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Pamela Meyer

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Year of the Whopper: Top Ten Lies, Hoaxes, and Pranks of 2013

Posted: 12/17/2013 9:11 am

If North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un had whispered to his uncle, "Looking forward to seeing you over the holidays" it would have taken the cake on this year's Top Ten List... but this year there were even stronger real contenders:

10. The "Diane" Flight Hoax

Diane was an airline passenger on Thanksgiving. Frustrated by holiday delays, her mood arced from agitated to hostile to sinister temptress that represented everything people hate about air travel.

Thanks to in-flight wifi, Diane -- and her temper tantrums -- became Internet celebrities before her plane's wheels hit the runway. A producer for the hit ABC series, The Bachelor, took to Twitter to broadcast the play-by-play, while cheerfully provoking her and egging her on. The Arthurian battle ended in the terminal with Diane slapping him and airport officials threatening to arrest her. By then, social media was on fire with an impracticable display of both empathy and hate for the hapless traveler.

The only problem is that Diane never existed. The following week, the mischievous producer confessed the whole show was theater. Maybe it was a way of passing time on a painful flight; maybe it was a way to spin up an avalanche of new Twitter followers. Regardless, never believe those lying eyes... or those lying tweets.

9. Manti Te'o's Imaginary Girlfriend

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was having a career season. The Fighting Irish were destined for the National Championship game, and the All-American linebacker was leading the charge. The only catch? His girlfriend Lennay was stricken with leukemia. Manti told his teammates and the media alike the heart-wrenching tale of nights spent holding her hand, trying to pull her out of a deep coma.

On game day, Lennay passed away. Manti met the moment, inspiring his teammates and leading them to a 20-3, "win one for the Gipper" walloping of Michigan State. The following week, she was buried. But she had insisted Manti not miss his game. Another victory followed, and Lennay became a celebrity. Heisman trophy whispers orbiting Manti grew to a chorus. Charities were started, Notre Dame's campus electrified.

If only she existed. Manti's Shakespearean love drama unraveled just in time to distract the team ahead of the National Championship game. They lost to Alabama 42-14.

8. Barack Obama Flirts with his Danish Counterpart

Oh that incorrigible scamp Barack Obama! On a solemn occasion such as Nelson Mandela's funeral, you'd expect some reverence from the Commander-in-Chief. Instead, an Agency France-Presse photographer snapped a few shots of the President giggling and playfully enjoying a coquettish chat with the comely Prime Minister of Denmark.

Bystander Michelle Obama's stern look of disapproval added to the fun. A few moments later, in the seat-change heard round the world, the First Lady plopped herself between the two like the reincarnation of the Berlin Wall.

Social media, as social media is wont to do, blew up. Media outlets, as media outlets are wont to do, followed social media's cues and hungrily ran "the sequel" to President Clinton's noted philandering.

To the world's dismay, the AFP photographer put a stop it all. "Photos can lie," he wrote on the AFP blog. "In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance."

7. Jimmy Kimmel's Twerking Prank

Before Miley Cyrus made the fiery booty shake colloquially dubbed "twerking" a household name, one poor young lady introduced the dance to the world in a somewhat more subtle, if not wildly painful, way.

She decided to film herself twerking, maybe for the Internet's enjoyment, maybe for her boyfriend's. But normal twerking simply wouldn't do. That's not the way to get a good video to go viral. Instead, she flipped herself in a handstand and twerked her front door like it was Kanye West. A hapless roommate opens the door, she falls onto some candles, and before you can click back to Amazon, the poor girl is screaming in terror as flames creep up her leg.

It took approximately 6 days for the video to hit 6 million views, or roughly the population of Denmark. It was somewhere in the range of 12 million views when late night host Jimmy Kimmel, known for his pranks, decided to confess the whole thing was nothing more than a spirited hoax.

6. Lance Armstrong Fesses Up

There's nothing more excruciating to watch than a house of cards tumble. But how else can you describe cyclist Lance Armstrong's fall from divinity? Over a decade of astounding cycling victories, coming on the heels of a nasty cancer diagnosis, Armstrong's abilities seemed mythical.

Turns out he was juicing himself up like a reality TV version of the 6 million dollar man. When teammates, staff, competitors or anyone else dared challenge Armstrong's integrity, the Tour de France champ resorted to intimidation, bullying, and the tried-and-true lawsuit.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency eventually zeroed in on Armstrong like a cruise missile, and the walls started closing in. So where else to go but Oprah? Armstrong's heartfelt penance in the daytime star's confessional swept the chaff off of years of cheating and scandals. Though it's reasonable to expect he was being truthful under her microscope, the culmination of 10 years of fibbing earns Armstrong the number 6 spot on the list.

