Hoaxster dupes ski-town papers p.12

By: David Noack Aspen, Glenwood newspapers get taken for a wild ride

Two Colorado newspapers fell victim to a hoaxster who put out a press release claiming that a sexual harassment lawsuit was about to be filed against the owners of two local radio stations.
Federal investigators are trying to determine who sent the phony press release that was turned into stories that ran in The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Independent, both publish five days a week.
The bogus release was faxed late in the afternoon on Dec. 22 to the offices of the Times. The release, which supposedly came from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) an-nounced the pending legal action.
On Dec. 23, a story ran reporting that the EEOC was preparing to file a sexual harassment claim against Colorado West Broadcasting, Inc., which owns KMTS and KGLN in Glenwood Springs, a group of shareholders and an employee.
A follow-up story explaining the bogus press release ran in the Times on Dec. 25 and in the Glenwood Independent on Dec. 28.
Aspen Times editor in chief Andy Stone said that if the reporters working on the story had contacted everyone ? mainly the EEOC ? the story would not have run.
"They made a number of calls," he says. "They talked to people at the radio station involved, but one way or another, I'm not sure if it was just a timing issue or they were just being lazy. They did not get through to anybody at the EEOC. They missed that call. It was a stupid call to miss and we wound up looking like idiots."
The paper does not have a hard-and-fast policy regarding verifying press releases, he adds.
"There are a lot of press releases that are self-evident on their face that they what they are and they are relatively trivial," he notes. "This is clearly one that should have been checked out better than it was."
In addition to naming the owners of the radio stations, the press release hoax also accused an employee of the station with making "sexually suggestive remarks" to a female employee and "as well as on at least two occasions touched the female employee in an inappropriate manner."
After the story appeared in the Times and its sister paper, the Glenwood Independent, the EEOC issued an official statement, denying that they were the source of the press release.
Mike Hagan, managing editor of the Times, says that when the press release came into the Aspen office, it was faxed to the paper in Glenwood, which is where the radio stations are located.
"We got a call the first thing in the morning [Thursday] letting us know that [the EEOC] had not filed any sort of sexual harassment suit and this thing must be false," says Hagan.
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