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BURRISS: Attacking bears with a twist of Justin Bieber

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How many times have you heard, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t”? And that’s especially true for news stories.

This particular story, that was picked up by numerous reputable news services, had it all: an attack by a bear, a strange, seemingly miraculous escape, technology, and best of all . . . are you ready for this . . . Justin Bieber.

Here’s the gist of the story that was circulated by the “New York Post,” the “Daily Mirror,” ABC and NPR: A fisherman in Russia was being attacked by a bear when his cell phone went off and the bear fled into the forest.

So far so good. But the thing that really makes this story is that the phone, so the story goes, was playing a Justin Bieber ringtone. Many of the stories go on to report that wildlife experts said that bear attacks can sometimes be stopped by sudden sharp sounds.

But let’s back up to the original story, which originally ran in “Pravda”: A fisherman was being attacked when his phone began speaking the time, and the bear ran off. That’s it. No Justin Bieber and no wildlife experts.

Apparently someone at a little-known Austrian news service re-wrote the original “Pravda” story, “Bieberfied” it, and added an anonymous, uncredentialed wildlife expert. That story was picked up by England’s “Daily Mail’s” web site, Mailonline, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Some stories were accompanied by a photograph of the fisherman, and some had a picture of a bear in what appears to be mid-attack. Of those photographs, some news sources added the phrase, “file photo,” while others just ran the photo, letting the reader assume this was a picture of the actual bear.

Apparently the story was just too good for news organizations to check it out. And given how the internet works, it will probably never be fully corrected.


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