Universal Will Pay for Fabricating News Stories to Promote The Fourth Kind
One of the selling points of the recently released The Fourth Kind was its ambiguity. Was it really based on actual news reports about and research into alien abductions in and around Nome, Alaska, or was Hollywood pulling a fast one? According to the legal agreement reached between seven Alaskan newspaper companies and Universal Studios, we're definitely leaning toward the latter.
Here are the highlights of The Fourth Estate vs. The Fourth Kind dispute courtesy of the Alaska Dispatch:
Nomeites didn't much like the film exploiting unexplained disappearances of Northwest Alaskans, most of whom likely perished due to exposure to the harsh climate, as science fiction nonsense. The Alaska press liked even less the idea of news stories about unexplained disappearances in the Nome area being used to hype some "kind" of fake documentary.
There wasn't much the former could do about the movie, other than whine. But there was something the latter could do -- threaten to sue.
The Alaska Press Club, in cooperation with The Nome Nugget and other Alaska newspaper publishers and news Web sites, put Anchorage attorney John McKay on the case, and he announced this week that a settlement has been reached with NBC Universal to stop using Alaska news stories, or bogus news stories attributed to Alaska publications, on a fake news Web site in order to promote the movie. Universal will also pay for its past abuses of fact spun into fiction, and fiction presented as fact. The Press Club is getting $20,000 plus a $2,500 contribution to its Calista Scholarship Fund.
As part of a campaign to promote "The Fourth Kind," an advertising company dummied up stories about alien abductions which it then attributed to The Nome Nugget. [Nugget publisher and editor Nancy] McGuire saw those stories on a Web site and admits her first reaction was "what the f---?"
She called the Web site and demanded the stories be taken down. The webmaster demanded she send him identification proving she was the owner of the Nugget, apparently unconcerned about the simple fact the stories were phony but attributed to a real newspaper.
"I really was concerned about it because I didn't write these things," McGuire said Wednesday. "They were using my newspaper to give credibility to those stories."
After a second call to the managers of the "Fourth Kind" Web site proved fruitless, McGuire called McKay, a well-known media lawyer in Anchorage. He reached out to touch Universal. McGuire was glad.
"I'm enjoying it," she said. "They think they can get away with this because we're Alaska. They don't think of us as having any brains or being upset about what they do."
McGuire said she was upset as much for Nome residents who have had family members mysteriously die as for her newspaper. Some of them are still suffering, she said, and it now brings back bad memories to have the deaths of their loved ones used to promote a crock of a movie about alien abductions.
"People see it on the Internet," she said, "and they say, 'Oh, it must be true.'"
It's a troubling commentary on the gullibility of people, she added. Probably only more troubling if you understand that this observation comes from someone alien to Alaska. "I am an alien," McGuire said. "I really am from Mars ... Mars, Pennsylvania. It's north of Pittsburgh. You can find it on the map."
As part of the legal settlement, Universal is making a donation to the Nome homeless shelter in the name of the "alien" McGuire and the Nugget. That, at least, is a good thing, McGuire said.
"They do appear to be trying to make amends," she said. Or at least covering their butts.
Unfortunately, as Dermot Cole of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has already discovered, fixing mistakes in the Internet world is not as easy as simply saying you're sorry. The Internet replicates fiction every bit as well as it does fact.
"The studio says that if it is notified that any of the phony news stories become available in the future, it 'shall take appropriate steps to see that they are removed from the Internet...'," Cole wrote. "But in some ways this is an empty promise. I found the two fake stories attributed to the News-Miner on sites where they had been copied. Universal won't be able to take those down. There are also cached pages that were available earlier this week."
And, of course, who knows what you can get to pop up on Google from sites that have already been taken down.
To us, the most amazing thing about all of this is that apparently those fake news reports were never cleared by Universal's in-house attorneys. No doubt someone within the organization will be out hitting the pavement soon looking for a new job.
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