If you’re anything like the many New Yorkers who pick up the New York Post on Sunday mornings, you might have noticed a pretty fun story in those first few pages: in the event we’re ever contacted by aliens — as opposed to “met with DESTRUCTION TERROR AND MAYHEM by Aliens” — the United Nations has an ambassador to greet them on behalf of your fellow earthlings! Neat! We all now have a favorite U.N. ambassador. Except…not.
The story by Post writer Todd Venezia — UN Names Official Space ‘Host’ — had a cute little graphic of Marvin the Martian on it, and great copy like this:
E.T. — phone the U.N.! If an alien ever lands in your back yard and says, “Take me to your leader,” the United Nations is giving you someone to call. Mazlan Othman, an obscure Malaysian scientist, will be named as the Earth’s official alien-spacecraft greeter. She’s expected to announce her new role at a conference next week. While Hollywood and most Americans assume the president of the United States would speak to aliens on behalf of earthlings, the United Nations thinks real extraterrestrials should get a more globalized response.
Cue the Mazlan Othman Fan Club signup sheet! How excited were some of us at the wacky cool fun nature of the United Nations! Interstellar politics: far out. But hold the (already ran) presses: it’s not true. At all. Joe Carter at First Things reports with a blog post entitled “No, There’s Not an “Alien Ambassador” at the UN” citing an article in the UK Guardian, UN plan for ‘alien ambassador’ a case of science fiction? As it turns out, the New York Post story originated in the (also Rupert Murdoch-owned) Sunday Times, and it was completely wrong:
Finally an email from Othman herself would have prompted our Martian to trudge back to his spaceship. “It sounds really cool but I have to deny it,” she said of the story. She will be attending a conference next week, but she’ll be talking about how the world deals with “near-Earth objects”.
The Guardian — practically the only London press not owned by Rupert Murdoch — even threw in a diss at the end (“Our alien will just have to try someone else, or stop reading the Sunday Times.”), and for what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time Sunday Times Science editor Jonathan Leake has had to retract a huge (and hugely wrong) science story.
So, what’d we learn today?
1. The New York Post cribs stories from other Murdoch papers to disseminate them,
2. And they clearly don’t bother with the fact-checking when they do, just like
3. The other Murdoch paper that the story originated from, who didn’t fact check. Oh, and also,
4. The U.N. has no alien ambassador, and, the big one:
5. Reading anything resembling the truth in Murdoch-owned publications is sometimes like a Close Encounter of the Third Kind.
The Murdoch empire’s response, of course, is not alien to anyone. Attached to the top of the Guardian piece is the note “This article is the subject of a legal complaint made by Jonathan Leake, science editor of The Sunday Times,” who’s clearly taking the, “if you can’t beat ’em, sue ’em” approach to the truth, which is apparently being abducted by certain presses, now.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 29, 2010