The “Letter to Santa” above is courtesy Zack Poitras and The Inclusive with their actual permission asked in advanced (which turns out is pretty rare).
Zack Poitras may be among the greatest pranksters of the digital age. On Monday, the New York-based comedian managed to fool The Huffington Post, Mashable, BuzzFeed, The Daily Mirror and dozens of other media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic.
And the best part was that he wasn’t even trying.
Two years ago, he created a fake letter to Santa from a fictional child, scrawled in crayon and appearing to be in a child’s handwriting – which the left-handed Poitras achieved by using his right hand – that provided St. Nick an Amazon link to a remote-control car that the kid wanted for Christmas.
Poitras said he used to write letters to Santa as a child that would include directions to the stores where the toys he wanted could be found and figured today’s kids would probably use Amazon instead.
The piece went up on the humor section of The Inclusive, a site ran by his college friend, Mike Anton, in 2011. I attended Boston University with both of them and also regularly contributed to the site.
Few people saw the mock letter and Anton stopped adding new material to the site last year, but kept the archive online.
But on Monday, a Twitter user in Germany, @Gequeoman, discovered the image of the letter and tweeted it. Before long it had made the homepages of The Huffington Post and Yahoo News.
Two problems: none of these sites credited Poitras or The Inclusive, and many assumed it was an actual child who wrote the letter.
Thus began a 12-hour stretch in which Anton and other former The Inclusive editors used Google to track where the image had been reposted, sending tweets and emails to the reporters and news outlets to demand Poitras get credit.
Anton was shocked by the attention the letter got. “It’s bizarre because we’ve been dead.”
But he was even more shocked by the laziness of the journalism he saw from professional news sites.
When he was running his amateur site Anton tried his “damnedest” to properly cite any image taken from Creative Commons and other open sources. “To see other people not do that, at places that are much more reputable, was really disheartening,” Anton said.
“BuzzFeed just ripped the image wholly,” he said.
Even after Poitras was getting credit on The Huffington Post and Yahoo, which Anton said responded to his emails quickly, factual errors remained.
The Huffington Post’s article continued to say the letter had been written by a child, giving Poitras credit for discovering it.
London’s Daily Mirror stated, “Whether the product exists or whether the person who wrote the note is legit or not is something of a Christmas mystery.”
The product does indeed exist. Reddit users confirmed that by simply typing the link text into their browsers.
“The thing I like about satire,” Poitras said, “is you’ve got to treat it as real as possible.”
Poitras was far less angered than his editor, finding the conjecture about whether the child would receive his gift pretty hilarious.
“It’s a better story if it’s a mystery,” Poitras said.
A Good Morning America producer called him to schedule a possible interview, but stopped calling upon finding out that Poitras had written the letter. Poitras joked he should’ve found a kid to play his brother.
Mashable interviewed Poitras and posted a story Wednesday titled “Kid’s Santa Letter With the Amazon Link Was a Hoax,” despite the fact that Poitras had told the reporter that he never set out to prank anyone.
“It was picked up on several news sites, including Mashable, that assumed the letter was the work of a kid, in part due to the sloppy crayon handwriting,” wrote reporter Neka Prakash.
“It’s a self-imposed hoax,” said Anton, who tweeted at Prakash that the letter was the work of a comedian on Monday evening when her original report was published and erroneously credited the work to a mystery child despite several other news outlets already updating stories to credit Poitras.
Unfortunately, it looks like Prakash and the other reporters who posted the story Monday forgot Rule No. 1 of journalism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.
CHICAGO— As the Affordable Care Act goes into effect fully, measuring both health care’s costs and therapeutic outcomes is crucial to reduce inefficiencies in the way the U.S. delivers health care, according to a panel of experts during Bloomberg’s “The Year Ahead: 2014” conference last week.
According to data released last week from Bloomberg, the United States ranks 46th in health care efficiency among the 48 countries examined. Three criteria were considered in the evaluation: life expectancy, relative per capita cost of health care and absolute per capita cost of healthcare.
The U.S. spends the most on health care based on relative costs with the worst outcomes, the data revealed.
“We are today on the cusp of the ability to measure health care, both quality and costs,” said Michael Ringel, a partner and health care analyst at the Boston Consulting Group. “What that will drive is an unbelievable transformation in the efficiency and the economics of the market.”
The current pay-for-service method ultimately is more costly than a method emphasizing general wellness, panelists said, calling pay-for-service a disease-centric model. An emphasis on wellness reduces, for example, costly emergency room visits.
“We’re moving from fee-for-care to something more holistic,” said Tommy Thompson, CEO of Thompson Holdings and former Health and Human Services secretary in the Bush administration.
