Fooled Again

Yesterday we wrote about the fact that the BBC had been the victim of a hoax by one Jude Finisterra, who pretended to be a spokesman for Dow Chemical Company and “accepted responsibility for India’s Bhopal disaster involving Union Carbide.” Today the BBC apologized, claiming to be the victim of an “elaborate deception”:

The BBC has fallen victim to an elaborate hoax timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of India’s Bhopal chemical disaster.
BBC World and BBC News 24 ran an interview with a bogus Dow Chemical official who claimed the company admitted responsibility for the Bhopal disaster in 1984. He also claimed the company had established a $12 billion fund to compensate victims’ families and survivors of the disaster.
Excerpts from the interview were also carried on news bulletins on Radio 2, Radio 4 and Radio Five Live.
The BBC has apologised to Dow and to viewers who may have been misled.
However, the BBC later admitted that the interview with bogus Dow spokesman Jude Finisterra was part of “an elaborate deception” and everything he said was false.

The Washington Post adds a bit more information:

The broadcaster said in a written statement that it had been contacted by a man who “during a series of phone calls, claimed that there would be a significant announcement to be made on behalf of the Dow Chemical company.”
“He gave no further detail until the live interview, broadcast from the BBC’s Paris bureau this morning,” the BBC said.

Which leaves us with a few questions. First, how, exactly, does this qualify as an “elaborate deception”? Apparently the fictitious Mr. Finisterra called the BBC and said he had an important announcement to make on behalf of Dow. The BBC then put him on the air without having any further information–and, apparently, without telephoning Dow to find out whether Mr. Finisterra was, in fact, an employee of or spokesman for the company. Nor, apparently, did the BBC Google Mr. Finisterra, as this result, highly suggestive of a non-existent person, is what they would have gotten.
So this is what passes for journalism at the BBC. They put an unknown person on the air to make an “important announcement” on behalf of Dow Chemical Company on the basis of that person’s telephone call, without spending five dollars on a phone call to verify his identity, or ten seconds on a Google search. We would suggest that it hardly takes an “elaborate deception” to fool the BBC.
That assumes, of course, that a hoaxer wants to pin responsibility for thousands of deaths on an American chemical company. Why is it that major media outlets only seem to fall for hoaxes when they make certain categories of people look bad? Like, say, President Bush in the case of the fake CBS documents. What do you think would happen if I telephoned the BBC, or CBS, claiming to be a representative of Al Gore and 1) offered to give an interview in which I would confess that the Gore campaign tried to steal the 2000 election in Florida, with the connivance of the Florida Supreme Court, and 2) said I had documents to prove it? Do you think those news outlets would spend a few minutes verifying my identity, and subject my documents to a rigorous and skeptical analysis?
So do I.


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