According to a report in the Battle Creek Enquirer, the Branch County, Mich., sheriff's department released a four-paragraph official dispatch on Tuesday, Sept. 24, to inform people about telemarketing scams. The press release contained information acquired from the national satire publication, The Onion.
"In the course of this investigation, it was learned that this is going on throughout the United States and some of these telemarketing programs are believed to be operated by al-Qaida," the report reads. "The CIA has announced that they acquired a videotape showing al-Qaida members making phone solicitations for vacation home rentals, long distance telephone service, magazine subscriptions and other products."
The Sept. 18 edition of The Onion contained an article headlined "Report: al-Qaida Allegedly Engaged in Telemarketing." The article contained the same information detailed in the department's news release.
Additionally, at least one Michigan radio station broadcast this information as factual.
Detective Dan Nichols, who wrote the release, revealed that he collected some information from The Onion, but that he did not know the article was satire.
"We wanted people to be aware of telemarketing scams, and I used the information just in case there is a remote possibility," Nichols said. "We have no indication that al-Qaida is involved, but we wanted people to know there are telemarketing scams."
Nichols believes he found the online satire publication because of a link from the Michigan Attorney General's office. A spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General's office said there is no such link.
Link or no link, police officers should know to question information from the Internet. As students, we are told not to rely on Internet sources exclusively because they can be so unreliable. Here is a fine example of what can happen.