Ringel noted that health care costs have outpaced the growth of the U.S. gross domestic product by 2 percent over the past 10 years.
They also accounted for 5 percent of the nation’s annual spending 50 years ago compared with 18 percent today, he said, and in about 15 years will account for 45 percent. “Obviously that trend cannot go on forever,” he said.
John Noseworthy, president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic, defined the so-called “value equation” of patient care by quality over cost.
Moving forward, achieving value for patients via the Affordable Care Act means “driving more efficient, more accurate, more personalized care and cutting edged care [and] changing the way health care is delivered, but also being mindful of the cost of the care,” Noseworthy said.
Given the shortage of primary care, Americans ought to be empowered to take control over their own health care choices, panelists said.
“We’re seeing consumers focused on more prevention and wellness,” said Gregory Wasson, president and CEO of Walgreen, Co. With its more than 8,000 store locations in 50 states, Wasson said, his company promotes that patient empowerment by providing easy access to quality care.
Virginia Gubernatorial Race:
(D)McAuliffe: 48 percent
(R)Cuccinelli: 45.5 percent
Clinton confidante Terry McAuliffe, who was projected to win the governor’s race by a comfortable wide margin, barely squeaked by with a victory. McAuliffe defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli with less than three percent of the vote. Early takeaways show Obamacare hurt McAuliffe’s early numbers, although women may have pushed him to victory. Cuccinelli is anti-abortion, and has commented on banning common forms of birth control, and even limiting divorce.
New Jersey Gubernatorial Race:
(R) Chris Christie: 60.4 percent
(D) Barbara Buono
Incumbent Republican Chris Christie won support across the board, in fact, the only demographic that Buono ran away with was African-Americans. Christie’s decisive victory seemed to advance his chances for a 2016 presidential run.
New York City Mayoral Race:
(D) Bill de Blasio: 73.3 percent
(R) Joe Lhota: 24.3 percent
In the widest margin of the night, Democrat Bill de Blasio walked away with the mayorship of New York City. De Blasio is the first candidate elected as a Democrat to run the Big Apple in 20 years.
That’s the word that’s been used by The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and dozens of other media outlets to describe Virginia’s gubernatorial contest between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
McAuliffe’s campaign attacked Cuccinelli’s record on contraception in a series of ads, painting him as a conservative ideologue who would outlaw birth control. Cuccinelli’s campaign returned the favor, airing an ad that questioned McAuliffe’s economic knowledge and used out of context footage of him holding a bottle of alcohol. Bitter sounds about right.
But at the Rosslyn Fire Station, a polling place in Virginia’s Arlington County near McAuliffe’s campaign offices, the Republican and Democratic volunteers got along swimmingly.
Betty Petersen, an 80-year-old Republican volunteer, remarked on how much she enjoyed working alongside her Democratic counterpart, Mike Lewan, 26.
Lewan said it had been a pleasure to share the sidewalk outside the station with Petersen and congratulated her on beating him to the polls.
In this Washington suburb, at least, it was hardly a bitter battle. It was barely a skirmish.
At the lunch hour a handful of voters showed up, Lewan and Petersen politely handed them campaign materials. Some stopped to read. Others strolled right in. But mostly the two volunteers waited and watched voting-age adults stroll by without making the turn into the fire station.
Often there were more people waiting to talk to voters than there were voters. In addition to the political party volunteers, four representatives for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund waited outside the fire station with multilingual exit polls.
Perhaps the cordial atmosphere was due to the fact that there were so few voters to battle for. The Washington Post reported that voter turnout has been strong, especially in Northern Virginia, and described scenes of partisan passion at polling places throughout the state.
But at the Rosslyn Fire Station at noon, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Voters in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama headed to the polls Tuesday for off-year elections, but the results may offer a glimpse of 2016.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie is expected to win reelection handily, according to a Monmouth University poll released Monday. He holds 57 percent edge over Democratic nominee state Sen. Barbara Buono’s 37 percent. A big win would put the governor in good stead for a possible 2016 Republican presidential bid.
Virginia Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe inundated that state with television ads and high-profile campaign guests, including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, during the last week.
McAuliffe is favored and a victory would “snap a decades-old streak, in which the party of the president has lost the Virginia governorship in every contest since 1977,” the Los Angeles Times reported Monday. Tea party favorite and social conservative Republican, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, holds 40 percent of the vote, according to a Quinnipiac poll, while McAliffe stands at 46 percent.
But the tea party may have more success in a special election in Alabama for a vacant U.S. House seat, where conservative Dean Young challenges Bradley Byrne, a GOP establishment candidate, in a Republican primary.. Polls suggest the race is too close to call.
New York City will pick a new mayor. Liberal Democrat Bill DeBlasio is expected to win by a landslide.
