Monday, October 29, 2018

5 from the Fake News Hall of Fame

Sure, fake news is all the rage in the internet age, but we modern folk didn’t exactly invent phony news stories. Hoaxes, biased reports, and sloppy journalism have plagued the media since the invention of the printing press. They say a lie can travel around the world before the truth can even put on its pants, but often the lie lives on long after the truth has been revealed. Consider these five stories that live on in legend today as some of the most famous fake news events in history.

Bat People on the Moon

In 1835, struggling publisher Benjamin Day attempted to compete with New York’s many daily newspapers. Day published The Sun, a one –cent paper which attracted a readership of the city’s working class. Day presumed that this audience, unsophisticated in the ways of established journalism, would be receptive to news stories that were exciting, if not exactly true.

Day hired Richard Adams Locke, a veteran newspaperman who knew how to cook up drama in his stories. Noticing a trend in speculation about the moon and its environment, Locke began a series on “great astronomical discoveries,” supposedly made with a new high-powered telescope. The “reports” described a moon surface filed with seas and forests, with huge pink and purple crystals rising from the sand. There were moon bison, moon pelicans, moon zebras, moon beavers, and most astounding, a race of flying bat people. The bat folk, according to Locke, were four-feet high, flew with wings like bats, engaged in conversation, and even had picnics.

Throughout the week the moon stories appeared, The Sun vastly outsold any other New York paper. Rightly irritated, reporters at competing papers worked to reveal the hoax. (Locke had claimed his information came from a scientific journal that no longer existed – always cite verifiable sources!) Locke was shamed into admitting his ruse, suggesting it had all been a good-natured satire.

You can imagine everyone’s disappointment decades later when the Apollo mission revealed no moon beavers.

Poe’s Hot Air

Benjamin Day was eager to strike circulation gold again in 1844, when The Sun published another hoax, crafted by a little-known short story writer named Edgar Allan Poe. Poe, who would go on to infamy as literature’s master of the macabre, was then a reliable junk news generator. There are at least six published accounts credited to Poe that turned out to be fake news.

Capitalizing on the popularity of hot air balloon adventures, Poe published his tale under the headline “Atlantic Crossed in Three Days, Signal Triumph of Mr. Monck Mason’s Flying Machine!” Of course there was no balloonist named Monck Mason, nor a fancy flying machine developed by the ridiculously-named Professor Rub-a-dub, but that didn’t stop readers from devouring Poe’s story, full of fake technical details about the fake journey.

Ironically, Poe had been privately annoyed that Richard Locke’s earlier moonmen hoax had borrowed heavily from Poe’s short story, “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall,” and perhaps hoped to best Locke in the newspaper hoax game. Alas, Poe’s story didn’t have the electricity of the moon hoax, and few were surprised when other newspapers failed to find evidence of the three-day balloon trip.

Mark Twain’s Career Rises from the Dead

Celebrated American author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was in hiding. Suffering from bad financial investments and disillusioned with public life, he was living in London in 1897, trying to preserve his privacy. One of the few contacts he had there was his cousin, James Ross Clemens, also living in London, who had fallen seriously ill soon after their first meeting.

When the papers reported James’ illness, the address was mistaken for that of his famous cousin, and rumors began to spread that the literary legend was either dead or soon would be. A young reporter from the New York Journal, Frank Marshall White, was dispatched to Twain’s home with the instructions, “If Mark Twain dying in poverty, send 500 words. If Mark Twain has died in poverty, send 1000 words.”

White visited Twain’s home to find him alive and well. The author assured the young man “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” White reported this response verbatim, which soon became one of the most repeated and best-known quotes from the highly quotable writer. The public was so delighted with the story that Twain’s popularity took a turn for the better, and soon new works were being commissioned from the long silent Twain.

This was good news for Twain, because what had really annoyed him wasn’t the report of his death but rumors of his poverty!

War of the Welles
Orson Welles, the “young genius” of radio, needed help for his flagging Mercury Theater show. The program, which adapted classic novels as radio dramas, had no sponsor and would soon be cancelled without one. Welles devised a gimmick for his Halloween broadcast of 1938: an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, presented in the style of an actual news program.

Welles and his cast created what sounded like real news reports of invading Martians destroying whole cities with unstoppable death rays. Though announcements were made that the show was pure fiction, Welles craftily kept the warnings in the beginning of the show, waiting for the moment when listeners would change stations and discover his Martian invasion mid-attack.

