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Kimmel's wolf hoax: ABC News knew ahead of time


ABC News received advance warning of Jimmy Kimmel's prank about a wolf supposedly prowling the athletes' village in Sochi but didn't steer other news organizations away from it, the network said Friday. The talk show host's hoax was so realistic that despite the tip, even one of his own network's news websites posted a story suggesting the report was real.

One media ethicist questioned whether a company that includes a major news organization should broadcast a joke that implied security problems at an Olympic Games where concerns about safety have been, and continue to be, a major issue. "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" airs every weeknight on ABC.

Kimmel posted, through USA luger Kate Hansen's Twitter account, a video that depicted a wolf walking in the hallway outside of Hansen's Sochi dorm room. It was nearly 24 hours before Kimmel revealed it was a joke, shot with a rented wolf on a Los Angeles soundstage constructed to look exactly like the hallway outside Hansen's room.

ABC's entertainment division had no immediate comment on whether Kimmel sought approval in advance for the prank, or if anyone questioned whether it was a good idea. The comic has a history of trying to fool the media; last year, he staged a clip of a woman apparently set afire while twerking and posted it online, where news organizations jumped on the story.

An ABC News executive tipped in advance about the Hansen hoax alerted some of the network's shows to stay away from the story, but the word didn't spread widely enough. A network website posted a story for an hour assuming the wandering wolf was real before it was taken down, said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider.

Because it was an off-the-record tip, ABC News didn't feel it could report the story before Kimmel revealed it, and didn't believe it had a responsibility to warn other news organizations that they could be disseminating false information, he said.

"The world is seeing these kinds of videos more and more, and every news organization has to do its own reporting and own vetting to decide whether or not they want to print, air or say something," Schneider said.

He added: "It is a piece of comedy. We need to keep that in perspective."

But Kelly McBride, a media ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, said the episode says as much about the "bad actors" who spread falsehoods - meaning Kimmel - as it does about the media. The danger, McBride said, is that such incidents add to a growing public distrust of what they can believe in the news.

She was particularly disturbed about Hansen playing along with the joke. "I don't know if we can create a system that is going to screen that," she said. "News organizations that contacted her, they didn't do anything wrong."

One news organization duped was NBC, which holds the rights to broadcast the Olympics in the U.S. On his show Thursday, Kimmel aired a brief clip of Willie Geist reporting on the wolf on the "Today" show. On Friday, Geist said NBC was had by "the great Jimmy Kimmel." He said NBC approached Hansen before running the item, and the Olympian said that "it was me." Her confirmation was key to NBC going with the story, he said.

ESPN, which like ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co., was not tipped off about the hoax and did not run with the story on its news shows, a spokesman said.

CNN was among the news organizations to broadcast the story, discussing it on the network's morning show. The Associated Press decided not to publish a story after it devoted "significant resources" in Sochi and the U.S. trying to authenticate the video, said Lou Ferrara, the AP vice president and managing editor overseeing Olympics coverage.

"It wasn't just that it was a potentially viral video," Ferrara said in Sochi. "The news was that security may have been breached where the athletes stay. How did a wolf get into a place that was supposedly fortified? Was there a hole in the fence? Were there other weaknesses? How did it get past the guards? Was it even a wolf? These were all legitimate questions in the context of what has been reported about Sochi."

Ultimately, Ferrara said, the story seemed suspicious and other Olympic athletes had raised warning flags to reporters.

Privately, some news executives are angry with the hoax but reluctant to comment publicly in fear of being saddled with an image of being humorless or easily fooled.

"It's not a great situation when a network television program is staging a hoax that victimizes the credibility of other news organizations. That's really dopey," said Bill Wheatley, a former NBC News executive who teaches journalism at Columbia University.

Olympic organizers laughed off the prank and said no disciplinary action was planned. Alexandra Kosterina, Sochi organizing committee spokeswoman said, "It's OK. People are having fun."

The U.S. Olympic Committee refused comment. But a spokesman for the U.S. luge team said Hansen made a poor decision and that American luge officials are remorseful.

