Mike Wise and the Art of the Lame Hoax

Mike Wise, sports commentator for the Washington Post and The Fan radio—not necessarily in that order, lately—got

suspended from his newspaper job for a month

because he used his Twitter account to put out a

fake report

about how long Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s NFL suspension would end up being. That’s more than 140 characters already. No wonder it’s hard to do nuance on Twitter!

Wise claimed he pulled the stunt to demonstrate that nobody checks information anymore before they publish it. He also claimed, semi-contradicting his culture-jamming story, that he had

meant to publish a retraction

immediately but Twitter ate it.

“I’m an idiot,” he

posted afterward

, while also concluding “I was right about nobody checking facts or sourcing.”

But the whole thing had nothing to do with social media, really, or with the frenzied news cycle of 2010. It just demonstrated that Mike Wise doesn’t understand what a hoax is.

The Roethlisberger posting fooled people—if you can even call it fooling people—because it was so moronically banal. Sometime soon, the NFL will make a final decision about the suspension, and some sports writer will find out and put it on Twitter. Wise didn’t claim it was a three-year suspension or that the suspension would end at halftime of the Steelers’ first game or anything else that should have warned a savvy reader. He didn’t announce that

France was preparing to pay billions of dollars in reparations to Haiti


If the premise of your hoax is completely unfunny, a lot of people will believe you. Opie and Anthony demonstrated that with old media years ago, on an April Fool’s Day radio show in Boston, by

saying the mayor had been killed in a car crash


Now Mike Wise has proven that if a professional sportswriter puts a sports rumor up on Twitter, people will act as if it had come from a credible source. That does show that somebody in the exchange wasn’t thinking too hard. But it wasn’t Mike Wise’s readers.