Mollie Hemingway writes: Trash TV legend Morton Downey, Jr. made a highly questionable claim in 1989 that he was attacked by neo-Nazis in a San Francisco International Airport restroom. He said they shaved his head and painted a backwards swastika on his face. Every year it seems as if these hate crime hoaxes increase. But lies about hate crimes are just one kind of whopper. As we close out 2013, awash in daily social media outrage and as gullible as ever, here are six hoaxes that suckered far too many journalists and others.
The lying lesbian waitress
In mid-November, waitress Dayna Morales sent a picture to Have A Gay Daypurporting to show that customers left her a mean note in place of a tip. The receipt allegedly said: “I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I don’t agree with your lifestyle and how you live your life.” Outraged Americans expressed their shock and horror at the mean note, sharing the picture and associated stories tens of thousands of times. Everyone patted themselves on the back for agreeing that this was hateful homophobic behavior. Thousands of dollars in donations poured in for the former Marine. The only problem is that the story had no basis in fact. The family whose receipt was shown proved that they had actually tipped 20% on their bill. Friends told media outlets that this was just the latest in a string of extraordinary stories told by Morales, who was dishonorably discharged from the military for failing to turn up to drills. She had told friends, reportedly, that she was the only survivor of a bomb blast in Afghanistan. She also reportedly made fantastic claims about incurable brain cancer, sustaining major damage in Hurricane Sandy and being impregnated by her father. At one point Morales claimed she would donate the gifts she received to the Wounded Warrior Project, but the group couldn’t verify if she made any donation.
The dramatic love life of Manti Te’o
Manti Teʻo, linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, played in college for the University of Notre Dame. One of the more interesting stories of the 2012 college football season was Te’o’s excellent leadership on the field after enduring the deaths of his beloved grandmother and beautiful girlfriend. His name was mentioned frequently as a Heisman contender and the deaths were mentioned in all the major media write-ups of his amazing season. In January of this year,Deadspin revealed that the very existence of the girlfriend was a hoax — an online relationship with a man posing as a woman.
Elan Gale’s fake fight on an airplane
On Thanksgiving Day, reality television producer Elan Gale tweeted out an imaginative tale of a very rude woman on a packed airplane. Twitter lost its collective mind over how awful this woman — who was berating a flight attendant, according to the tweets — was. She didn’t exist and Gale later revealed that he’d invented the woman as a way to entertain himself and his followers while on a flight. It being Thanksgiving, journalists went ahead and reported the event as fact without verifying it.
The New Jersey waitress whose story has been questioned after she claimed she received an anti-gay note instead of a tip on a restaurant bill was dishonorably discharged from the Marines last spring after she stopped showing up, NBC 4 New York has learned.
And that’s not all:
A woman who says she and Morales worked together at a Cheesecake Factory in Nyack, N.Y., last year said Morales told coworkers she had brain cancer.
“She came in with her hair shaved because she wanted to shave it herself before she lost it,” said Jacqie Fitzpatrick.