In the glorious internet era we live in, the infectious nature of viral stories becomes more and more evident as time goes on. The same old story rears its ugly head time and time again. Occasionally repackaged with a new twist, but frequently just regurgitated with a retweet, a share, a copy & paste, or some other form of convenient thumbfoolery. This law applies whether the story in question is true, false, or somewhere in between.

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.

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:

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!