We live in an age in which “journalism” means scrolling down your Facebook feed for the latest epic fail videos, spamming mass shooting survivors on Twitter to get quotes, and making flat-out lies go viral. And all that is … quite tame compared to the shit old-timey journalists used to pull, actually. We tend to forget that even before the Web came along, the fourth estate regularly put up with the fucknut shenanigans of people like …
#6. William Seabrook Eats Human Flesh, Pretends African Cannibals Gave It To Him
It’s commonplace for online writers to subject themselves to untold agonies for our delight and, most importantly, those sweet, sweet clicks. (Hell, we have a whole team do that regularly.) That said, nothing could ever top what one 1930s journalist, William Seabrook, put himself through for sweet, sweet … uh, page-turns?
Anyway, our point is: He ate someone.
And not in the usual way journalists do to advance their careers.
Whilst travelling in West Africa, Seabrook stumbled upon stories of a tribe well-known for being cannibals. Clearly desperate for some exciting dinner party anecdotes, he ventured out with the aim of documenting their savage practices, as well as trying them out for himself. With his mouth. They immediately told him to piss off, serving him some gorilla meat as a consolation prize, which is the cannibal version of getting Pepsi when you specifically asked for Coca-Cola.
Undeterred, he traveled to France and bribed a hospital porter to provide him with a chunk of human flesh from the mortuary. We’d like to think that someone asked him why he didn’t do this in the first place and thereby bypass the risk of being turned into cannibal poop. They were probably avoiding him, though — he was one of the first people to write about zombies in America, and given his dietary habits, we’re guessing no one wanted to be around when he turned.
He always carried a light snack to the office in case a meeting ran long.
Nevertheless, he was true to his word. Writing about the experience, he described human flesh as “like good, fully developed veal” (if you didn’t read that sentence in Hannibal Lecter’s voice, then what are you even doing here?). He didn’t mention how he’d really gotten his meat, instead telling readers that the tribe had invited him to partake in their ritual. Which makes the coda to this all the stranger: He ate it at a dinner party amongst friends who had to have presumed that this wasn’t his first time. They probably stopped RSVP’ing to his invites after that.
#5. Florabel Muir Tried To Get A Criminal Confession Using Fake Ghosts, Racism
Florabel Muir was a trailblazer. She was the first woman journalist in multiple newspapers, and the first one to be allowed to cover an execution, after getting an Attorney General to rule that she was “a reporter, not female.” She was also, unfortunately, someone who once glimpsed into the future, watched an episode of Scooby-Doo, and thought “that shit is just crazy enough to work”.
In 1922, Hollywood was reeling from the mysterious murder of silent film magnate William Desmond Taylor. With no evidence and no witnesses, it was a complex case that would baffle investigators for decades. Or the butler did it. That was Muir’s version of events, and by god, she was going to prove it, no matter how many guys she had to rope in to help kidnap said butler. Seriously.
This was before that even became a cliche, so she was a real visionary.
Muir and her cohorts at first tried to get the butler to confess by pretending to be cops … who carried out their interrogations in the offices of a newspaper, for some reason. When that didn’t work, they moved on to plan B: exploiting the well-known and completely accurate (according to racist 1920s movies, anyway) fact that black people are extremely terrified of g-g-g-ghosts.
Promising the butler $10 if he could identify Taylor’s grave, Muir lured him to a cemetery. Then, when they reached the grave, the ghostly apparition of Taylor appeared and commanded Peavey to confess. To everyone’s shock, Peavey reacted by laughing his ass off.
“Guys, I think he’s not afraid. Otherwise, his bow tie would be spinning.”
Two little details gave the fake ghost away: 1) He was a guy in a fucking sheet, and 2) The undead Irish filmmaker had apparently ditched his pleasant tones and replaced them with an Al-Capone-ish Chicago accent. It isn’t mentioned what happened after this incident, but it likely involved the gang slowly walking to their car while, somewhere, a sad trombone murmured forlornly in the distance.
#4. Tom Howard Dons A Hidden Camera To Photograph An Execution
In the aftermath of any tragedy, you don’t have to look hard to find an outlet throwing out horrific images with wild abandon, whether you wanted to confront the abyss of human suffering on your lunch break or not. However, this weird compulsion isn’t a modern phenomenon. Case in point: the photographer who wired a hidden camera to his leg in order to record an execution.
Or some old-timey creepshots, at the very least.
In 1927, Ruth Snyder was sentenced to death by electric chair for killing her husband. Shocked at her cruel disregard for the sanctity of human life, the press immediately demanded that photographers be allowed into the execution chamber. You know, to allow society to heal or whatever.
The prison turned down their requests, but The New York Daily News wasn’t going to be stopped by something like rules and regulations and human decency. In order to dodge the prison authorities (who knew what their photographers looked like), they hired out-of-town journalist Tom Howard and set up a hidden camera on his leg. The result is one of the earliest examples of the grand tradition of putting dead people on newspaper covers, which is frankly disgusting. Anyway, here it is!
The photograph was an immediate sensation, owing to the fact that no one that ever managed to snap an execution before. Meanwhile, the prison abandoned all faith in the human race and began checking future execution attendees for hidden leg cameras. Howard received a $100 bonus for his work, a sum that we’re sure went a long way towards alcohol and cures for night terrors.
