Biting Back at the Media

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To all those who rail against the media for overzealous reporting, taking advantage of those in crisis, or using underhanded methods to get a cheap scoop, meet your new hero, Alan Abel, whose lifelong pursuit has been to hang the media out to dry. Preying on mainstream media’s insatiable thirst for the lurid, the perverse, and the wacky, Abel has gotten the better of every major news outlet in the country.

Take, for example, Walter Cronkite’s seven-minute piece for CBS News in 1962 on Abel’s “S.I.N.A.,” the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, which purportedly sought to clothe naked animals. Meant as satire in response to media censorship, many prominent journalists simply didn’t get the joke.

Alan Abel and his daughter Jenny, from the film, Abel Raises CainA doc on the self-styled professional media hoaxer, Abel Raises Cain, by Abel’s daughter Jenny Abel and Jeff Hockett, is out on DVD this week. Like a reverse Jon Stewart, Abel has been creating fake news that gets reported as truth since the late 1950s, like the story he staged about a fake lottery winner in the early ’90s, or, more infamously, when he posed as Jim Rogers, a spokesman for Citizens Against Breastfeeding. He racked up some 200 interviews when he brought his message to the 2000 Republican National Convention — it makes you wonder, was the real message about the perversity of breastfeeding in public, or the perversity of a media so ravenous for a lurid scoop, they’ll take a media con man at his word?

Some of the film’s whimsical pranks are also inadvertently timely, like the classic 1964 hoax Abel staged with his wife, Jeanne, as the voice of presidential candidate Yetta Bronstein. She did hundreds of interviews promoting her slogan “Vote for Yetta and things will get betta!” to promote a “platform” that included issues like taking members of Congress off salary and putting them on straight commission — an idea whose time has come.
NPR’s On The Media has an interview with Alan and Jenny Abel on the meaning of his life’s work and its effect on his daughter. It’s worth a listen, not only for the news analysis, but for the delicious audio clips from the film.

Fake reporting on real news, or real reporting on fake news? Alan Abel, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert — who’s your favorite media prankster? What’s your favorite media prank? Post a comment below!

David Nanasi
David Nanasi
David has worked on POV's website since its infancy, helping to develop and nurture it, as well as producing special features. David also oversees and administers POV's internal network, maintaining hardware and software for the POV staff. Prior to joining POV, David, served on the staff of CyberEd, an 18-wheeler Internet classroom that toured nationwide. Since 1997, David has worked independently as a computer consultant, including systems, networks, databases, and web design and construction. David's favorite documentaries are: 1. Eyes on the Prize - Henry Hampton (Executive Producer) 2. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 3. The Thin Blue Line - Errol Morris 4. Roger & Me - Michael Moore 5. The Camden 28 - Anthony Giacchino
  • Theresa

    FOREIGNID: 15453
    Some of the hoaxes David mentions above are hilarious. This guy cracks me up, and there’s some good videos of his hoaxes out there. I created a playlist on YouTube with some of the hoaxes.
    Here’s Jenny Abel’s Channel on YouTube:

  • Jessica

    FOREIGNID: 15454
    This kind of reminds me of The Yes Men – possibly inspired by Abel’s antics?

  • Hermadite

    FOREIGNID: 15455
    This guy Abel sucks. Why doesn’t he get a life? He wastes hours conjuring up ways to infiltrate radio, television and newspapers with wacky and unbelievable stories. I remember reading his obituary in the New York Times and I could only think, “good riddance creepy crudball.” Abel’s hoaxes take up valuable news space in print and on the airwaves; he’s a menace to every hard-working journalist out there. If he operated in Afghanistan during the Taliban era there would have hung him during a soccer match. We already have the Onion to satisfy our need for humor. Stewart and Colbert are O.K. but they could take lessons from Sasha Baron Cohen (“Borat”). As for his daughter’s documentary, “Abel Raises Cain,” I saw it at the Egyptian Theatre several years ago and the audience gave it a standing ovation. I walked out and puked on Hollywood Boulevard. It made me sick, making fun of dear old Phil Donahue and he looked like a real a– trying to explain why his audience started to faint (Abel staged it). Or this scientist on the phone with Abel on a radio talk show as they argued over whether the breast was a sexual object and caused babies to have an oral fixation that could lead all the way to the White House, as with Monica Lewinsky. I’m taking a nap. But Alen Abel can go to h– and stay there! Sincerely, Hermadite

  • edgertor

    FOREIGNID: 15456
    i think my favorite was the BBC story back in the 50s…you can see it here…
    the ‘swiss spaghetti harvest’

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