WBAL fires reporter after fake video goes viral

The Baltimore Sun

WBAL-TV fired a producer-reporter yesterday for altering a video in such a way as to put false and potentially inflammatory words into the mouth of Fox News anchor John Gibson.

The video that was doctored by John Sanders, who covered technology issues and produced promotional videos for Baltimore's NBC affiliate, became a viral sensation last week after the Huffington Post presented it as authentic.

Driving the video's popularity is the nature of the words that Sanders inserted and their potential racial and political implications. Sanders took the voice track of another Fox anchor who had been talking on-air about a runaway monkey and using the words "bright blue scrotum" to describe a distinguishing characteristic of the animal, and edited them into a video of Gibson talking about Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the first African-American to hold the Cabinet post. Sanders said he thought the edited video "would sound funny."

Beyond the end of Sanders' career at WBAL, the video highlights the lack of verification at popular news Web sites such as the Huffington Post. Like many news aggregate sites, the Post does not employ traditional news reporters but relies mainly on contributions from readers, celebrities and columnists. Sanders' dismissal could also be seen as a cautionary tale for those who think that they can post something on the Internet as a prank for the enjoyment of their friends and that it will go no further.

According to a statement issued by Wanda Draper, director of public affairs for WBAL, Sanders altered the tape and posted it on YouTube "without the prior knowledge or consent" of the Hearst-Argyle-owned NBC affiliate.

"Further, this video does not represent the views of WBAL-TV or Hearst-Argyle Television," the statement said.

Sanders said he made the tape after he heard other anchors on Fox News repeating the phrase "bright blue scrotum" while they reported the monkey story.

"I just kept hearing the phrase 'bright blue scrotum,' and I thought it was hilarious," he said in an interview last week on The B-Cast webcast on Breitbart.tv. "And so I just recorded it."

And then he dubbed the words into Gibson's mouth and put the doctored tape on YouTube, where the Huffington Post picked it up and presented it as authentic.

Here is what Gibson actually said, referring to a topic that was to be discussed on his show: "I'm talking about Eric Holder and his comment that this is a nation of cowards." (The remark by Holder was made in reference to his belief that Americans are afraid to discuss race openly.)

Here is what Sanders has Gibson saying on the doctored tape: "I'm talking about Eric Holder and his bright blue scrotum."

Huffington has since run a retraction and an apology, but Gibson is still angry.

"This was done for the purpose of getting me fired," the Fox anchorman said on his radio show Monday. "This was done for the purpose of getting me banned from the air forever. ... If I was talking about the first African-American attorney general of the country ... and I made him into some kind of animal with a very distinctive physical feature ... I would absolutely be fired."

Gibson said Sanders, who also appeared occasionally on Maryland Public Television in recent months as a technology expert, used his computer at WBAL to make the fake video. A WBAL source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that station equipment had been used to make the video.

Sanders said he put an "annotation" at the end of the phony video, explaining that Gibson did not actually use the phrase, "the minute it was up" on YouTube.

But no such disclaimer appeared on the video on the Huffington Post - the one that went viral last week

In the haphazard world of catch-as-catch-can Internet standards, the authenticity of the tape came into question only when a media analyst who specializes in searching out evidence of bias involving Fox News - Johnny Dollar of the Web site Johnny Dollar's Place - called it into question.

Sanders, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, said in the B-Cast interview that he just made the video as a prank.

But the episode has taken on a political tone, with Gibson alleging that he was targeted because he works for Fox and has voiced conservative views.

Sanders "says he thought it was fun," Gibson said. "But I don't believe him. I believe he was going after me."

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