Friday, September 16, 2005

Anatomy of an Internet Rumor

Apparently Dateline Hollywood's recent Pat Robertson satire, as seen above (and in its entirety here), cut a little too close to the truth.

After all, given what's come out of the crazy reverend's mouth in recent days, the headline -- ROBERTSON BLAMES HURRICANE ON CHOICE OF ELLEN DEGENERES TO HOST EMMYS -- seems plausible.

So much so that the piece is currently making the Internet rounds without any disclaimer -- and people are actually taking the story as fact! (Read this message board, for example.)

Kudos to Ben Fritz and the "Dateline" gang -- the hallmark of good satire, after all, is highlighting something so absurd it can be true (and given Robertson's past remarks, the story would be completely believable).

Ben tells us that Dateline Hollywood has seen a huge upsurge in traffic as the story makes the web and email rounds. It's become so much a part of web lore that the popular urban legend debunker site -- -- has devoted a page to the Dateline Hollywood story here.

Notes Snopes:

The Dateline Hollywood article quoted above achieved that balance so well that many readers mistook it for a straight news article. This acceptance was due in large part to U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson's history of making rather outrageous public statements on his 700 Club television program, including his recent call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo

The satirical premise expressed in the original piece, that Mr. Robertson might make a connection between homosexuality and hurricanes, doesn't even require stretching the truth. During a 6 August 1998 broadcast of The 700 Club, Mr. Robertson addressed comments at participants of the Orlando, Florida, Gay Pride Festival, stating: "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you."

Now, here's the kicker: Dateline Hollywood received an email from Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, which also didn't seem to understand that the story was a joke:

----- Original Message -----
From: Angell Watts
Sent: Tue, 13 Sep 2005 10:03
Subject: Fwd: Robertson Blames Hurricane On Choice of Ellen Degeneres to Host Emmy's

This information is completely inaccurate.  Pat Robertson never said those words and "The 700 Club" does not have a Sunday show.  I suggest you do a little research before you write such bogus information. 

Angell Watts
CBN Public Relations

Wait, so the "700 Club" flack is mainly concerned that Robertson never said "those words" -- and that the show doesn't air on Sundays. Ben asks: Does that mean she's not concerned with the overall spirit of the piece? (And yes, it goes without saying, the CBN folk probably aren't too familiar with the term "satire.")

Here's Ben's other favorite email regarding the piece:

----- Original Message -----
From: Alan
Sent: Tue, 13 Sep 2005 15:10
Subject: Fwd: Robertson Blames Hurricane On Choice of Ellen DeGeneres

You are incorrect about the Pat Robertson / Ellen Degeneres story.  Please check this out:


In other words (as interpreted by Ben): "Please check out this article indicating that the site you run is satirical. Therefore you should realize the facts on your satirical site are incorrect."


Mike said...

O my a internet rumor is worse then a high school rumor.

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