Of course, we’ve grown to expect this from the general public, and as skeptics we’re constantly playing whack-a-mole when nonsense pops up on our newsfeeds. There’s a LOT of moles though, and we can’t whack ’em all. Even if we could, the whacking is rarely fatal, and those moles will inevitably pop back up again once the concussion has cleared.
Still, at least we’ve still got credible & respected news sources out there who aren’t so easily fooled. Of course, they’re not infallible, but they’ve got a reputation to protect, so surely they wouldn’t just copy and paste something that first surfaced over a decade ago and has periodically pebbledashed us ever since?
- Wouldn’t they?
- Please tell me they wouldn’t!
The New York Times has been in circulation for over 150 years. They’ve won 125 Pulitzer Prizes. On their Why Subscribe page they proudly tell us that they “bring trusted expertise to every story”
So why on earth would they dredge up the story of the Dog Suicide Bridge in Overtoun?
It turns out they’ve got a new angle on the story. A new (alleged) jumper, despite the fact that this supposed incident happened three years ago. It did however give them reason enough to use most of their Googling skills to fill in a spectacular back story of a strange self-inflicted canine genocide (the ‘Fido Solution’ perhaps?) and ghostly tales of ‘The White Lady of Overtoun’ (point of note: it’s paranormal law that all female ghosts are either white or grey).
Unfortunately their Googling skills didn’t go as far as attempting to find out whether anything they were reporting was true or not. Had they done so, they would have found that very much like the White Lady of Overtoun, this story lacks any substance.
- It even made it in as a dedicated topic on an episode of Skeptoid, which sets the record straight better than we ever could.
There are lots of things that make dogs jump
- Suicide is not one of them
- Ghosts are also not on the list
So why did the New York Times sink to such depths?
We’re not entirely sure, and would love it if they gave us an explanation. Our suspicion is that it’s a combination of pressure for clicks, increased pressure on staff to produce content, and perhaps a general deterioration of quality in journalism due to a number of unfortunate factors.
The author of this piece has a master’s degree in Digital Media, and has over a decade of experience in journalism. Quite why she would conjure up over 1000 words without bothering to check if any of the stories of canine casualties are actually true or not is perhaps the biggest mystery here.
Origin story of a questionable story
The first mention we see of this is a random comment on a blog post in 2005 in which someone mentions that they heard about the story of the bridge elsewhere. However, it was 2006 that saw the story truly surface into mainstream media, and it has been an ever present since then.
Here are some selected examples. Many more are available with a quick Google:
- 2006: Daily Mail: Why have so many dogs leapt to their deaths from Overtoun Bridge?
- 2008: TV Documentary – Dog Suicide Bridge Scotland
- 2009: Cracked.com – Overtoun Bridge makes it in to the Six Creepiest Places on Earth
- 2011: EzineMark.com – Mysterious Suicide Deaths of Animals
2012: The Daily Beast – Starlings Dive-Bomb the Autobahn & More Animal Suicides (PHOTOS)
2013: Historic Mysteries – The Overtoun Bridge Dog Deaths
- 2014: Slate – The Dog Suicide Bridge of Dunbartonshire
- 2015: Daily Express – What’s caused 600 dogs to hurl themselves off this bridge?
2016: The Sun – Why have 600 dogs jumped off this bridge?
2017: The Sun (again) – The mystery of the Scottish bridge where hundreds of dogs have jumped to their deaths… and nobody knows why
2018: The Daily Record – Mystery of Scotland’s ‘dog suicide’ spot – Why 600 dogs have jumped off Overtoun Bridge
So, as you can see, the New York Times is merely the latest in a long line of credulous reporting, but the company they’re keeping here is arguably less than illustrious. We tend to sigh and shrug our shoulders when tabloids pick up such remnants from the recycle bin, but considering the New York Times are doing the same, it certainly doesn’t help their cause when they’re accused of being fake news by someone well known to throw out insults if he doesn’t like what he’s reading.
Come on NYTimes … raise your game please!