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20th Century Fox Created Fake News Sites for an Ad Campaign. This Is Not Helping!


At a time when actual fake news is a growing plague, and the President himself is working to discredit real, legitimate news outlets and brand them as fake, it’s a dangerous time for anyone who values a free press as an essential component of a functioning society. When people don’t trust the press, it opens the door (as we’re very much seeing) for those in power to create their own narrative.

You know what’s not helping any of that? 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises’ decision to create a number of fake news outlets—and I’m talking real fake, not like Trump tearing down CNN fake—including the The Sacramento Dispatch, Salt Lake City Guardian, Houston Leader, NY Morning Post, and Indianapolis Gazette. They featured troubling and sensationalist stories with headlines like “Utah Senator Introduces Bill to Jail, Publically Shame Women Seeking Abortions,” “LEAKED: Lady Gaga Halftime Performance to Feature Muslim Tribute,” and “Trump Refuses to Provide California Federal Support in Midst of Natural Disaster, Cites Sanctuary Cities.”

All of these stories are fake, and all were created to promote the movie A Cure For Wellness. 

In a statement provided to BuzzFeed, the studio confirmed that the sites were purely for marketing.

“A Cure for Wellness is a movie about a ‘fake’ cure that makes people sicker,” it said. “As part of this campaign, a ‘fake’ wellness site was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news.”

As if the idea of a professional fake news company isn’t disgusting enough, that California natural disaster story is extra despicable given that they didn’t make up that crisis. Headlines like that of the Utah abortion bill are scary because they don’t sound that far-fetched. But Oroville, California actually is in a state of emergency right now due to problems with the emergency spillway for the Lake Oroville dam. And Trump has been critical of and threatening towards “out of control” California. So the article (which has been removed, along with all the others, now linking to the film’s official website, but is still available as an archive) sounds legitimate, until you get to the last sentence from this “anonymous source.”

“The President has no incentive in helping the state of California.  The state harbors more illegal immigrants than any other state and has multiple sanctuary cities that violate federal laws. The state very publicly supported Hillary Clinton throughout the election and the President views the state as being responsible for his loss in the popular vote, something he has had trouble with accepting.  They have also recently threatened to leave the Union through their #CalExit campaign, and the President sees this as an opportunity to let them deal with the consequences of their exit.  There is a sickness within the liberals in this country that they are not willing to address.  Until they understand what ails them can they hope to find the cure.  This is a step in the right direction in finding the #CureForWellness. “

How many articles do you (or, at least, the average Internet uesr) actually read every word of? Yes, we should all be more vigilant to check the sources of the things we read, but it’s expecting far too much from readers in this oversaturated news market to put the burden of recognizing a movie’s promotional hashtag solely on them. Plus, these companies had to be counting on the idea that people wouldn’t realize the stories were fake, since the trick of rage-based clickbait is what gets the stories shared. They had to be hoping people would believe the stories, because that’s how they get exposure.

So not only did this marketing campaign cash in on exploiting a real disaster, but with more and more anonymous leaks coming out of the White House, which Trump is committed to discrediting, creating fake quotes and stories can only serve to undermine any trust the American people might still have left in actual anonymous sources.

The production companies have, at least, apologized.

In raising awareness for our films, we do our best to push the boundaries of traditional marketing in order to creatively express our message to consumers. In this case, we got it wrong.

The digital campaign was inappropriate on every level, especially given the trust we work to build every day with our consumers. We have reviewed our internal approval process and made appropriate changes to ensure that every part of a campaign is elevated to and vetted by management in order to avoid this type of mistake in the future. We sincerely apologize.

But, again, that trust they’re eroding isn’t just between them and their audience. They’re contributing to America’s dangerously declining trust in the legitimate press, at a time when we simply can’t afford to let that institution slip away. So sure, that apology was needed, but they can’t take back their part, however small, in what so many of us see as an attack on the fundamental human need of a trusted press and our Constitutional right to its freedom.

(via Washington Post, image via Shutterstock)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.