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Home --> Media --> Goofs --> Paper Tiger

Paper Tiger

Goof:   TV news program runs fictitious explanation of photographs featuring a tiger and piglets.

Status:   True.

Origins:   One of the concepts readers new to our site often have difficulty assimilating is that "reported in the news" does not necessarily mean "true." They've been inculcated (as have most of us) with the idea that news is, to paraphrase Dragnet's Sgt. Joe Friday, about reporting "just the facts" — they aren't used to considering news reports critically to determine whether reporters might have omitted or
failed to adequately research key details, sloppily passed along an urban legend as a real occurrence, or even run with a story despite having done no investigation at all. Sometimes news is far more about providing entertainment than it is about relaying factual information, and over the past few months some of our readers have been confused by an example of that last point.

In mid-2006, we wrote an article about some amusing pictures of fur-wrapped piglets dressed as tigers that had been circulating via e-mail. The pictures were genuine, but the back story that accompanied them — about a female tiger in California who had recently lost her own cubs, had become depressed, and was given a litter of piglets (dressed to resemble tiger cubs) to help her through her depression — was a work of fiction. As we noted in our article, the photographs were more than two years old, had been taken at a zoo in Thailand, and depicted piglets that had been unusually costumed and put into a tiger's enclosure as a form of amusement for park visitors.

We were surprised to find weeks later that CBS affiliate KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh ran the same item as a straight news story. Did they uncover something we missed? Apparently not — nothing in their report indicated they had traced the story to its source, consulted anyone knowledgeable (such as zoo officials), or looked for any confirmatory information whatsoever. Everything in their video segment (since removed) was taken straight from the e-mailed account despite obvious discrepancies that should have given anyone pause, such as the story's references to "three piglets" supposedly provided by the zoo to replace the tigress' dead triplet cubs (even though five piglets are plainly visible in the displayed photo) and simple web searches that turn up multiple sites displaying the very same photo with a completely different explanation of its origins.

News may be transmitted via e-mail, but not everything transmitted via e-mail is news. And evidently, not everything reported in the news is news, either.

Last updated:   27 July 2006

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