#3. Arthur “Weegee” Fellig Was The Real Nightcrawler
Although Tom Howard deserved the shade that we threw at him, he was an amateur compared to the real scourge of old-timey media: crime scene photographers. Prowling the streets, they made top dollar snapping the grisliest crime scenes and selling the photos to the highest bidder. However, among their ranks, one man stands above them all. Arthur Fellig, also known as “Weegee”: The man who made that shit look good.
Seriously, if you’re squeamish, do not type Fellig’s name into Google Images. Doing so will unleash a torrent of exquisitely-shot corpses on you.
“My ghost is photographing your reactions right now.”
Whereas other photographers would hear about jobs from secondhand sources, Fellig had a specially-tuned radio installed into his car that allowed him to eavesdrop on police radios — a technique no one else used at the time, because he invented it. As a result, he often beat the police to crime scenes, a habit that earned him a nickname worthy of someone who always knew where the dead guys were: “Weegee” (derived from the word “Ouija,” and not from Mario memes).
However, no matter how quickly the photographs were taken, they weren’t useful until they were printed and in the hands of his paymasters. Hence, the second element of his operation: an entire office built into his trunk, containing a photograph development lab (including a darkroom), typewriter, and clean underwear. Which is weird, because the hallmark of modern freelancers is pantlessness.
Weegee typing as quietly as he can, because his wife and children are sleeping in another section of the trunk.
If this sounds familiar, yes, Weegee is the direct inspiration for Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy character in Nightcrawler. While the original version didn’t go as far as to move corpses to get a better shot (probably), he wasn’t above staging photos. One time, he got a vagrant drunk and placed her at the entrance of an opera house to get a “spontaneous” photo next to some rich socialites. Needless to say, he was pretty good at his job, but it’s not like he had an ego or anything. Oh, he insisted that people call him “Weegee the Famous”? Never mind.
#2. WT Stead “Buys” A 13-Year-Old Sex Slave
WT Stead is considered the granddaddy of investigative journalism, having singlehandedly gotten the age of consent raised from 13 to 16 in Victorian England through his chilling expose on child prostitution, The Maiden Tribute Of Modern Babylon. In case you were wondering, that name is a reference to the virgin tributes sent to the Minotaur in Greek myth (don’t worry; he only ate them). What Stead didn’t mention is that one of the “Minotaurs” he was exposing was in fact himself.
“Hey, the story I wrote was half bull.”
Stead wanted to prove how easy it was to buy a child prostitute in London by actually doing that, but he ran into a little problem: It wasn’t that easy. Perhaps distrusting his formidable beard, several brothels refused his offers. Stead ended up buying a 13-year-old girl under false pretenses (her mother thought she would be working as a maid), but he still wanted the experience to be as authentic as possible, dammit — he had her examined to make sure she was a virgin, chloroformed her, and took her to a brothel, just to prove he could. Once the girl was sufficiently freaked out, Stead figured “Eh, that’s close enough” and shipped her off to France.
In his articles, Stead wrote about how some monster who totally wasn’t him bought a girl, took her to a brothel, and had his way with her.
“I cannot divulge his identity, but I will reveal that he possesses luscious, luscious facial hair.”
The series was incredibly popular, and Stead was showered with praise … until the girl’s mother saw the newspaper and realized what happened. In the end, Stead achieved his goal and changed the law, but he was thrown into prison for three months for abducting a child because what the fuck, man.
#1. Two Journalists Moved into Hitler’s Apartment, Stole His Shit
The year was 1945, and the tyranny of the Nazis had literally ended with a bang. At the same time, Lee Miller of Vogue and David Scherman of Life Magazine were exploring Munich in the hope of achieving the impossible: finding a story amidst the bombed-out ruins, refugees, and general post-war misery. After ignoring all that worthless article fodder, the two eventually got an apartment-sharing story weirder than anything that Airbnb could ever result in.
After finding a miraculously unbombed apartment building, Miller and Scherman started noticing something weird about it. There were swastikas and photos of the Nazi high rank everywhere. That wasn’t that weird for the time, but several items (such as the china) also had the initials “A.H.” on them. Hmmm.
And an autograph that said “From me, Adolph Hitler, to me, Adolph Hitler. The famous Nazi.”
It turned out they had found themselves standing in Hitler’s apartment. Yes, that Hitler. Naturally, they decided that the sensible thing to do would be to jump into Hitler’s bath tub and put it to good use by scrubbing themselves clean from their previous excursion to Dachau. Oh, and by taking pictures there.
Joke’s on her. Hitler was a chronic shower masturbator.
After spending several nights sleeping in Hitler’s bed, Miller and Scherman then travelled to a nearby villa owned by Eva Braun, where they pulled the same shit. They slept, poked through her possessions, and even tried a telephone especially reserved for calls to Hitler’s office in Berlin. It’s like they were begging for Zombitler to answer and demand that they leave — a premise that we’ll exploring in our sitcom Not In Mein House.
As it’s regarded as poor form to sneak ’round someone’s house, regardless of how evil they were, the two were rightfully chastised in the press. If that wasn’t enough, it also transpired that Scherman went a’pillaging and stole a bunch of shit. This included a special edition of the collected works of Shakespeare, which he sold for $10,000. We wouldn’t have liked to witness the moment when its new owners learnt the truth, but it probably helped in explaining why someone had replaced Shylock with a new character called Eagle von Aryan.
For more from Adam, check out The 6 Stupidest Acts of Journalistic Fraud Ever Attempted and 6 Ways To Make Money Off The Internet (If You’re An Asshole). You can also contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, if that’s your thing.