News organizations are fighting a war of attrition as they try to stay afloat in the age of the Internet and fact finding seems to have become the first casualty in the coverage of stories ranging from the weird to war and more. I’ve seen an unbelievable tale that has been creeping into newspapers across the globe recently. It’s a story about a bizarre eyeball licking trend, dubbed “worming” that’s reportedly sweeping Japanese primary schools. The sordid tale has been repeated by dozens of major news outlets, including ABC News, Time Magazine, etc. Even the local affiliate of the eye network, CBS in Atlanta put the trend in the public eye, noting that “in one Japanese classroom of 12-year-olds, one-third of students confessed to “worming.”
What’s even more troubling is that there may be less to the bizarre tale than meets the eye. Writing in an obscure publication called the No. 1 Shimbun, Tokyo-based journalist Mark Schreiber lifts the lid on this widespread report to discover that, while the story has traveled the globe, it has no legs to stand on. It was based on pure fabrication.
Over the last couple of weeks, reports on MediaBugs.org have noted that a number of news publications who reported on the eyeball licking trend that never was have admitted that they dropped the ball and have since updated their stories. While news organizations in general should be looking for a lesson to learn from this incident of a hoax heard around the world, most are standing by the shadowy tale. In his article tracing the origin of the eyeball licking hoax, Schreiber asks "does anybody really care?" I think the press’ response to MediaBugs, or lack thereof, will provide part of the answer to that question while painting a better picture of the media landscape today and the particular dynamics that may fuel these kinds of false reports.
Today there are still lots of dubious reports out there regarding the hot eyeball licking trend that was not and the record needs to be set straight on this cockeyed story. I hope CBS in Atlanta will do that and shed some light where there is only a shadow of doubt.
If you want a real eye-opener, take a look at "Lick This!" by Mark Schreiber and read how the tale of a fake fad made in Japan made its way into the pages of newspapers, magazines, and more all around the world.
Also see: "In the Public Eye" on Snopes.com
Related MediaBugs reports (the same error over and over again):
In the Shadow of Doubt (Toronto Sun); The Hot Trend That's Not (PIX 11 News, New York); Houston We Have a Problem (KRIV-TV, Fox 26 in Houston, Texas); The Spread (Houston Chronicle); Seeing Eye to Eye (Huffington Post/UK edition); Eye Witless News Report (ABC News); UPI Out of Focus (United Press International); Another Code Brown! (Medical Daily); Entertaining... Licks Telling the News (ABC2 News, WMAR-TV, Baltimore); Didn't Get the Memo (New Zealand Herald); Here is the Thing (MSN News Canada) Fatal Error (CTV News Canada); Time to Correct? (Time Magazine); More Than Meets the Eye (New York Post); A Cock-eyed Story (New York Daily News); Faking It (Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard); Bucking the Trend That Wasn't (The Times of India); If You Can't Lick 'Em Join 'Em (Fox News); Not a Lick of Truth (The Telegraph); Eye Network Lacks Nose for Fishy Stories (CBS News); Calling Out the Daily Caller (The Daily Caller); Code Brown (Medical News Today); Gawk at This! (Gawker); Not a Thing (The San Francisco Chronicle); Less Than Meets the Eye (The Guardian); A Blind Eye to the Truth (Huffington Post); Falling for a Fake Story... (The Washington Times)
Disappeared (story deleted by news org.):
Faking It (Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard)