There’s a sucker born every minute, says the old phrase of much debated origin, and a whole lot of them inhabit the media these days. Some days the naivety is almost unbearable. Case in point:
“A video claiming to show a bear chasing a snowboarder in Japan’s Hakuba 47 resort has gone viral,” reports The Guardian, a usually respectable publication. “The snowboarder claims to have been unaware of the danger, because she was listening to a Rihanna song. However, many viewers have labelled it a fake.”
There used to be a time when news organizations considered it their job to sort out the fakes, not leave it to readers to guess. And the video is clearly a fake. How does one know that?
Because it’s obvious. The bear chasing the snowboarder is a block-headed brown/grizzly bear. Hakuba is in Nagano on Japan’s main island. The only brown bears in Japan are on Hokkaida, a separate island far to the north.
If a brown bears somehow made it onto the main island of Japan, one of the most populated pieces of real estate in the world, it would be big news. No, that’s an understatement. It would be Godzilla Invades Tokyo size news.
It doesn’t take Snopes.com chasing down “what appears to be a computer-generated animal,” or its observation that “the audio is unrealistic” to sort this one out. What you have here is far simpler to debunk.
This is the video equivalent of a pod of killer whales in Lake Superior or a polar bear in Los Angeles. Those things don’t happen because the animals in question don’t live in those habitats. End of story.
But does any of that slow today’s reportage? Only a little.
“She bear-ly escaped! The incredible moment an unsuspecting snowboarder appears to be chased by a giant bear,” proclaimed The Daily Mail, a somewhat less respectable British publication.
But the Brits weren’t the only ones to saddle up this bear and get taken for a ride. Plenty of U.S. media were in on the chase albeit with some at least trying to act a little subdued.
“That bear chasing a snowboarder in Japan seems an awful lot like a Jimmy Kimmel prank,” cautioned SBNation.com, which warned that not everything on the internet is real. No kidding? The author of the story, unfortunately, didn’t know a long Asiatic black bear (which can be found on the main island) with its long snout and oversize ears from a brown bear, and thus missed the biggest problem with the video.
But at least he was skeptical, which was better than reporter Evan Jankens at CBS Detroit who went all in:
“One snowboarder can give you a prime example why winter sports are dangerous.
“Karsch and Anderson want to know if you think this video is real. I think it is: To do that type of work on a video to insert a bear like that seems to be pretty involved for a random YouTube user.”
Alrighty then. There’s some serious fact checking.
A lot of other news organization joined CBS Detroit in picking up on that theme of the photographer “unaware that a bear was chasing her down the hill,” as the Huffington Post put it.
But wait, haven’t we here in Alaska heard that story before? Wasn’t Alaska home to the first bear magically appearing behind someone in a photograph? Wasn’t there another internet sensation like this only a little over a year ago?
“After exploring glacier caves, hiker looks at his photos & realizes he wasn’t alone.”
Ah yes, you can still go to KTUU and read about that hoax treated as if it were real:
“He set his camera down and snapped a picture. The flash was blinding.
“‘My puppy darted out,’ (Mike) Glidden said.
“It wasn’t until he got home and began posting pictures online that Glidden noticed an unusual shape, hidden in the shadows, had been there in the cave with him all long.
“The photo was cloudy but the claws gave the animal away.
“Glidden said he never would have entered the cave had he known a bear was hibernating inside. Still, he said, ‘It was a great honor to be that close.'”
The only problem, there was no bear in the cave. I went and looked just after the KTUU story appeared. Glidden was invited along, said he’d go, and then mysteriously failed to show. The ice cave in question is near Portage Glacier. It is the most visited ice cave in the state. There has never been a report of a bear or bear sign inside it. There has never been a documented case of a bear hibernating in an glacial ice cave anywhere in the world.
But somebody was willing to buy Glidden’s story. He has a nice photo up on his Facebook page now of what appears to be a bald eagle coming in for a landing on his shoulder in Powerline Pass above Anchorage.
It’s one of the more amazing eagle images I’ve seen. Somebody should do a story on how many hours Glidden must have spent out there to get a photo like that. Now, that’s worth a story.