The broadcast created panic across the country. Police stations were inundated with calls. Newspaper reporters rushed to cover the story. Doctors, soldiers, and armed civilians reported for duty to fight the alien hordes. Bridges and highways were jammed with cars as citizens tried to flee.

The next day Orson Welles gave his greatest performance as “innocent, apologetic guy” at a press conference, claiming he and his company had no idea their cute little radio show had caused such a stir. The performance was a hit. The Mercury Theater got a sponsor, and Welles got a Hollywood contract.

Candy Con
We all know the biggest danger on Halloween isn’t ghosts or witches or having to listen to the “Monster Mash,” but poisoned Halloween candy, right? After all, local police and hospitals routinely offer to examine or even x-ray children’s’ Halloween stash to search for needles, blades, or other foreign substances. That proves it, right?

Fake news wins again! In this case, it isn’t just one junk news story about deadly candy, but dozens and dozens of questionable reports, every year for many decades. Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, conducted extensive research of poisoned candy stories in 2003. He found that, in reports going back to 1958, there was only one verifiable newspaper story about a child being poisoned with Halloween candy (by his own father). Every other story of kids getting questionable candy turned out to be a false report.

So trick or treat with confidence! The candy is fine! (Except the Almond Joy. No one should eat that stuff!)

Think you can spot fake news from junk? Then click here to try our SCC Library Fake News Quiz!

Works Cited
Powers, Ron. Mark Twain, a Life. Free Press, 2005, pp. 584-85.
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe, a Critical Biography. Cooper Square, 1941, pp. 410.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Nine Times the Times Made Headlines

The SCC Library is proud to announce our new New York Times online subscription! Now SCC students, staff, and faculty have free access to daily New York Times articles and their archive via the paper’s website. Visit to learn how to activate your NYT account with your SCC web ID and password for immediate access.

“But what’s the big deal,” you ask? “Isn’t The New York Times just another newspaper?” Heck no! This is the “newspaper of record” we’re talking about! The Times has developed a reputation among journalists and readers as the best quality American newspaper, lauded for its thorough reporting and journalistic standards in the U.S. and internationally. Plus The New York Times has an over 160-year history of innovative reporting and state-of-the-art publishing methods. Here are just a few of the notable episodes in the history of The New York Times.

The Times’ Founder Fought Off Rioters with a Machine Gun
In July of 1863, a draft was instituted to enlist recruits for the newly-formed Union Army in anticipation of the Civil War. This sparked the New York Draft Riots, in which those protesting the draft attacked the home office of The New York Times, violently denouncing the paper’s pro-union, anti-slavery positions. Times founder Henry Raymond and his newspapermen held off the protesters with Gatling guns (an early form of machine gun). The protesters, understandably unnerved by the resistance, decided to go attack the office of The New York Tribune instead.

The Times Exposed a Corrupt Political Operation before it was Cool
Throughout the 1800’s, New York was largely managed by a backroom-dealing, unofficial political “office” known as Tammany Hall, that infiltrated city government with Tammany-approved politicians and their wives’ favorite nephews. The most notorious of these proto-mafiosos was William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, who, though never elected mayor himself, essentially controlled the mayor’s office. Tweed was known for being exceedingly generous with city contracts, paying his favored tradesmen $40,000 for a broom here and $180,000 for a table and chairs there, until The Times published details of New York County’s financial records. His corruption exposed, Tweed died in prison, cursing The New York Times and its savvy readers.

The Times’ Famous Slogan was a Diss on Its Competitors
By the 1890’s, New York newspapers such as Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal had developed a well-deserved reputation for their “yellow journalism,” publishing sensational, lurid, and often wildly inaccurate news stories to lure in readers. Times publisher Adolph Ochs began running the slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on the masthead of his paper, suggesting The New York Times was the proper choice for the distinguished reader too sophisticated for celebrity gossip and photos of decapitated hobos. Readers agreed. Despite contests to find a replacement slogan, Och’s masthead promise has remained in place since 1896.

The Times has Won More Pulitzer Prizes than Any Other Newspaper
Beginning in 1918, The New York Times has racked up 122 Pulitzer Prizes for excellence in journalism. The prizes have been awarded for reporting on a wide variety of subjects, including coverage of World War I, the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, architecture criticism, war in Lebanon, toxic shock syndrome, the Challenger space shuttle disaster, molecular biology, the reunification of Germany, the Sept. 11 attacks, Ebola, food safety, Hurricane Katrina, and even a multimedia presentation about avalanches. This year, The Times won Pulitzers for reports on Hollywood’s abuse of women, Russian interference in U.S. elections, and an editorial comic strip about the struggle of refugees who fear deportation.

