A New Example Of Actual Fake News

You can’t make this stuff up.

Even if you tried, you wouldn’t go as far as real life did.

But it really did happen. And that means it could happen again.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a client I hadn’t worked with in years. They received an email inquiry from someone identifying themselves as a producer for a local TV station about a recent customer service issue.

Rather than ignoring the email, the employee who monitors the company’s generic inbox routed it to an executive, who answered it with a phone call. That resulted in what was described as a hostile argument disguised as an interview leading to the supposed producer to demand a statement by the next day for use in a news story. Executives huddled and decided to call me for help with a statement.

I was pleased to receive the call as these are good people I’ve enjoyed working with who are committed to professionalism and ethics. I described how this TV station operates and was surprised to hear of this experience, as it was described, as it does not fit any model of dialogue I had experienced. Before getting too far on a statement, I asked to see the original email inquiry.

In reviewing the email, it was like no other media inquiry I’ve ever seen. It was not well-written and had an edge in tone, crossing the expected line from fairness. Then I noticed something really wrong. The email URL in the “from” section of the email was not the URL the TV station uses. Google and LinkedIn searches found no employee at the TV station with that name. But I had to be certain this was indeed a whole new definition of “fake news.”

I texted a trusted newsroom employee at that station. I quickly found out that nobody by the name listed on the email works there. The client had been had.

So yes, you read that right. A customer who believed they were aggrieved posed as a TV news producer in an effort to intimidate the company into reversing a decision and go against its policies.

Oh, by the way, it didn’t work.

There are a few takeaways here. One, take every inquiry seriously. Also, it doesn’t matter what the audience numbers tell you, traditional local media still commands attention. Importantly, involve a communications professional anytime you think you need to or want to answer questions from a journalist, whoever they may turn out to be.