Paper brags it set up yuppie hoax

1999-06-08 04:00:00 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco weekly newspaper gleefully admits to fabricating a news event and tricking major media outlets, including The Examiner, into covering it.

SF Weekly[1] Editor John Mecklin[2] said he and his staff created a fake advertisement for a pro-yuppie rally that was to take place on Sunday afternoon, hoping that the media would take the bait and cover the nonexistent rally. The phony ad appeared in the Weekly’s pages like any other ad, prompting many to believe that the rally was legitimate.

The Examiner, the San Francisco Chronicle[3] and several radio and television stations did attend the rally, which was supposedly to pit affluent yuppies against longtime Mission District residents who did not want them living in their neighborhood. About 200 people showed up to protest the “Stop the Hate” rally and its supposed yuppie sponsors.

But after those sponsors failed to materialize, The Examiner’s Monday editions covered the event under the headline “No yups, just nopes at rally in Mission: Was scheduled anti-hate gathering a complete put-on?”


Mecklin reveled in the prank, saying it proved that the media were lazy and would respond to any press release or advertisement without confirming facts.

“We have made up a political movement out of thin air, called a rally on its nonexistent behalf, called into being a large counterdemonstration (complete with a significant police presence), and created a minor media uproar,” Mecklin said in an editorial that ran on the Weekly’s Web site.

Reckless and irresponsible<

Others in the journalism industry criticized the prank as reckless and irresponsible journalism.

“The purpose of journalism is not to lie to people,” said Austin Long-Scott[4], the acting chair of the San Francisco State University[5] journalism department. “The purpose of journalism is to get as close to the truth as possible. . . . If (gentrification) is a big issue in San Francisco, and I think it is, you don’t trivialize it by using it as a prank.”

Examiner Metro Editor Dick Rogers[6] said The Examiner saw the advertisement for the rally, tried unsuccessfully to verify its authenticity and, in the process, reported two stories on legitimate gentrification struggles within the neighborhood.

“No one likes to be duped – it means you’re unwittingly leading readers down the wrong path,” Rogers said. “But it’s far worse when a newspaper like the SF Weekly intentionally tries to pull off a hoax. That’s called lying. If a paper admits to lying, why should you believe anything else it does?”

Jerry Roberts[7], managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, told wire services he was not surprised that the SF Weekly was behind the hoax, adding, “They have no credibility whatsoever.”

Mecklin said the Weekly’s prank “doesn’t have anything to do with journalistic standards” and he shrugged off criticism.

Anger equals incompetence?<

“I presume the journalism community here will be just aghast publicly while they laugh their asses off privately,” Mecklin said. He later said that journalists who would be angered by the prank were not good enough to work at the Weekly anyhow.

Mecklin vowed to continue creating pranks that are “good for the mental health of the city,” but said his readers were smart enough not to be confused by them.

“The readers have absolutely no problem whatsoever distinguishing between (news stories and pranks),” Mecklin said. “. . . These (pranks) happen for a reason. They are meant to illuminate a facet of life.”

Phony rally aside, legitimate reporters focused attention on the very real tension created by gentrification in the Mission.

“The Mission District is deeply divided between people struggling to keep a roof over their heads and people desperately looking for a place to buy a home,” said Rogers of The Examiner. “It’s too bad the Weekly trivialized the situation with a cheap publicity stunt.” <

References

  1. ^ SF Weekly (www.sfgate.com)
  2. ^ John Mecklin (www.sfgate.com)
  3. ^ San Francisco Chronicle (www.sfgate.com)
  4. ^ Austin Long-Scott (www.sfgate.com)
  5. ^ University (www.sfgate.com)
  6. ^ Dick Rogers (www.sfgate.com)
  7. ^ Jerry Roberts (www.sfgate.com)

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