- Journalists are often the victims of April Fools’ Day jokes and pranks.
- In 1934, a satirical article from a Berlin newspaper in Germany was published by The New York Times as fact.
- In 2012, on April Fools’ Day, multiple news outlets were tricked into thinking a new website was connected to Kanye West.
It’s hard for people to know what to believe on April Fools’ Day. Even journalists have trouble separating fact from fiction on a day notorious for tricks and pranks.
Here are a few times when journalists fell victim to April Fools’ Day antics.
A reporter in California tricked his editor into publishing a fabricated story about a predator trout in 2012
Steve Merlo, a freelance writer for the fishing section at The Bakersfield Californian, reported on a new, huge predator trout that was going to be introduced to their waters in 2012.
According to Deadspin, it was all a joke. But, because Merlo never alerted his editors that the report was fabricated, it ran on March 30.
The journalist even went so far as to reference a fictional Indian biologist named Pasloo Flir and dub the fabricated trout “the Greta.”
The paper’s executive editor issued an apology saying the article had no “basis in truth” and “should be disregarded.”
In this case, it was one journalist tricking another.
Also in 2012, news outlets reported on a website said to be connected to Kanye West
Also in 2012, right before April 1, a website popped up called Whodat.biz, that was supposedly linked to Kanye West and his upcoming company DONDA.
The website called itself a “Facebook for websites” and appeared to be nothing more than a service that returns website lookup information. Gizmodo reported that the website was a fake and in fact, had no connection to Kanye West. Gizmodo also reached out to Ryder Ripps one of the founders of OKFocus, the group behind the hoax, and he said the prank just “played into a lot of people’s assumptions about DONDA.”
Before the news broke that Whodat.biz was fake, The Washington Post and Buzzfeed reported on the story. The Washington Post reporter Jen Chaney later retracted her article writing, “I sincerely regret the error” and “I should have been smarter.” In an article update, Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos wrote “Fake! Oh well.”
PETA played a prank on Texas journalists in 2001
In 2001, a big fishing competition was set to take place on Lake Palestine in Texas. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) however, warned that if they went through with the big event, they’d put tranquilizers in the water to put all the fish to sleep. That way, no one would have a fair chance of winning the competition.
According to The Guardian, many Texan newspapers picked up on the story calling PETA’s methods, “borderline terroristic.” Even law enforcement came out to make sure no one put anything in the water.
The whole thing, however, turned out to be nothing more than a prank. The competition did, after all, occur on April Fools’ Day.
In 1985, a Sports Illustrated reporter tricked other journalists with a story about an incredible rookie baseball player
On April 1, 1985, a Sports Illustrated reporter named George Plimpton wrote a story describing an impressive young man who was training at the Mets camp in St. Petersburg, Florida. He dubbed the young man “Sidd Finch” and wrote that he could pitch a baseball at 168 mph (the current record for fastest pitch is 104.3 mph).
In Plimpton’s report, he wrote that Finch was raised in an English orphanage, studied mind-body mastery in Tibet, and had never played baseball before the Mets camp.
It wasn’t just excited fans that Plimpton’s article tricked. Other journalists were duped as well. According to The New York Times, the St. Petersburg Times sent a reporter to find Finch and one New York newspaper’s sports editor was apparently upset with Mets’ public relations man, Jay Horwitz, for not giving him the scoop first.
A German newspaper unintentionally tricked American newspapers into thinking the first man-powered flight machine had been invented in 1934
A German newspaper, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, published a story in 1934 that told of the invention – and use – of a “lung powered” one-person plane. The outlet posted a photo of a person with two rotors on their chest and skis to land. The photo and story were enough to convince The New York Times to report on the story. The news outlet posted the photo with the caption“Man flies on his own power for the first time in history.”
In actuality, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung published the story as a joke for their April Fools’ Day edition. International News Photo, however, apparently distributed the photo without discerning it as fiction.
The New York Daily News, the New York American, the Daily Mirror, and the Chicago Herald and Examiner also reportedly wrote stories based on Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung’s satire piece.
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