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Is Jimmy Kimmel's fake "Worst Twerk Fail Ever" video the best media criticism ever?

Jimmy Kimmel with a stuntwoman revealing his video prank.


Jimmy Kimmel with a stuntwoman revealing his video prank.



Jimmy Kimmel may not know it, but he just committed a pretty cool act of modern media criticism.



By now, most cybersavvy folks realize ABC’s late night host was behind the viral video of a girl twerking against a door and falling into a tableful of candles, getting set on fire.

The whole action looked like a scene tailor-made for Tosh.0, which is why I didn’t pay much attention to it, despite seeing the video highlighted everywhere from BuzzFeed and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to The View and MSNBC’s Way Too Early.

But, funny as it was to see Sherri Shepherd insisting the girl looked like she was genuinely surprised to catch on fire – it’s called acting, my dear – what Kimmel really exposed is how much pseudo-news shows rely on random video clips of dubious origin to fill out their newscasts.

NBC’s Today show along with CNN, HLN, and several local TV stations also aired the clip, despite having little or no verified information about who posted it, who was in it or why it was released. Admonitions that the video “might” be fake don’t really help; any TV expert can tell you that images count for much more than words on television.

And that’s the point. News shows are desperate for compelling images that capture subjects people are talking about in the moment. And, especially in local television, there are far too few  editorial staffers struggling to crank out too many hours of newscasts; in that environment, who has time to do detective work on a YouTube video which has already been viewed 10 million times?

So viral videos making a buzz online are irresistible, despite the fact that news organizations have no idea where they come from or if they are genuine when they air them.

It’s a curious situation. If someone walked in off the street and handed a videotape to a producer at the Today show or The View and walked away, they would never air the footage without knowing more about who delivered it.

But TV outlets essentially do the same thing every time they broadcast a YouTube video they haven’t researched, except they haven’t even seen the person handing them the video.

In the aftermath of Kimmel’s prank, some media outlets are going too far in a new direction, saying Kimmel fooled everyone who clicked through to rack up the 10 million pageviews his stunt created.

But I was pretty sure the video was fake from the moment I first saw it --  though Shepherd and Whoopi Goldberg, two cutting-edge purveyors of viral video, insisted it looked real on The View. And I still clicked on it, because it was an interesting clip.

Still, if TV news outlets want to preserve their credibility, Kimmel just gave them a great reason to pass up airing the next YouTube sensation everyone’s talking about.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 6:16am]


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