Nine’s TODAY featured a news report this morning on a “major manhunt” for a fugitive in the US. Problem was, it was a total work of fiction.
The story went that an Ed Sheeran “lookalike” in the state of Ohio was pretending to be the British singer and was duping churches out of their charity boxes.
As you can see from the TODAY show still below, it’s a very long bow in suggesting the chap looked anything like Ed. Hence the joke.
Not that it deterred TODAY’s fact checkers. This morning, newsreader Tracy Vo reported the story as fact.
“A major manhunt underway in the US. The Ohio Fugitive Taskforce is hunting a man who’s been taking cash from churches, fooling them into thinking he’s Ed Sheeran. This is his mugshot,” Vo announced to viewers chowing down on their morning corn flakes.
“That’s not Ed Sheeran of course, it’s Ronnie Williams Jr, who even went as far as performing Shape Of You in front of one of the congregations he was stealing money from.
“When the pastor was asked why the real Ed Sheeran would’ve performed for $35 and a sandwich, he … just assumed he’d fallen on tough times. There you go; he’s wanted for fraud,” Vo continued.
Fortuitously, TODAY hosts Karl Stefanovic and Ally Langdon were less gullible, laughing at the comparison.
Problem for TODAY was that the whole thing was a prank, generated by fake news and satire site Portsmouth Ohio Official.
The Facebook site has 40,000 followers and claims to be “a news and entertainment satire web publication. This page is for entertainment purposes only.”
News.com.au reported that TODAY initially tweeted out the story as actual news, however, the tweet was soon deleted when it realised it had fallen victim to a hoax.
Later in this morning’s show, Stefanovic and Langdon admitted they’d been duped.
“It turns out it was a fake news story all along. We did fall for this one. It was from a satirical news site,” they said. “Still a good laugh.”
It got even worse for the TODAY team. Arch rival Sunrise posting 277,000 OzTAM metro viewers this morning to TODAY’s 191,000.