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L.A. Times falls for Internet hoax, then sets the record straight

May 10, 2012 | 12:55 pm

On May 1, The Times and a number of other media organizations followed the outrageous story reported in a British newspaper of a vengeful dentist in Poland who pulled out all of her ex-boyfriend’s teeth.

The Times’ article on the Tech Now blog focused on the huge response the story had received online:

Versions of the story have been tweeted and shared again and again on Facebook and via Google. A version of the story posted on Yahoo News already has 15,000 comments and counting.

But the article went on to repeat details of the story in the original Daily Mail article -- which has since been removed from its website -- including quotes from the reputed victim, such as, “I didn’t have any reason to doubt her; I mean I thought she was a professional.”

Unfortunately, reported Wednesday, the story was a hoax.

MSNBC did some digging into the story and found:

  • Police in Wroclaw, Poland, had no record of such an incident.
  • Poland’s Chamber of Physicians and Dentists also had no record of any such incident, nor of the dentist named in the article.
  • The Daily Mail could not recall where the story came from.
  • And the American Dental Assn. said the such a case was highly improbable.

After Craig Silverman of Regret the Error pointed out MSNBC’s findings on the Poynter Institute’s website, The Times corrected its May 1 article.

Times reporter Rene Lynch also wrote a follow-up post that was published Wednesday evening.

“No doubt, journalism watchdogs will rightfully point to the episode as a cautionary tale of what can happen when journalists like me are sitting at a keyboard, trying to keep up with fast-breaking news and a 24-hour news cycle that just doesn't quit,” Lynch wrote.

“Kudos to MSNBC for taking the time and making the effort to follow the story behind the story. No matter how fast the news is breaking, there's always time to find out the truth.” 

--Deirdre Edgar