Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Notes on a fake beheading

On August 8 I did a post on Benjamin Vanderford's fake beheading video in which I concluded, among other things: "He's exposed the gullibility of the media."

I was searching today to see if anything was coming from the FBI on their "investigation" of Mr. Vanderford when I discovered the "Iraq Beheading Video Hoax Press Release" by Vanderford and the two others involved in the production, Robert F. Martin and Laurie Kirchner.

... We feel that this video (and especially what it has become) exposes problems with the media. We rely much too heavily on large agencies such as Reuters and Associated Press for our information, at least one of which failed to do any fact checking when reporting our story as real. After the Middle Eastern networks aired the videos obtained via the internet--not posted on any websites by us as reported by fox news, AP and Reuters picked it up. Then plenty of news organizations began playing it as fact. Stop and think how a similar, but much more harmful hoax could be conducted. Physical evidence should be the new standard in the modern digital age, rather than grainy videos.

We want to also make it clear that we never distributed it to the Arab networks that reported it as true. The only means of distribution was sharing the file on peer to peer networks (Kazaa and Soulseek, specifically). Also, we did not use the name for the file that has been widely reported. It is not as if we purposefully dragged this hoax out in any manner, or ever attempted to represent the video as true to any law enforcement, news or other agencies. To the contrary, as soon as he was contacted at 4am on Saturday morning, Benjamin Vanderford immediately confirmed that he was alive. Perhaps if they had attempted to contact Ben before publishing the story as true, none of this "hoax" business would have ever occured--after all, his home address is in the video. Shortly after the video was made we forgot all about it--that is, until Saturday August 7th. [emphasis added]

And, of course, the media howled.

We also find it ironic that we were lambasted on Fox and other networks for our video. We are criticized for belitting the real beheadings; however this was not our intent, nor do we think that we are responsible for any pain caused to the families. The media's sensationalism is the cause of this pain; had they spent 20 or 30 minutes checking into the name Ben Vanderford, or his home address which is said in the video (which many of the reporters we have talked to had actually not seen!), they could have easily found out the video was a fake and given it the amount of coverage it originally deserved--none. Now that it has been shown how easily the media can be duped, it's certainly newsworthy--but before it really wasn't much of a story.

Geraldo got into the righteous-condemnation act, but had created his own hoax a decade earlier, though—as best I can tell—he has never acknowledged it as a hoax:

Estimates are that there are over 1 million Satanists in this country...The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town.

Well, you can imagine the hosts of loonies that that brought out of the woodwork.

But the best part of their page are the links to voicemails left by Reuters, CBS and the New Hampshire Hippo Press, which "is sorry for Ben's loss, but would also like to talk to Ben for a statement"!—the loss being, of course, Ben's head.

Related post: Beheading for the hell of it (corrected)

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