August 30, 2007
Repetitively Redebunking the repetitively recycled
Is there some kind of statute of limitations on news stories? Any rule about how old they have to be?
Recently, a story has been circulating about a man named "Mark Voegel" in Dortmund, Germany, who was supposedly bitten by a pet Black Widow spider named "Bettina," following which his body was reported to have been substantially devoured by spiders and lizards. Here's the text of the story, which is dated August 31, 2007:
From ALLAN HALLNot only is this story making the rounds of the Internet, it's also managed to find its way into the Washington Post.
I realize that nothing ever happens in August, but was yesterday an especially slow news day or something? (I wouldn't have known, as I was busy tap-dancing along with Larry Craig's T-room footsie saga.)
The problem is that the same story (involving the same cast of characters, and with much of the same wording as "today's" Sun "report") occurs in old discussions as a 2004 Darwin Award story:
Darwin Awards:Predictably, there are numerous 2004 posts and reports of the same story in the Darwin Award context. (And here's the exact same story as today's posted in 2004. And blogged in 2004.)
Whether the story was ever true, I have no way of knowing, because it's so old that the Dortmund news reports have probably vanished. But some spider geeks seemed to have debunked much of it in 2004, with activist "Gabi Bayer" claiming she'd been misquoted, that there was no verification of any spiders causing the death, and -- get this -- that the Washington Times was irresponsible in reporting the story! Here's "gothmog" commenting on O3-01-2004:
Hi All, first post hereHmmm..... OK, I don't know whether the Sun made up this news story in 2004, or why the Washington Times might have run it (whether it was verified or not). Predictably, the Times link no longer works. I guess it would be worse if the Sun did make it up in 2004, because as it stands now, they're recycling news that's over three years old, and pretending it just happened.
I think that by any reasonable standard, recycling old news that was made up in the first place is even worse than recycling old news and claiming it just happened. (At least the Washington Times doesn't seem to have fallen for it the second time around. Not yet, anyway.)
According to the Wiki entry, the Sun is the largest English newspaper in the world, and while it has a reputation for sensationalism, I don't think making up stories and then repeating them as new three years later constitutes sensationalism. It's more on the level of Weekly World News.
Blogger Steven Lloyd actually remembered the story, so he dug into its history and credibility. Apparently it is old, but the Sun keeps running it as new and it keeps getting recirculated, no matter how many times it's disproved:
Members of the forum searched all over the internet and could not find any instances or records of a German man, "Mark Voegel" or "Mark Vogel" or "Mark Vögel" ever having been killed. Nor anybody having been killed by a spider or spiders and/or eaten by reptiles.This is almost as bad as Capitol Hill Blue!
Longtime readers may remember that I devoted a great deal of time to debunking that rather ridiculous "news site" run by Doug Thompson -- which featured fictitious characters like the disappearing "George Harleigh." I remember being foolish enough to think that because Capitol Hill Blue had been "discredited" that it would just go away. Not so. Capitol Hill Blue and Doug Thompson have a seemingly endless capactity for self reinvention -- which in turn is now forcing bloggers to reinvent the wheel doing what was supposedly done long ago. In "UPDATE 2: He's Baaack - More Lies, Hilarity & Hypocrisy from Doug Thompson & Capitol Hill Blue" and "One Man, Two Phantom Sources, a Few Fictional Friends, and Zero Credibility a very thorough blogger has painstakingly built yet another case against CHB and Thompson. I'm delighted to be cited as a source, but I wish it wasn't necessary for anyone to be doing this all over again -- especially in such painstaking detail.
Much as my hat's off to journlisnt.com. and to all the debunkers like him, I'm wondering....
Is there any way to debunk anything so that it stays debunked?
posted by Eric on 08.30.07 at 03:25 PM
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