5. Google Nose: Smelling is believing.

There are an astounding 12 billion Google searches per month. That type of attention has turned the search engine giant into a quasi public laboratory, where people watch the company do wildly fun and interesting things like build glasses that interact with the world, self-driving cars, and moon maps.

So no one smelled a rat on April 1st 2013, when Google announced its latest creation, Google Nose. Not at first, at least. In an admirably convincing video that was unveiled on the Google homepage, the wily tech wizards from California proudly proclaimed a breakthrough in "photo audio olfactory sensory conversion." In English, it meant you could search for smells.

The date, of course, should have been a dead giveaway. Google was just having some April Fools' fun. But the jig wasn't up until the online and communications world exploded with a cheerful mix of confusion and enthusiasm. Consider it a user-warning for the next time April creeps around.

4. Amy's Bakery

It's no secret that businesses will bend, distort, twist, stretch, and ultimately break their word to lure in consumers. But it's not always the big guys who do the fibbing.

Take the sad saga of Amy's Baking Company. In a reality show where celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay tries to rescue failing eateries, even Lucifer himself of Hell's Kitchen couldn't put the owners on the straight and narrow. After enduring baffling stubbornness and a dismal work ethic, Amy's Bakery was the first and only establishment Ramsay abandoned.

It got worse. Amy, the eponymous owner of the bilious bakery, was later caught reselling a stale old cake that she claimed was hers. Her ensuing Facebook meltdown bordered on madness, as Amy hysterically mapped out a conspiratorial alliance of "haters" and the downright jealous, all out to get her. Naturally, Amy and her bakery quickly found themselves the subject of viral Internet and media fame.

It's more fun to pick on the Fortune 500s and their often-questionable relationship with the truth. But for Amy's cringe-worthy train wreck of paranoia and blatant lying, this small business owner earns the number four spot on the list.

3. Anthony Weiner Comes Clean

After Congressman Anthony Weiner was caught distributing photos of his canoodle to individuals best descried as women other than his wife, he went into full rehab mode. Following the old time-tested political playbook, Weiner went to the media and admitted he lied, took some time off to "be with his family," and reentered politics after the tidal wave of outrage receded.

The New York City Mayor's race was the perfect target for the shameless Representative from Brooklyn. Weiner was justly apologetic. Humbled, he swore up and down that he had seen the error of his ways, insisted that he was whole again, that he learned his lesson. And it was working. As recently as May, some polls had him leading a crowded field of mayoral aspirants.

Then a young woman curiously named Sydney Leathers sank the ship. She blew the whistle on her well-documented online relationship with Weiner. His campaign's following implosion was worthy of the Hindenburg.

Weiner finally confessed to a double-digit number of illicit relationships, including 3 after he was chased out of Congress. On Election Day, he stumbled to an ignominious 5th place finish.

2. Lesbian Waitress' Bigotry Hoax

Americans are empathetic people. So when a struggling young lesbian waitress posted a restaurant recipient with a bigoted, anti-gay note in place of a tip, the sympathy -- and the dollars -- started pouring in.

For a time, Dayna Morales was the talk of the town. You couldn't scroll through a Facebook newsfeed without seeing her story. Thousands of dollars found their way to the former Marine, who gallantly promised to donate the proceeds to the Wounded Warriors Fund.

That's about where her story fell apart. A nice couple that frequented Morales' restaurant spotted their receipt and some suspicious alterations on the tip line. Justifiably interested in clearing their name, the couple took to the evening news with their copy of the receipt, noteworthy for its 20% tip instead of a hateful note. They even dug into the their credit card statement to cement their alibi.

Morales was later caught flatfooted by a local NBC affiliate, wide-eyed and full of denial. Faster than you can say "cry for attention," the restaurant did a short investigation and promptly let her go. And the Wounded Warriors? They're still waiting for that check.


1.President Obama "If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance."

Nothing defines a presidency like a lie or empty promise that becomes a legend. Nixon fled the White House after Watergate. George H.W. Bush promised "Read my lips. No new taxes". President Clinton will be remembered for "not having sex with that woman" and the impeachment that followed.

President Obama made many promises during his 2012 election run. But perhaps no promise was more punctuated than his insistence that if "you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance." In what's certainly one poor speechwriter's regret, that line has replaced the Obama Administration's hopeful clarion's call of 2008 with the glum thumping of a tuba.

Three months after implementation of Obamacare and 15 months after the election, nearly 5 million Americans have lost their health insurance. And another 129 million more are vulnerable to losing their plans. Politifact has already rated it the Lie of the Year.

Whether the President was the victim of poor choice of words, poor policy, or poor politics, his empty assurance wins the title-belt of 2013's sordid gallery of hoaxes, fibs, and whoppers.

 
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