Sometimes fate has a way of throwing a cosmic balancer into the mix, like when a young man on his honeymoon in Florida recently took a selfie seconds before a looming Great White shark attacked him. Amazingly enough, the happy honeymooner caught the massive apex predator bearing down on him, mouth agape, in the photo he took. Even more amazing, as Snopes.com pointed out Aug. 8, the "Man Takes Selfie Moments Before Deadly Shark Attack" story that was picked up by various media outlets around the world was entirely untrue, phony, fake, made up.
Here's the story, hot off the posting at World News Daily Report: An Oregon couple were on their honeymoon when the husband, a 34-year-old insurance salesman, went for a swim in the Florida coastal waters. Documenting his honeymoon (the story also included a photo of the man at Walt Disney World, a place he had dreamed of returning to since he was 4 years old) by taking photos with his smartphone, the man took a selfie of himself underwater. Captured in the frame in what was the beginning of the last minutes of his life is a fearsome Great White shark, mouth open and ready to bite.
The story continued, noting that the man miraculously survived the initial attack, was worked on by paramedics and rushed to a nearby hospital, albeit without his leg. The shark had taken it. The man died shortly thereafter, expiring in the arms of the woman he had only been married to for a few hours.
A compelling tale. Worthy of standing alongside the best urban myth. Which is undoubtedly why Snopes.com, the renowned urban mythe debunking website, was so quick to pounce on the story and stop the shark bite tale. It had all the components of an urban myth -- believability, emotional and psychological hooks from beginning to end (honeymooning couple, died in her arms, lingering death scene), played on prevalent and ongoing societal fears, and reads as a tragedy.
And it took in a few media outlets that make it their business to report the news.
As happens often enough these days, a faux story hit the Internet and soon got picked up by legitimate news and/or agregrate sites and disseminated further as real news. This particular example was posted to the Internet by World News Daily Report on Aug. 7, but all fault regarding the story's lack of bona fides must burden the news services and those media outlets that deliver news to the public, for it is incumbent upon them to check their sources or corroboration and/or confirmation. That being said, World Daily News Report states on its disclaimer page that it "is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways."
That just about covers it -- except that there is a bit more to the disclaimer, more detailed in how the site posts fake news. And therein lies the problem when major media outlets pass along a bogus story: Not doing so is usually a quick click in the "about" or "mission" section of the websites whereon such articles are generally posted. In short, a basic Journalism 101 skill away.
So... There's something to be said about source-checking and being diligent in establishing and presenting factual information.
Still, it isn't the first time the mainstream media picked up on a fake story they thought was true, ran the story, then discovered their mistake or were made aware of it by wary-eyed members of the public. The satirical website The Onion has become quite adept at slipping farcical and fanciful stories past media filters. And just recently, major liberal media outlets reported on a National Report story that revealed that Rep. Michele Bachmann, known for her wild exaggerations and extreme conservative views, had called for forced labor camps for the thousands of undocumented immigrant children currently being detained in government facilities so they could work off the debt they owed America and "earn their keep." As Mediaite noted, although believable, the story was a total fabrication.
So, again, that horrific story of a honeymooner who took a selfie of himself about to be devoured by a Great White shark is fake. (Fun fact: Some may recognize the photo. It is a modification of a selfie taken by Pete Wentz, frontman for the rock group Fall Out Boy.) For those interested in a truly horrifying tale of what really happens when a looming Great White shark attacks an unsuspecting surfer...