The Bombing of Pearl Harbor Created the Times Crossword Puzzle
The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, the standard-bearer among puzzle freaks across the globe, was not the sort of thing Times publishers initially wanted for their lofty newspaper. Though crossword puzzles gained popularity in the 1920’s, the Times considered them “a primitive form of mental exercise.” It was not until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 that an editor finally conceded that a crossword puzzle might be a nice diversion for a readership weary of wartime worries. No one knows who wrote the debut puzzle, but a large team of contributing puzzlesmiths and associated word geeks create the crossword section today.

The Times Helped Strengthen to First Amendment
In 1960, The New York Times ran an advertisement, written by a civil rights group, which described actions by the Alabama police to curb their right to protest on a college campus. The problem was that many of the claims were exaggerated or false, prompting L.B. Sullivan, the Montgomery city commissioner, to file a libel lawsuit against the Times. Sullivan claimed he had been personally injured by the ad’s errors, seeing as he supervised the police department, and the Alabama Supreme Court agreed. However, when the Times appealed the case, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling, a case that established the “actual malice” requirement in libel cases (injured parties must prove a story was published with the intent to harm and that the publisher knew the story was false). Nice shot with that “freedom of the press” play, New York Times!

The Times Fought a War Against the Pentagon … and Won!
Daniel Ellsberg, a former State Department official, found himself in possession of The Pentagon Papers, a secret report compiled by the U.S. Department of Defense on the war in Vietnam, and turned them over to The New York Times in 1971. The Times began publishing excerpts from the report, which revealed to their readers that the U.S. had escalated their military efforts long before the public was informed. Though a federal court injunction demanded that the Times cease publication of this “leaked” material, the Supreme Court ruled that attempts to stop the presses were considered “prior restraint” and upheld the paper’s right to publish. Score another First Amendment victory for Notorious NYT!

The Times Won’t Drop F-Bombs … Usually
The New York Times maintains a strict “watch the potty mouth” policy, refusing to publish bad language or other material they deem offensive. In the 1950’s, a picture editor was fired for running a photo of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio locked in an open-mouthed kiss. Twenty years later, a photo of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller extending his middle finger at protesters was censored before publication (the article stating only that Mr. Rockefeller “gestured three times with his finger”). While certain widely-circulated videos in recent years have been reported by the Times with their four-letter-words intact, the paper has traditionally replaced such language with the term “barnyard epithet.”

The Times Exercises Freedom of the Press … with a Paywall
With the arrival of the internet, traditional newspaper funding through advertising and subscription dollars began quickly drying up as free content began flooding the web, including free online versions of newspapers like The New York Times. In 2011, the Times announced a paywall for their online publication. Five articles per month are available for free, but continued use of the site now requires a subscription, ranging from $15 to $35 per month. The gamble worked. As of December 2017, the Times had doubled its readership over the previous two years with 3.5 million paid subscriptions, insuring the continued life of “all the news that’s fit to print.”

But the best news is that SCC folks still have access to The New York Times for free!

Just follow the instructions and link on this page to register and enjoy access to the Times and its archive courtesy of Spartanburg Community College!

Works Cited

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Get Thee to a Video!

We know how it is. You’re researching Hamlet for that important English 102 paper you have to write. You’ve found tons of great resources in the SCC Library’s databases, chock-full as they are with online journals, e-books, magazines, newspaper, and even audio files, but you’re still interested to know more about Shakespeare’s classic.

Of course the problem is obvious: You forgot about video! Sometimes the best information comes in the form of good, old-fashioned A/V, and as Shakespeare says, “The play’s the thing.” Written material is vital, but if you really want to see Hamlet come to life in all its gorey glory, video is the place to be.

Thankfully, the SCC Library has got you covered the video department, and the best part is you don’t even have to get up from your computer! On-campus or off, you have the Library’s video databases at your fingertips, including Films on Demand, the Credo Video Collection, Bloom’s Literature Videos, and 20th Century Historical Videos. Detailed searches are easy, and you’ll find citations, transcripts, embed codes, and much more.

