Guess who got busted for ‘fake news’
A wealthy and well established radical group learned the hard way that fake videos can backfire when media friends resent being roped into a deception. But in an era of extreme media politicization, such integrity might be hard to find if Trump were the target. Fortunately, in this instance, electoral politics were not the issue. Abby Ohlheiser of the Washington Post reports on a bizarre attempt to play on public sympathies with a lie. (No, this is not about "Hands up, don't shoot.")
A small grey cat, Rufus, sits on a bar stool in a kitchen. "Rufus, jump," a man says in a stern voice. Rufus looks at the stool next to his, a few feet away, and cowers. The owner sighs, walks over to the cat and instructs again. "Rufus, jump," he says, and slaps the house cat hard, in the head. The cat doesn't jump; he slaps the animal again. Finally, the cat does the trick. "Once more for the camera!" the owner demands, before the cat scurries away, terrified.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were intending to anonymously release this disturbing video on YouTube this week, to draw attention to animal cruelty. But there's a problem: The video was faked. The cat is CGI. And a PR company working on PETA's behalf asked a media organization to help them make the video go viral – without revealing that Rufus wasn't real.
Unfortunately for PETA, one of the media outlets asked to collaborate in the deception not only refused, but wrote an article busting the fraud:
Last week, a Mashable reporter received a pitch from Press Kitchen, a PR company working for PETA, asking the publication to write about the video and not explain its origins – even as the pitch acknowledged the video would be "planted on YouTube anonymously by the ad agency who created it for PETA." In other words, the company wanted Mashable to play along with PETA and pretend as if they were unaware of who made the video or why.
"Your posting of the provocative piece would simply be to acknowledge that it's in circulation – not to make any claims about its authenticity," the pitch continued. Then, once the video went viral, shared by viewers who assumed it depicted actual abuse of a real cat, Mashable would get the exclusive on the fact that it was all just a provocative stunt. PETA would release a sequel to the original video, one that revealed the message the animal rights organization hoped its viewers would remember: While "Rufus" wasn't real, bigger cats performing in circuses are trained in a similar manner to do tricks.
Instead of playing along, Mashable decided to write about the pitch itself. "PETA has reached a breathtaking new low," its article begins. The piece, published Tuesday night, says that the group was "trying to enlist complicit media organizations to knowingly publish the fake video in an effort to make the lie go viral."
I would love to see the list of other media outlets approached by Press Kitchen who did not speak up about the fraud. American Thinker was not among those solicited – for obvious reasons.
PETA is among my least favorite organizations. It is skillful at propaganda, but ethics is another matter entirely. Here is how the founder and president, Ingrid Newkirk, denied the obvious intent to deceive.
"There was never … any attempt to keep people in the dark that what they had seen was fake. The only issue here is timing[,]" Newkirk argued in an email to The Washington Post.
Sorry, Ingrid, but you quite clearly did wish to deceive, in order to produce an emotional reaction that you could then exploit to attach to something else. That is fraud. Ohlheiser gets it:
Had it launched as planned, the video would have attempted to ride the Internet's fast-paced outrage cycle to viral success – a cycle that can often outpace and outperform attempts to fact check it.
Here is the Mashable article that busted PETA. But I know that you are anxious to see the fake video. It is embedded below, along with the follow-up video PETA planned.