"We've found it to be a little disrespectful to the home country organizers," said Sandy Caligiore, a luge team spokesman. "They've done a great job and we've had a wonderful time here."

The luge team seems to have made its displeasure known to Hansen. The athlete told Kimmel, in an interview on his show Thursday, that there had been more of a backlash than she expected, "but it was all worth it in the end."

One website, SBNation, reported on the wolf Thursday but with some degree of suspicion. The site later updated the story to say that it was a Kimmel hoax.

"Moving forward," the website said, "everything is a Jimmy Kimmel hoax unless specified otherwise."


So ... About Jimmy Kimmel's Wolf 'Prank'

Join the discussion

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s0nnymock February 24 2014 at 4:10 PM

I thought jokes were suppose to be funny and make you laugh NOT stupid and leaving you wondering why.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
tedcfish February 24 2014 at 12:16 PM

Not a good hoax, he should be punished for it somehow.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
drodri8527 February 24 2014 at 12:06 PM

I don't watch Jimmy Kimmel, but I guess he's a practical joker. So I'm glad I don't watch his show, seems to me he should have better things to do for his show.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
rckhook1957 February 24 2014 at 12:00 PM

me thinks McBride has no sense of humor...):

Flag Reply +1 rate up
HEY BOB February 24 2014 at 11:48 AM

jimmy kimmel...what a dick......not funny to say the least, i think al could take of "chubby" was like 8 minutes
schmuck on wheels

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
BANDIT BILL HEY BOB February 24 2014 at 12:00 PM

HEY BOB where's NEAL?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
dmartincfo February 24 2014 at 11:28 AM

Media Ethicist? Seriously?? That's a real specialty?

If so, where are you when advertisements and self promotion masquerade as news?

Where are you when news commentators/anchors/interviewers know, going into an interview,
how it's going to turn out...particularly when interviewing virtually any politician, or potential politician?

It virtually always goes something like this -
Question - What is your position (usually pretty specific), and what are your plans as to address this issue. OK. The question has been pretty straight. Now for the answer.
Answer - Blow past the original question and go directly and interminably to your pre-scripted
"talking points".

At the end of the day all it does - for the most part - is chew up media time and, if they're lucky, audience attention. There is no thoughtful interaction, any willingness to rethink position, and no serious interest in changing anything. It's basically a stage upon which to preach to "the faithful".

OK. I get it. That doesn't mean I like it, and more importantly, the process is worthless....with the exception, as I mentioned, that it provides/preserves jobs for some people. Is that really what you want for the rest of your life?

Where are the ethicists when you need them to stand up? Perhaps on a retreat that "schools" politicians on how to avoid answering direct questions and direct it toward their "message" - a message in many cases that hasn't been seriously thought through at least given the current environment and worst of all - in all too many cases riddled with factual errors, and "facts" that are self-serving and disingenuous.

Back to the original point. What the Heck? Ethicist?????

Flag Reply +1 rate up
David February 24 2014 at 11:16 AM

It might have been a prank to Kimmel but that is not what we want from the Tonight Show. We expect a more mature comedy, not just someone who acts like a teenager. That's what Conan projected to us, and he is on the cutting room floor. We need someone like Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, or even Jay Leno.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
4 replies
ajafullmn February 24 2014 at 10:49 AM

Jimmy Kimel. The reason we can't believe the news. My dad used to say "Don't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see." Truer words were never spoken in this era.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
fmasone February 24 2014 at 10:46 AM

he should be banned from the olympic team

Flag Reply +4 rate up
muffin February 24 2014 at 10:44 AM

Very few of the reporters congratulated the men/women of the games when they were interviewing them. They should have said something to them about being proud of them before they tried to get some story about had bad they felt for not winning. NBC proved this when they interviewed BMiller. It was more of an INQUISTION rather than interview. All NBC wanted was sensationalism--hope something happens-we will be first to cover it. Now that the Olympics are over, NBC can crawl back under their rock and take MLauer the troll with them. We only watched NBC b/c they tried to cover the games. However, NBC was too busy trying to stoke their egos. NBC=Nothing But Callousness.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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