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Bill Gates assassinated again

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Bill Gates just won’t stop getting assassinated. I just got word of this story from the BBC:

    There’s nothing like the internet for making people look foolish.

    The latest outbreak of red faces is in Seoul, where Korean journalists and investors have been caught out by one of the oldest online hoaxes around.

    On a slack Friday afternoon’s trading, the Korean stock market dropped by 1.5% – a value loss of more than $3bn – after local TV reported that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates had been assassinated.

    Mr Gates, who personifies many of the hopes of the global technology industry, was reportedly shot by a lone gunman at a charity event in Los Angeles – “facts” eagerly retailed by three Korean channels, MBC, YTN and SBS.

    In fact, the story was a hoax, lifted from a – admittedly, highly accurate – spoof of the CNN website.

    Wishful thinking?

    The hoax CNN story, concocted by online gaming website CG-Rom, may have been convincing, but it is also part of one of the internet’s best-known japes.

    Indeed, there is a wealth of spoof material around concerning Mr Gates’ demise.

    For many computer geeks, the idea of the boss of hated Microsoft coming a cropper is irresistible.

    On one “tribute” site, he appears to have been shot on 2 December, 1999, an event marked by remembrance message boards, conspiracy theorists’ forums and even a movie.

    The story still retains its power to convince, however – and not just in Korea.

    Chinese media fell for it a week ago, after the story was picked up by English-language paper China Daily.

Not to brag, but I made the movie that started this whole thing, which has taken on a life of its own. Never was it the intention of myself or the creators of the complex web universe, GMD Studios, to trick anybody. I mean, we dated the assassination in THE PAST (Dec. 2, 1999), and included tons of details that are easily disproved.

Our intention was to create an alternate universe, both in the film and on the web, in which history had taken a fork: an African-American assassin killed the richest man in the world to start a class war–or did he?

Did I know the provocative concept would be press bait? Well, sure. (You call it self-promotion, I call it breathing.) The concept was intended to throw down a gauntlet–how could one possibly make a film in the the documentary style about an event every single person in the audience knows didn’t happen? So with both the film and the web universe–which includes, among its dozen or more sites, the official site (where my diary pretends that I’m making a real documentary), a research-heavy site for the grass-roots group Citizens for Truth, the official report on the assassination, and, of course, a Gates Memorial Web Ring–we tried to make things look so real the audience would constantly have to remind themselves, Wait, this never happened.

At first we made our site for the L.A. District Attorney’s report so realistic that Brian Clark at GMD got a threatening call from the D.A.’s cyber crimes unit demanding that we take it down. We complied, and put the report up in a different form. Some of our “news” stories provoked certain objections and were taken down, while some have yet to be discovered, I guess.

I got a quick lesson in just how low the standards are in some sectors of the press when I contacted Matt Drudge, proprietor of the Drudge Report. Soon before the movie was to premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in January 2002, I emailed Drudge a press release and told him he could have the exclusive on it right away, but the New York Post was going to run a story in print the next day (which was true). I expected that a) Drudge would ignore it, or b) I’d get a call asking for verification of the info and for more details if Drudge did want to run the story. Instead, I got c) Within minutes of my sending the email, Drudge put the press release on his site verbatim, without checking a thing, adding only a sensational opening sentence.

The next day, January 1, 2002, things got more surreal when the Seattle Times put the story on the front page, with the headline, “Gates Shot! But Don’t Worry, It’s Only a Movie.” Two days later, Fox News bully Neil Cavuto played right into our hands and interrogated lead actress Laurie Pike on his show (count the number of times he cuts Laurie off after a handful of words). The press just flooded in after that, to our great joy.

But never did we expect that any reporter at any news organization would ever report the Gates assassination as a real event. How does someone read a news story about the Gates killing that says it happened on December 2, 1999, and report that as an event that just happened? And how does the South Korean stock market drop by $3 billion (!) based on information that is so easy to disprove? News stories are calling the Gates assassination a “hoax,” but if you examine the record, there is never anything put out by us (or anyone else, to my knowledge) that tries to pass the killing off as something that just happened. “December 2, 1999” is high up in every fake “news” story. What did these reporters do, look at that date and say, “Hmm…they must have gotten that date wrong–I’ll change it to…today!”

At every Q&A I do at festivals, someone always asks, “Aren’t you worried that someone will think this film is real?” It’s never–“I think this film is real.” No, it’s always–someone else might be that dumb. I guess that question isn’t too out of line–someone else really is that dumb.

Nothing So Strange is playing this Fri and Sat at the Independent Film Festival of Boston. If you go, please remember–it didn’t really happen.

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About Brian Flemming