacturer or supplier, not the consumer or end-user.

This issue is somewhat different. Still, a somewhat analogous situation arises where an ISP enables its customers to propagate, for example, libelous or copyright infringing information. Here's a good introduction to the subject. Here, of course, there's likely no legal liability at issue (although one never knows). Instead, I think we're talking about what the professional or industry norms of reporting should be.
Great link, SNT! Very useful; it's a lot to consider if you are operating a blog.
That's a really interesting link SNT. Yeah, I think I might have muddied the waters a bit with the beef example since McDonalds would clearly have a duty of care towards their customers and legal liability whereas i'm not at all claiming that IMDB did anything illegal - just professionally irresponsible (hey, i'd had a few beers and the whole 2:30 am thing had eroded my 'duty of care' towards the discussion ;).

It's interesting that Whedonesque may actually be liable if someone posts a defamatory comment since the admins take such a hands-on approach to managing the site (they couldn't reasonably claim to not know about it). Bizarrely, the less IMDB bothers with fact checking and pulling of inaccurate stories, the less liable they are for defamation and probably other types of infringement (note that i'm not claiming either in this case though possibly if some of the quotes had been included then Joss could've) and the stronger their claim to be mere distributors of content (like Whedonesque or Slashdot) rather than publishers (like the Guardian online or BBC).

Interesting food for thought.

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