How to Detect Fake News
Randy Bechtel
How to Detect Fake News

"The London Times reported that the hereditary king of Hawaii moved to Altoona, Iowa for tax purposes." So began an article on Facebook by Hush Magazine’s Sid Hudgens, who interviewed the Hawaiian monarch and was told the King may move again to Russia depending on the outcome of the 2020 election. Wrote Hudgens: "The King said, “Is good place, Russia. No new taxes.”

“Could this be fake news?” asked my granddaughter, Margo. A seventh-grader assigned to find an interesting news story for homework,.Margo had been cautioned by her teacher to avoid fake news. Should this story prove to be fake, she had two possible substitutes, she said.

Convinced it was fake, I nevertheless answered “Possibly it is,” in order to school Margo in critical thinking. “What we need to know,” I told her, “is whether 1) there is such a thing as a hereditary king of Hawaii, and 2) if so, why would he—or anyone for that matter—move from Paradise to Altoona, Iowa—let alone to the frozen tundra of Russia—just to lower his taxes?”

With that, we googled “heredity king of Hawaii.”

My mind boggled at a 2009 article by Honolulu Magazine that declared:

More than 10 factions currently claim to be the legitimate government of the Hawaiian kingdom. Some toil alone in legal abstractions, others stage news-grabbing demonstrations at Iolani Palace.

With so many kings to choose from, what next? Margo wondered.

I suggested we google “king of Hawaii in Altoona, Iowa.”

Incredibly, this led to an article by Hildegard Johnson of The Morning Post headlined: “Evangelical Christian Gun Show Attracts Celebrities and Royalty.”

We read:

Not since Mark Zuckerberg toured the new Facebook Altoona Data Center has Altoona been in the crosshairs of more celebrities thanks to the opening Friday of the annual Onward Christian Soldiers Gun Show. Chuck Norris, Grover Norquist, Hawaiian King Ed Akahi, and NRA President Oliver North were among the big names attending the event that benefits Protestant Christian charities.

“Was Ed Ahahi on Honolulu Magazine’s list?” I asked Margo.

She clicked back to the magazine article and scrolled.

“There’s a King James Ahihi, direct descendent of Queen Kamalamalama!” she said. “Look—here's his picture in uniform. He looks really old.”

“This was 2009?” 

“Uh-huh! So James probably died and Ed must be his son.”

“Could be. Go back to the Altoona article and see what it says about Ed.”

The Altoona article yielded only the following:

Hawaii’s hereditary king praised the range, stopping power and other virtues of the Colt AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. Accompanied by an entourage of 20, King Ed  Ahihi said: “The AR-15 is the godsend that will see my people through the darkest days of the Tribulation.”

“Wow!” I said.

“What’s that mean?”

“Just . . . Wow! . . . Do a search for ‘King Ed Ahihi.’”

Margo found this snippet by syndicated gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker:

“The Late Show Starring Stephen Colbert” has canceled an appearance by the King of Hawaii after it was reported the monarch made sexist remarks at a Las Vegas bachelor party. In a statement released by the show’s producers, Mr. Colbert observed: “What does it matter, as King Ed Akahi claims, that American women spend billions every five minutes on makeup, hairstyling, hair conditioners, manicures, pedicures, skin care, defoliating, diet products, cosmetic surgery, jewelry, stiletto heels, lingerie, spandex pants, skimpy skirts, tight and low-cut dresses, etc. The fact is no woman wants to be seen as anything but who she is inside.”

“How insensitive!” Margo said.


“King Ed—who else?”  Her eyes popped. “Oh my God! Look!”

Trending on Yahoo was a story by Ed Hutcheson of The Day with the headline: “King of Hawaii Denies Calling All Mexicans ‘Dicks’.”

Dumbfounded, we read silently:

“Ed Akahi, hereditary King of Hawaii, denied Thursday a report in the San Francisco Free Press that he called all Mexicans “dicks” during a ceremony in Bisbee, Az to lay the first brick for the border wall with Mexico.

According to reporter Fiona Philpot, the King muttered the remark during the ceremony’s keynote address delivered by Fox News personality Sean Hannity. “All Mexicans are dicks,” Philpot reported the King saying when he saw an Hispanic-looking woman holding an infant in the crowd.

Other reporters in the vicinity of the King said they did not hear the King use the word “dicks.”  However, they did agree that at one point the King stated: “All Mexicans are wieners.”

King Akahi dismissed both versions as false and politically motivated. “Philpot is full of it,” he said. “As for this ‘wiener’ business, I know that Wiener is German for Viennese, referring to the capitol of Austria. Why would I suggest that all Mexicans are residents of Vienna?”

The King conceded he may have voiced the “tired old cliché” that “all Mexicans are ‘beaners.’”  However, this is “no more extraordinary than calling all Muslims ‘ragheads,’ or all Hawaiians ‘pineapples'—all Hawaiians except myself, of course.’”

Margo gasped: “Oh . . . my . . . God! That is so goes beyond insensitive!”

