Tuesday, December 05, 2006

One Baltimore TV Station Learns the Meaning of "Satire"

Dateline Hollywood -- the satiric website run in part by my Variety colleague Ben Fritz -- has fooled 'em again.

And this time, it was no less than CBS-owned WJZ-TV in Baltimore that failed to get the joke.

No, contrary to this Dateline Hollywood piece (see above), Michael Richards did not attend a celebrity roast for Whoopi Goldberg in blackface.

And no, he did not pour a bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup over Whoopi's head, despite what the story said.

See, ahem, it's a joke. Given the uproar over Richards' use of the n-word at the Laugh Factory, it would have been mighty insane for him to do those things, yes? But somehow no one at WJZ saw the absurdity of that. At least at first. The story ran on the station's 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts, before being corrected at 11.

A former colleague of mine (see how incestuous this is, by the way?), former Variety scribe Nick Madigan, now a media reporter for the Baltimore Sun, caught WJZ's goof:

WJZ's story, broadcast at least twice yesterday afternoon in breaking-news style by anchor Sally Thorner, was attributed to DatelineHollywood.com. But WJZ's news department was apparently unaware that every story on the Web site satirizes Hollywood.

"It should not have aired," Gail Bending, WJZ's news director, said after being alerted by a colleague to the story's lack of foundation and the site's cheerful irreverence for the truth. Bending said the producer who proposed the story did not verify its accuracy. The station ran a brief correction during its 11 p.m. newscast, saying the Richards story "turned out to be a hoax."

Uh, if by "hoax" you mean "obvious parody that we were too dumb to realize was an obvious parody." Don't send the WJZ folk any links to The Onion!

This isn't the first time Dateline Hollywood fooled people into believing their dispatches were real. As I wrote in September 2005, a Dateline Hollywood piece quoting Pat Robertson blaming Hurricane Katrina on the choice of Ellen DeGeneres hosting the Emmys made the e-mail rounds, and became such urban legend that Snopes.com created a page debunking it.

More recently, another website went on a tirade against the FCC reading a Dateline Hollywood piece reporting that the agency had banned all four-letter words from the tube.

Nice work, guys!

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