How my little blog entry kicked up a s**t storm on Fleet Street

Last September, outraged by a tabloid lie that I was uniquely positioned to debunk, I wrote a blog entry criticizing Britain’s Daily Star. I noted that they had simply fabricated two American gay rights groups that  were purportedly criticizing the U.S. version of the sketch comedy show “Little Britain” for running “homophobic” skits. Other UK newspapers and web sites picked up the Star story, and it went semi-viral.

Cut to last month. To my astonishment, my little cyber-shout had actually created consequences in the real world. The Daily Star has paid damages and apologized to Little Britain’s stars for lying. Here are more details from the Press Gazette and BBC News.

Not only that, but a more-respectably daily, The Independent had to apologize — for quoting me! I had speculated that the Star story was really a publicist’s plant intended to drum up attention for the U.S. debut of the show. I didn’t name any names, of course, because if it was a plant, it could have been planted by a lot of different people. But that didn’t stop The Independent from passing along my clearly-labeled speculation. Oops. Under Britain’s rather onerous, plaintiff-friendly defamation law, they wound up having to apologize to Little Britain’s publicist for implying that the firm did a bad thing.

There’s a lesson in all of this, though I’m not completely sure what it is. Maybe just that I should have thought twice about setting off a shit-storm in the first place. None of the shit that hit the Star and The Independent landed on me, but that’s just because I got lucky.

UPDATE: Apparently, London’s The Times had to apologize as well.

Beware the Tabs

Some of the most entertaining news items come from the tabloid press. Unfortunately, they’re also very often the most fictitious. Take for example a story that appeared today in the UK tabloid The Daily Star, “GAY AND FATTY JOKES UPSET YANKS,” claiming that gay activists are upset at the new American version of the hit British comedy Little Britain. If true, this would be an interesting little show biz item. And a couple of other online sources have picked the story up from The Star. But after working in this job for six years, I’ve developed a pretty good sense of smell for fabricated tabloid (or blog) stories, and boy, is this one of them.

Firstly, the quote from an FCC spokesman at the end uses the word ‘remit,’ meaning ‘area of responsibility.’ Americans never use that word in this sense, so unless the supposed spokesman just happens to be Brit-bred, I’m not buying.

Second, and more obviously, are the two quotes from gay activist groups which form the heart of the story. The organization behind the New York City gay pride parade is called “Heritage of Pride,” not “New York Gay Pride.” And the “West Hollywood Gay and Lesbian Alliance” simply does not exist at all. Furthermore, with 25 years (on and off) in the gay media business, I’ve never heard of either of the two supposed spokespersons, Gina Gallo and Irwin Blair (nor has Google, for that matter). I know the spokespeople for every prominent gay group in America (many of them personally), and either Gallo and Blair don’t exist, or they beamed in from Mars in the last two weeks.

In other words, I’m convinced–at least for my own editorial purposes–that this story is total fiction, most likely planted by somebody’s publicist to generate attention in Britain that would cross over to the US via blogs to help the HBO show.

I know, a tabloid paper printing publicist fiction: Who’d have imagined? But in this competitive, blog-addled, short-attention media world, there’s a lot of pressure to fluff up newscasts with show biz gossip. Here’s a reminder not to fall for it, if you value your credibility at all.

Oh, and if anybody at The Star would like to put me in touch with your sources for this story, I’d be much obliged. I’m waiting by the phone. Really.

UPDATE #1: Heritage of Pride’s actual spokesman, Dennis Spafford, confirmed to me that “Gina Gallo” is not a spokesperson for his organization — nor has he ever heard of her.

UPDATE #2: This entry is making its own way around the blogosphere. It’s been picked up as a separate news item by several popular blogs.

UPDATE #3: Now this story has been picked up by the UK newspaper The Independent. It’s the lead item in Henry Deede’s “Pandora” column. I’m not sure whether it appeared in print, or just on the Independent’s web site.

UPDATE #4 (30 Sept.): Curious. I revisited the Pandora column noted in Update #3, only to discover the lead item — about this blog entry — has been vaporized. The headline for the column has been changed to refer to the replacement item, and the URL has been changed to reflect the new headline (which means there must be a referrer from the old URL). I wonder why they did that. Legal department concerns that they were accusing The Daily Star of lying? I know libel is much easier to prove in UK courts. But it’s hard to see under what circumstances the Star might have sued. I suppose this will have to remain one of life’s little mysteries.

UPDATE #5 (How long can this go on?): Hmm. The original Daily Star item has been removed from their website as well. Perhaps that’s why The Independent removed it’s item. Curiouser and curiouser.