“Mmm , beyond a lot of things,” I said. “Maybe we should look at your second news story.”

Margo clicked a Facebook link on Favorites that led to the headline “Likely New Attorney General Declares Trump Rules by Divine Right.” The story was by P.J. McNeal of the Chicago Times

“Why did you pick this?” I asked Margo.

“It seemed interesting that Donald Trump is gay.”


“Divine rights.”

“Margo, there’s a big difference between divine right and gay rights. Divine right means empowerment by God.  Did you even read the story?”

“Uh, well . . .  Donald being gay seemed like it might be fake.”

I read aloud:

Larry Limey, the predicted nominee to succeed U.S. Attorney General William Barr, told a gathering of the Daughters of the Confederacy in Savannah, Ga. that he believes President Trump rules by “divine right” . . .

“Something the matter?” Margo asked after I paused.

“Not black lives, probably, for Larry Limey.”

Actually, I had paused with the thought that this story, rather than being fake, was the new real—news that makes a 68-year-old like me glad he won’t be alive much longer.

I continued reading:

“With each breath that liberals take to bad mouth religion in government, they are betraying their sworn allegiance to one nation under God,” Limey said. “Only through God’s guidance so evident in Donald Trump’s presidency is America becoming great again.”

Limey’s comments sparked criticism not only  from Democrats, but Constitutional law and American history scholars.

“As a conservative, Mr. Limey wants to conserve a time when Americans were governed by King George III,” said Letitia Shamu, associate professor of American history at the University of California, Berkeley. “Even then, the divine right of kings had been tempered by Parliament. Mr. Limey would endow Donald Trump with the powers of English kings before the Magna Carta . . .”

“This story sounds plausibly real,” I said.

“But boring,” Margo said.

“Yes, well, teachers like it when you think things are interesting that are boring. Anyway, we’ll probably know about the legitimacy of this story if Larry Limey proves to be real. Why don’t you google Limey while I look over our printouts of all the stories. There’s one detail I want to check.“

Later, Margo said, “All I can find is this: “Demonstrators Protest College Football Star Receiving Probation for Sexual Assault.”  

“Who’s it by?”

“Huntley Haverstock of The Globe.”

“Read it.”

She read aloud:

“About 50 demonstrators picketed Hennepin County District Court Friday one day after a college student and the star quarterback at Capella University received probation for pleading guilty to sexually assaulting five coeds.

The assaults were committed by Bobby Lee Straight on May 21 at the university’s annual senior ball in the ballroom of the campus’ Yogi Yorgesson Memorial Center. The victims complained that Straight touched their feet without consent while waltzing and foxtrotting.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Larry Limey to grant probation was denounced by the victims. “Judge Larry Limey has been a misogynist since he lost a reality TV deal to Judge Judy!” charged journalism student Fiona Philpot.

“Philpot again! No!  No!  No!” I said.

“Grandpa, don’t be insensitive!”

“Margo, Fiona Philpot doesn’t exist.  It’s all fake!”

“How do you know?”

“Capella University is an online university. It doesn’t have senior balls. It doesn’t have a football team. It doesn’t even have a campus.”

“But Grandpa, what about the other Larry Limey story?”

“Unfortunately, every article we’ve read is fake except for the one in  Honolulu Magazine.”


“It occurred to me that all the names of the reporters and their publications were taken from movies. Danny DeVito played Sid Hudgens of Hush Magazine in  ‘L.A. Confidential,’ Rosalind Russell played Hildegard Johnson of The Morning Post in ‘His Girl Friday,’ Bert Lancaster played gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker in the ‘Sweet Smell of Success,’ Humphrey Bogart played Ed Hutcheson of The Day in ‘Deadline U.S.A,’ Jimmy Stewart played P.J. McNeal of the Chicago Times in ‘Call Northside 777,’ Joel McCrea played Huntley Haverstock of The Globe in “Foreign Correspondent.”

Margo looked amazed. “Mom said you knew a lot about movies, but she didn’t think that would ever be useful.”

“Thank you, I guess.”

Margo frowned. “Why would anybody make this stuff up?”

”Oh, usually it is to make one group of people hate another group by stereotyping them. Why all the hate? Experts give many reasons for the thinking behind hate, but my guess is it has nothing to do with thinking. I once read about a study where  microbes swam freely in a Petri dish when they had plenty of room. Once they became overcrowded, they formed groups that would attack other microbes not in the group.”

Margo’s expression brightened. “Germs are microbes, aren’t they?  Yeah, because that’s what Dr. Oz called her—a microbiologist!”


“This woman on ‘The Dr. Oz Show.’ She couldn’t be a fake microbiologist, could she?”

“Pretty sure Dr. Oz screens his guests. Not to mention, who would claim to be a microbiologist who wasn’t?”

“That’s my third story, Grandpa! I recorded the show!”

“Show about what?”

“This microbiologist listed the eight filthiest places in a movie theater. Did you know that a seat’s cup holder has three times the germs of a toilet bowl?”

“That’s news to me, Margo!”


Copyright © 2019 by Randy Bechtel

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