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A Hoax Provokes Folks: Why Lie?

Apr 13 2009
Instructions

Back to the beginning of the country, the American media has run stories that were widely regarded as true, but were eventually revealed as hoaxes. A few of them were innocuous. Some were not. Were the following hoaxes really printed?


  1. March 12, 1782: Benjamin Franklin, in France during the Revolutionary War, to make mischief for the British, composes and prints up a page of an imaginary newspaper, the Boston Independent Chronicle, which carries a letter purporting to be from a Captain Gerrish of the New England Militia, accompanying and describing in detail a package of more than a thousand dried scalps captured from Seneca Indians who had been paid by the British to terrorize men, women, and children among the American colonists, and ultimately meant to be shipped to England for the gratified amusement of King George. In a letter to a friend, Franklin says of his story: "The Form may perhaps not be genuine, but the Substance is truth."
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  2. August 21, 1835: The New York Sun begins a series of articles describing Royal Astronomer Sir John Herschel's discoveries of sentient beings living on the Moon through a giant telescope. The ladies of Springfield, Massachusetts subscribe to a fund "to send missionaries to the benighted luminary."
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  3. April 13, 1844: The New York Sun publishes Edgar Allan Poe's (spurious) account of a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by balloon. The demand for the paper is so great that crowds block the Sun office throughout the day waiting to buy copies, and Poe is unable to get a copy for himself.
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  4. September 1844: During James Polk's presidential campaign, the Whig-run Ithaca Chronicle publishes a letter, claiming to quote directly from a Baron von Roorback's Tour through the Western and Southern States in 1836, about a slave caravan. It includes a description of 40 slaves among the manacled purchased from Polk, whose initials had been branded into their shoulders. Thurlow Weed eagerly copies it into his Albany Evening Journal and it becomes a major issue in the campaign, until it is shown to be a hoax. The passage was created by doctoring a passage from Excursion Through the Slave States, written by George W. Featherstonhaugh and published in London in 1844.
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  5. October 4, 1862: Samuel Clemens, then a writer for the Virginia City, Nevada, Territorial Enterprise, publishes an article about the discovery of a sitting, petrified man in the mountains, of which "every limb and feature" was still perfect, except turned into stone. The story is widely believed and reprinted in other papers around the country.
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  6. March 2, 1864: Union cavalry officer Colonel Ulric Dahlgren leads a raid against Richmond, whose main purpose is to free prisoners of war being held by the Confederacy at Belle Isle. Dahlgren is shot and killed during the unsuccessful raid. Southern soldiers find documents on his body that outline other objectives of the raid, including orders for Dahlgren to burn and destroy the city and to kill Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, actions clearly outside the conventional rules of war. The Richmond Examiner publishes the text of the documents and says in an enraged editorial that the North has decided to begin conducting the war "under the Black Flag."
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  7. May 18, 1864: The New York World and the New York Journal of Commerce print what they believe to be an Associated Press story about a proclamation from President Lincoln ordering a huge new conscription of soldiers. This causes speculators to sell stocks and buy gold on fear that the Civil War will continue far longer than was expected. It is quickly revealed that Joseph Howard, the city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, forged the story so that he could buy gold before the story came out and sell it at the end of the day.
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  8. April 1, 1874: New York Herald reporter Joseph Clarke and editor Thomas Connery panic New Yorkers by publishing an article they have concocted about a mass escape of animals from the Central Park Zoo. In the story, animals roamed the city looking for prey of the species homo sapiens, causing "terrible scenes of mutilation." Cartoonist Thomas Nast later references the hoax in a political cartoon he draws for Harper's Magazine, in which he depicts the Democrats as an ass and the Republicans as an elephant, creating the parties' political icons.
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  9. August 16, 1924: During Prohibition, New York Herald reporter Sanford Jarrell publishes a story about a "mysterious joy-boat of 15,000 tons which was lying about 15 miles off Fire Island, aboard which Long Island millionaires and pretty playthings of the idle rich were drinking intoxicating beverages and disporting themselves with the utmost abandon by night." The day after the article is published, the Coast Guard is assigned to hunt down the vessel. When the Herald editors discover the story is a hoax, they fire Jarrell.
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No


  10. November 20, 1967: U.S. News and World Report claims that it can confirm the authenticity of The Report from Iron Mountain, a book recently published by Dial Press. The book purported to be the text of a leaked report issued by a secret study group commissioned by the Johnson Administration. The group concluded that a lasting peace, if it were ever achieved, would not be in the best economic interests of society, and that the government should foster a war mentality by scaring people with exaggerated threats of terrestrial, and even extraterrestrial, foes and impending environmental disasters. It also recommended that the government heighten inter-ethnic tensions within the country and even re-institute slavery. Author Leonard Lewis confessed in 1972 that he wrote the book, but defended it as a useful stimulus to public debate on the Vietnam War. Lewis claimed that the 1971 leaked publication of the "Pentagon Papers," which were real, demonstrated that the government is capable of actions that are as outrageous as anything in his "satire."
    A.

    Yes

    B.

    No