This past June 17, denizens of greater Syracuse, New York looking to the Post Standard’s Syracuse.com for a daily dose of health news got quite an eyeful. Reporter, James T. Mulder, didn’t sugar-coat anything when he delivered the news about “eyeball licking” which he described as a dangerous “teen fad that started in Japan.” Not only did Mulder not sugar-coat the news but it looks like he may not have thoroughly fact-checked everything either, especially the part of his story about where the supposed eyeball licking craze all started.
Mulder sources his story to a Japanese blog on the Internet called Naver Matome. He says the blog “interviewed one concerned teacher who said that he ran into two sixth grade students licking each others' eyeballs in an equipment room. After he confronted them, they admitted it was popular in their class.” Over a third of the kids were engaging in the practice, he notes, with sickening results.
Okay, it wasn't exactly the CDC website but you would think if it’s on the Internet it must be true, right? Wrong, says Tokyo-based journalist, Mark Schreiber. Writing in the Number One Shimbun, Schreiber tells a whole other story. He scratches the surface of the eyeball tale to reveal how Naver Matome picked it up from Butch (Bucchi) News, a subculture website. Butch, he explains, is produced by Core Magazine, a less-than-reputable institution whose offices Schreiber notes were recently “raided by police on suspicion of obscenity.” Besides that, the Tokyo-based scribe goes on to chronicle that in 2006 an editor of one of Core’s biggest magazines “had the distinction of becoming the first person in Japan arrested under new laws banning child pornography.”
These were all symptoms of something being perhaps terribly wrong with this story that was published by the Syracuse.com and a host of other media outlets across the globe. The warning signs were no doubt part of what prompted Schreiber to consult some medical professionals about the dubious claim of an unhealthy eyeball licking fad sweeping through Japan’s primary schools. “None of them”, he says, “had the faintest idea of what I was talking about.” That just leads me to the diagnosis that somebody is faking it and Syracuse.com fell for it.
(Portions of this post have appeared in related MediaBugs reports filed by JT Cassidy)
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 online publications like MNT as well as the pages of newspapers, magazines, and more all around the world.
Also see: "In the Public Eye" on Snopes.com
Related MediaBugs reports:
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)
I heard back from Syracuse.com (The Post-Standard) via an email in which they thanked me for contacting the paper and in response they seemed to have scrubbed the article from the website. The article, "Eyeball licking fad among teens can cause blindness and pink eye ...," is still indexed on the Syracuse.com website and you can read the first few lines if you search by the title but the article itself has been deleted.
While I would have rather seen some sort of correction note appended to the article, by deleting the story from its website the Post-Standard has gotten rid of the error so I've marked this "Closed: Corrected."