Media Trick “Innocents” with Fake Reports

January 7, 2005

THOSE watching Channel 7 TV onDec. 28 got to watch a breaking news storythat no other network or newspaper evercovered – because it never happened.The network, one of Costa Rica’sbroadcast news leaders, interrupted its regularlyscheduled programming to reportthat ex-President José María Figueres(1994-1998), who has refused to returnfrom Switzerland to defend himself againstallegations of corruption, had unexpectedlyarrived at Juan Santamaría InternationalAirport outside San José. On the screen,someone who appeared to be Figueres wasfollowed through the airport by reportersand hopped into a waiting car.HOWEVER, all was not as it seemed.Channel 7, which had hired a Figuereslook-alike for the segment, was participatingin the traditional Día de los Inocentes(Day of the Innocents), a tradition similarto April Fools’ Day.According to Channel 7 reporterFreddy Serrano, viewers weren’t the onlyones fooled by the trick. Tourists and otherpassers-by in the airport were also taken in.“Generally, the national media do sometype of joke so that viewers can laugh atthemselves,” he told The Tico Times in ane-mail.OTHER news sources in Costa Ricamade false reports on the 28th as well,including a radio station that reportedCuban President Fidel Castro had died.The Day of the Innocents serves as botha solemn commemoration of a Biblicaltragedy and an excuse for pranksters to letloose. It gets its name from King Herod’sslaughter of male infants in an attempt to killthe baby Jesus, but the tradition of playingpractical jokes on the 28th appears to berooted in the pagan holiday Fiesta de losLocos (Party of the Crazy Ones).The day is celebrated throughout LatinAmerica, with everyone from newspapereditors to heads of state getting in on theaction. The wire service EFE has reportedvarious pranks over the years. On Dec.28, 2003, Venezuelan President HugoChávez announced on live television thathe had decided to resign, causing a fewmoments of shock before he admitted itwas a joke.THIS year, Mexican papers fooledsoccer fans with fake headlines aboutmergers and coaching changes. The lastpage of the papers carried a messagewarning readers not to believe everythingpublished that day.The online version of Reforma, a paperheadquartered in Mexico City, carriedheadlines including “Bush Admits the WarWas a Mistake” and “Clinton Writes Bookon Fidelity,” as well as a story claimingthat President Vicente Fox had demandedthe U.S.-based Fox television network stopusing his name, the Dallas Morning Newsreported.

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