Out west, Colorado voters will consider a 25 percent tax on legal marijuana sales in the state, which would fund “enforcement efforts intended to forestall federal intervention,” Bloomberg reported Tuesday. Coloradoans will also consider a secession question, since 11 counties want to break away after tough gun-control laws passed the state legislature.
Former Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, was sworn into the U.S. Senate Thursday. Booker was accompanied by his mother and Vice-President Joe Biden, who officiated the ceremony.
Cory Booker hugs his mother, Carolyn, as he enters the Old Senate Gallery.
L-R: Cory Booker, Carolyn Booker and Joe Biden pose for a photo before Cory took the ceremonial oath of office.
Biden shares a moment with Cary Booker, Cory’s older brother. Biden and Cary bonded over both being older siblings.
Booker’s family and Biden look up at the official Senate photographer.
Booker won a special election after the death of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg on Oct. 16. Booker defeated Republican Sen. Jeff Cheisa, who was appointed right after Lautenberg’s death in June.
Booker is the first African-American senator from New Jersey and the first black senator elected since Barack Obama in 2004.
Weighing in on the drone debate, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said that collateral damage is an inevitable consequence of war and he doesn’t believe that commanders should be penalized when civilians are killed by “targeted strikes” in Pakistan and Yemen.
“It’s still a war,” he said at a talk on U.S. drone policy organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One of the best ways to fight that war is getting them before they get us, and that involves military action in some way or another.”
The drone campaign in Pakistan has been under fire following an Amnesty International report released Monday, which said that drone strikes could be termed as war crimes because of the large amount of civilian casualties.
The report cited the Pakistani government’s estimate of casualties from 2004-2013 as 2,200, out of which the number of civilians ranged from 400 to 600. The report criticized drone attacks as killing children as young as six years old and women as old as 68.
Rep. Smith said he hoped that civilian casualties are minimized, but he said drones are an effective means of targeting terrorist strongholds in pockets of North Waziristan in Pakistan.
He added that greater transparency and oversight of the operations is imperative to the success of the campaign.
“We need to explain why,” Smith said. “We have to reveal enough to say this is why we hit this person, it was clearly in self defense.”
Smith said communicating U.S. intentions on a regularbasis and building partnerships with local authorities are key to winning the ideological war.
- Tanvi Misra
“This is the moment to get the job done,” President Barack Obama said of comprehensive immigration reform, the long debated issue that may become part of the 44th president’s legacy.
On the tails of a government shutdown and the first threat of debt default in more than two centuries, Obama called for urgent bipartisan agreement on immigration reform that he called “good for the economy, good for national security and good for the people.”
Obama referenced economists’ conclusion that if the Senate-passed bill went into law, it would eventually reduce the country’s deficits by $1 trillion.
“It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” Obama said of the economic and business benefits of such a law.
U.S. businesses founded by immigrants employed approximately 560,000 workers and generated $63 billion in sales during 2012, according to an October 2012 Kauffman Foundation study. Furthermore, 44 percent of high-tech Silicon Valley businesses had at least one immigrant founder.
Comprehensive immigration reform, Obama said, would strengthen U.S. borders, create a level playing field for employers of immigrants and create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants— one requiring that they learn English and pay taxes.
A reform bill passed the Senate with bipartisan backing and Democratic House leaders have introduced a similar bill. Obama called on House Republicans – the majority in the House – to “make this a reality.”
Some House GOP members, including Speaker John Boehner, have agreed that Congress needs to act, Obama said.
“If House Republicans have new and different ideas about how to move forward, let’s hear them,” Obama said.
Obama closed Thursday by imploring supporters of immigration reform to continue pushing for action.
“Keep putting pressure on all of us to get this done,” he said.
Katie Peralta, Medill News Service
President Obama’s speech at the Rose Garden was filled with frustration as he commented on the tech issues facing the Affordable Care Act’s website.
The President defended the marketplace, saying that the exchange has made the process of buying insurance, “a whole lot easier”. But, during a roughly 20 minute speech, he acknowledged the website’s dysfunction, assuring that his administration is doing everything it can for a quick fix.
"No one is more frustrated by this than I am," he said. "Everyone who wants insurance through the marketplace will get insurance," he continued. The President pointed out that some of the best IT giants are working on the job.
In the mean time…
Obama encouraged use of call centers, “We are redoubling our efforts for people to get insurance the old-fashioned way.” He highlighted that the average wait is less than one minute.
Bottom line? “The product is good, the prices are good, it is a good deal,” he confirmed. “People don’t just want it; they are showing up to buy it.”
“We fought the good fight, we just didn’t win,” Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, tells WLW radio in Cincinnati. He said in the interview that he will back the senate deal to reopen government.