Nov 8, 2011

Fake news written by fake people

Scandal stories about water districts in Southern California (and maybe everywhere) often involve the cloistered ways in which the boards do business - and the generosity with which they pay themselves for doing shady business.

The Central Basin Municipal Water District has found an original way to make scandal news. The public body hired a "news" outfit to write favorable articles about the district and then got them posted on Google News as though they were legitimate. Essentially, the stories were thinly disguised public relations pieces.

Now the Los Angeles Times, which broke the Google story, has discovered that the hired-gun journalists being paid to write the water district's PR weren't really journalists - and, in fact, weren't really people.

Mike Adams, the lead writer for a company calling itself News Hawks, appeared to be imaginary. From the Times:
News Hawks also presented a picture of Adams, showing a stoic man with a gray beard and a black cowboy hat. A reader notified The Times that the photo was a stock image used to demonstrate editing techniques on websites such as

From there, the picture was traced to photographer Leroy Skalstad, who said he took the shot at a Milwaukee food bank last year and posted it to several photo-sharing websites. He said the subject of the picture is a man nicknamed

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You'll see more of this as news outlets withdraw from coverage and companies think they can pop something into the web and hope that the cadres of aggegators will just pass it along, unchecked. Which they will.
It's all part of the "Confidence Game" that Dean Starkman spells out in the current CJR. PR abhors a vacuum and is rushing to fill the niche for the crowdsourced, pro-am, aggegator, click-starved bloggers out there.