Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quick Hits

A few blurbs of interest from here and there.

More Legislative Tomfoolery
Children, er, politicians not playing well together continues apace, this time in Connecticut, where the state GOP created a bunch of fake Twitter accounts in the names of Democratic legislators. The scheme was shot down when Twitter was notified, as the fake accounts violated their terms of service. Amazingly enough, the GOPer state chairman has the chutzpah to complain about Twitter’s trampling of “free speech.” No wonder they’ve got less weight in state politics there than even in West Virginia.

Cover Thy Shame (or Else)
From time to time, we all wander around the house naked as a jaybird, right? C’mon, admit it. Did you ever imagine it could be criminal? Maybe so, if you happen to live in Springfield, Virginia and a sensitive soul, and her sensitive offspring, happen to catch a glimpse through an open window while walking through your yard. Reason has all the links and details.

A History of Hoaxes
With the saga of Balloon Boy winding down, it’s worth remembering that this is far from the first time that the media has been taken in by a clever (or not so clever) hoax. Heck, there’s a long tradition of it, as this post at The Morning Delivery sets forth, some of it even including balloons:

On April 13, 1844, Edgar Allan Poe wrote an article in The New York Sun, chronicling how Monck Mason, leaving England for Paris drifted off course and had traveled across the Atlantic in three days, landing safely on Sullivan’s Island near Charleston South Carolina, while riding an 'egg-shaped gas-filled balloon', named the Victoria.

The story caused such a stir that an excited mob quickly gathered outside of the editorial offices of the Sun, hoping to land a copy of the historic edition. Not until two days later did the New York daily publish a correction, noting the story was pure fiction. The published correction read: 'We are inclined to believe the intelligence is erroneous.'
What’s interesting to me is that the post leaves out another famous hoax involving the New York Sun, the great “Moon Hoax” of 1835. Long story short, the paper published a series of articles, themselves alleged reprints from a Scottish journal (that had since gone out of business), detailing the discovery of life on the Moon. It was wildly popular and helped cement the Sun as the city’s largest daily paper. For an entertaining account of the whole affair, I highly recommend The Sun and the Moon, by Mathew Goodman.

Speaking of hoaxes, could one of the most notorious incidents in recent West Virginia history be on the same level as Balloon Boy? In 2007 Megan Williams claimed to have been abused in any number of ways by six others who held her captive in a Logan County trailer. There was a racial angle – Williams is black, her alleged attackers white – which blew the story into a national one, drawing in civil rights leaders and generating calls for the use of hate crimes laws against the six accused, in addition to the more mundane criminal charges.

All six eventually pleaded guilty (only one to a hate crime), but now Williams is, via counsel, recanting and claiming that the incident never took place (via Volokh). In the wake of Williams’s recantation, the prosecutor on the case (now in private practice), predictably, says the convictions are iron clad and based not on anything Williams said but on physical evidence and statements/confessions from the six involved. All that may be true – Williams is hardly a reliable narrator and has never been – but it’s not a stretch to think that the six were hammered into pleading so authorities could tie up the whole ugly mess and move on. Now it looks like the bundle is coming untied.

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