Just try a search for our emo friend Hamlet in the Films on Demand database, and you’ll find valuable information on Shakespeare’s classic, such as:

Hamlet: A Critical Guide

This insightful and entertaining overview of Shakespeare’s masterpiece covers the play’s major themes of revenge and death, as well as a focus on Hamlet’s relationships with the women in his life, his mother and Opehlia. Leading scholars discuss the plot and character motivations. Essential viewing for the Shakespeare student!

Who knows better the story of Hamlet better than the legendary actors who brought the play to life? Join Sir John Gielgud, Ben Kingsley, Richard Burton, Sir Laurence Olivier and others as they discuss the substance and meaning of the Shakespearian tragedy they know so well.

This television production from 1964 presents scenes from Hamlet as interpreted through Comedia dell’Arte, the classic Italian genre of comedy and pantomime. Think of it as Shakespeare by way of The Three Stooges (with a little Jerry Lewis thrown in). The presentations emphasizes the comedic nature inherent in the Bard’s works.

This documentary views Hamlet through a modern lens by examining the public (and Shakespeare’s) relationship to our royalty. Learn what fascinated Shakespeare about the frailty of monarchs and their families and how it is reflected in the lives of the royal families today.

Explore Hamlet and the rest of Shakespeare’s classics through their history on the motion picture screen. An endless variety of styles and reimaginings of the Bard’s works have appeared throughout film history, and the many scenes examined here help bring the majesty and mystery of Shakespeare’s world to life.

And don’t forget: complete adaptations of Hamlet are also available through Films on Demand, including the classic BBC production starring David Tennet and the even-more-classic film starring Laurence Olivier.

If you’re off-campus, just use your SCC web ID and password to access the videos or any other SCC Library database. And as always, ask the SCC Library staff if you have any questions about how to research Hamlet (or ham radio or ham salad or Alexander Hamilton or ham near anything!).


Friday, January 5, 2018

Library New Year's Resolutions

Congratulations! 2018 is here, and you’re already committed to the New Year’s resolutions that will help create the perfect you! You’ve put away the fattening foods. You’re exercising more. You’ve curbed that filthy language and stopped biting your nails. Most important, you’ve started a new semester at Spartanburg Community College, and you’re committed to making the best possible use of the SCC Library!

You’re doing a great job so far, but here a few more suggestions for resolutions that will make your library experience everything it can be:

1. “I will bring my student ID.”

Remember: Your student ID is your library card. You’ll need it to check out library materials, check your account status, request books, use library study rooms, and pretty much anything that requires a library card. Make a resolution to stop leaving it in your car, your other pants, or over at grandma’s house. Keep it with you at all times and feel its power to rejuvenate your life!

2. “I will renew my library materials.”

You say that three-week checkout on your books wasn’t enough to complete your research on ancient Egyptian hairstyles? You won’t believe how easy it is to renew those books for an additional checkout period. Before the due date, just
click this link to renew online or ask one of the helpful library staff to renew them for you. Excessive library late fees can not only restrict your student record during registration but can ruin your reputation in the community worse than dandruff in your mullet. Resolve to renew!
3. “I will have my sources and formatting checked!”

MLA formatting, APA formatting…who knows what this stuff even means? The SCC Library staff, that’s who! Not only have we provided handy guides to any and all format and citation problems in our
online MLA and APA research guides, but the friendly library staff are available to review your citations and formatting live and in-person! (No autographs, please.) Resolve never to turn in a research paper again without first having it checked by the professionals. Your grade point average will thank you!
4. “I will not plagiarize.”

We know you promised last year that you would stop copying from your sources word-for-word, but some habits are hard to quit. We understand. That’s why we’ve developed this
online guide to avoiding plagiarism in your research papers. Commit to learning the dos and don’ts of intellectual property theft. Your friends will be amazed at your transformation into a copyright-law-abiding student!
5. “I will use the library databases.”

We know you’re addicted to books, and who can blame you? But 2018 will be the year you embrace the digital world with gusto! Make a vow to explore our
database and eBook collections to find an endless selection of quality sources for your next research project. Search journals, magazine articles, newspapers, and even your beloved books, all in easily-searchable digital format and available off-campus with your SCC web ID and password. Narrow results with advanced searching features, utilize the handy citation tools, and even print the results to add to your collection of resources. The New You for 2018 is the Digital You! Make the leap to databases and eBooks!

Starting the new year off right with diet and exercise takes will power, but SCC Library New Year’s resolutions are easy! Just ask the library staff for help. And be sure to explore our website for all your research needs. We’re here to help make 2018 your best year yet!