The e-mail hit my in-box early in the morning.
I was on deadline and when I read the first line about Enbridge teaming up with hair salons for something or other, I immediately prioritized the press release to the bottom of the pile. “Enbridge trying to clean up its image with some sort of charity program, should be a paid ad,” I thought.
About half an hour later another e-mail rattled in. Someone from Greenpeace was condemning Enbridge’s actions with the hair salons. Not a surprise. In this business you learn very quickly that reactions are swift and predictable. If Enbridge sneezes, industry groups support it and environmental groups condemn it. If there is talk about raising the minimum wage in B.C., business groups oppose and labour groups support it. I’ve seen so many reactionary press releases, I don’t pay much attention to them anymore.
A little while later, I received a call from a Dina Thompson, asking if I had received the press release from Enbridge. Not a surprise. There are whole host of people who send out press releases and then call every media outlet they’ve just sent it to to see if we’ve received it. Now you know why I’m often a cranky editor.
I told her I had received it and I was on deadline. Dina didn’t quite get the message that I was on deadline and prattled on about how she worked for Enbridge and this was a good campaign and how the company was really trying to clean up its image.
Still cranky, still on deadline, I listened for a couple of minutes and said I’d look at it later, thinking to myself that I probably wouldn’t. It’s not my job to clean up Enbridge’s image.
About a half-hour later another e-mail came in from Enbridge … this one decrying the hoax e-mail that was circulating about Enbridge teaming up with hair salons to gather human hair to help plug oil spills … a la the BP oil spill of last summer.
Yup, the first one, including the call from Dina Thompson was a hoax. It was very well done. The e-mail had an Enbridge logo on it and the return e-mail address had an ‘enbridge’ location.
But it was a hoax and several major news outlets were taken in by it. The Province, The Calgary Herald, The Edmonton Journal, Regina Leader Post, The Montreal Gazette, The Ottawa Citizen, The Windsor Star, The Victoria Times-Colonist & The Nanaimo Daily News (among others), according to the hoaxsters, all ran the story without checking its veracity with anyone.
The kicker, if anyone in the media had taken the time to click the link in the original e-mail, it would take you to a website that explains the hoax.
The hoax was created by a group called PERM, People Enbridge Ruined In Michigan, a group formed to fight against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline through northern B.C. No indication who they actually are, though.
I tried to phone Dina Thompson back, as she did leave a phone number and it’s on the original e-mail, but she didn’t answer. It is an actual phone number and there is a message saying “you’ve reached Dina Thompson.” I don’t know if she was part of the hoax or was punked along with everyone else. So, for me, being on deadline and being cranky, definitely helped.
It’s shameful that the hoax got past so many in this business. It was a sad day for journalism.
Bill Phillips is the editor of the Prince George Free Press and regional editor for Black Press North.