Picture yourself living in 1844. The American Civil War hasn't happened yet, no one has electricity or flush toilets or phones or even T-shirts with ironic slogans on them -- you're pretty much living in a cave in the shape of a house and waiting for death. One day you wake up, open your copy of The New York Sun, and see this:
1844 didn't half-ass it with the fonts.
Your first thought was probably "Oh my stars and garters!" (or whatever the Victorian version of "What the actual fuck?!" was). People call the priest when they have a toothache, and yet they're flying across the Atlantic Ocean? Huzzah! The age of miracles has begun! Maybe this stubbed toe doesn't have to be a death sentence anymore! Reading the article closer, you find out that a European gentleman and his seven friends were attempting to steer their coal-powered hot air balloon from Wales to Paris when a sudden gale launched them toward the Atlantic Ocean. Seventy-five hours later, one of the aeronauts recorded the following in his journal:
"We are in full view of the low coast of South Carolina. The great problem is accomplished. We have crossed the Atlantic -- fairly and easily crossed it in a balloon! God be praised! Who shall say that anything is impossible hereafter?"
New Yorkers practically trampled their neighbors to get a copy of the paper, because they all wanted a piece of that sweet, tangy history.
Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty
"We were on our way to Flugtag and thought, 'Fuck it -- transatlantic voyage.'"
But Actually ...
The New York Sun had been fed a hoax. Giggling coquettishly while the world ate up a complete fantasy was none other than this guy:
A press release that used the phrase "Chilling tale of horrors most foul and unnatural" should've been a clue.
Yes, the hoaxer was none other than Edgar Allan Poe. At the time, Poe's wife was terminally ill and he was struggling to make a living as a writer -- two things that left him spiritually and financially bankrupt. So, by combining his powers of storytelling with a few real names and details, he had the makings of a potent hoax (and perhaps a future best seller?). Poe sold the story of the balloon ride to the Sun and watched with glee as people quickly went seven shades of crazy. Obviously, the paper had to retract the story after two days due to lack of evidence and common sense. No charges were filed because, well, just look at that li'l jokester's hangdog expression! He's clearly learned his lesson.
#4. The Daily Mirror Published (Faked) Torture Evidence
As a comedy site, we try not to bring up the Abu Ghraib torture scandal more than once a week, but in this case it's a good reference point for what the British tabloid Daily Mirror published in 2004. Only a few months earlier the world had found out that American soldiers were playing a rousing game of Muslims and Torturers with Iraqi prisoners of war.
Fresh on the heels of Abu Ghraib, the Daily Mirror claimed to have a whole new set of torture pictures, this time perpetrated by the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, no less. Among the pictures published by the paper was a photo of a soldier urinating on a hooded prisoner. For one steaming moment, we started to wonder if the British weren't as nice as their adorable slang implied.
Michael Blann/Photodisc/Getty Images
It was the worst blow to British stereotypes since the queen's corgis mauled the Dutch ambassador.
But Actually ...
The British military was not about to let the accusations go without a fight and immediately started an investigation. Media around the world examined the photos as well, right down to the authenticity of the piss streams, which just goes to show that there's a thriving job market out there for virtually every fetish.
Don't you hate it when clear fluid casts a pitch black shadow on absolutely nothing?
Their unanimous conclusion? The pictures were total fakes, as shown by no less than 14 errors pointed out by experts, including the wrong type of rifle and the cleanliness of the "prisoners." But how could this have happened? You'd have to be a real dipshit to publish mysterious, unverified photos from unknown sources, right?
That's the Duke of Douche himself, Piers Morgan, who at the time was the chief editor of the Mirror. Not only did he try to smear basically his entire country for no more than a few bucks and a moment in the limelight, but he refused to apologize when called out. Fortunately, the scandal ended up getting Morgan axed from the Mirror. Thus freed from the straining integrity of notoriously steadfast British journalism, Morgan went off to pursue his true calling. On CNN.
Hey, speaking of ...
#3. CNN Claimed the U.S. Used WMDs on Our Own Defectors
These days, CNN is seen mostly as some kind of avant-garde comedy improv troupe that delivers news while performing wacky stunts and trying to keep a straight face. If we look further into their past, though, the journalistic decay may have started back in 1998, when CNN reported a hot new tip on the Vietnam War.
Hang on -- we need to go get our "Fortunate Son" mix tape.
Up until 1998, the conventional wisdom on the 1970 covert operation Tailwind was that a small team of special ops American soldiers and about a hundred Vietnamese allies sneaked into occupied Laos to distract the North Vietnamese Army long enough for local forces to recapture a strongpoint from the commies. Despite heavy losses, the mission was a success -- not only did the Tailwinders keep the enemy distracted for a few days, but they also stumbled on a ton of secret maps and intelligence at a North Vietnamese camp.
So you can imagine everyone's shock when, 28 years later, CNN aired a report dramatically titled "Valley of Death." According to CNN, Operation Tailwind was actually a mission to punish American military defectors hiding out in Laos. Because we're gentle, noble, and forgiving America, those defectors were punished with a stern talking to followed by 10 minutes in the time-out corner.
And by time-out corner, we of course mean sarin gas.
Why does "time out" always seem to translate to "grim look into the darkest depths of the soul"?
So, to recap: In 1998, CNN accused the U.S. military of using a bioweapon of mass destruction against its own former citizens. Obviously CNN had some watertight sources to back up such outrageous claims.
But Actually ...
Those sources, uh ... went to another school. In Canada. You can't see them, but they're really hot, we promise.
It turned out there were two sources. One was a former officer who was taking medication for a nervous disorder and had previously written a book on Tailwind where he never once mentioned nerve gas. The other, Admiral Thomas Moorer, claimed that CNN took his words out of context and that a lot of the seemingly positive answers he gave regarding the use of nerve gas were just hypothetical thoughts. He was just rambling and spitballing about using nerve gas on defectors -- you know how former heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff do.