Countdown Bites on Onion-Like Fake

Does having kids lower your IQ? An Indiana University report said it did. So on Sept. 7, MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann ran with the story. One problem: The item wasn’t true.

Countdown found the blurb on The Hoosier Gazette, an online satirical newspaper that walks in the footsteps of The Onion. Josh Whicker of Corydon, Ind., operates the site and writes under assumed names. When a friend called to tell him the IQ story had been picked up, the 29-year-old middle-school teacher-who isn’t a regular Countdown viewer-was shocked.

"Then I laughed," Whicker says, adding that he doesn’t feel responsible for the snafu. "If all the stories on the Web site are weird news, you should pay a little more attention. And check the disclaimer." Few did. Hoosier’s fake news stories have also turned up on the CNN news crawl, The San Diego Union-Tribune and London’s Metro newspaper.

Host Keith Olbermann, Countdown’s managing editor, issued an apology within hours of the broadcast. Olbermann also ran a lighthearted story about the hoax the next night. "But did you hear the one showing how many IQ points newscasters lose when they see a story they really want to run?" he asked.

One skeptic was vindicated: comedy legend Carl Reiner, a guest on Countdown the night the story ran. "What happens, if you have kids, you get busy," Reiner noted. "Who has time to take tests? You take a test, you don’t care about the test." Kudos, Carl.