- 25 Oct 18
Reading his digital copy of Hot Press yesterday evening, a Canadian subscriber pointed out that an ‘old' image in our latest issue was created more recently in photoshop. But this is not the first time that we have been embroiled in a discussion about fake news and Ireland’s greatest band! For the first time, we have to travel all the way back to 1982 – or thereabouts!...
In the new issue of Hot Press, on news stands today, the cover story is a special 20-page feature on U2’s touring history.
In what is, we promise, a hugely entertaining and insightful sweep through the live annals of the Irish Fab Four, insiders – promoters, tour personnel, radio DJs and producers, live video and film makers, U2 super-fans, support acts and record company personnel among them – give their personal take on the big tours and shows over the course of the past 40 years.
In the same issue, Hot Press editor Niall Stokes places U2’s upcoming Irish gigs in the context of current affairs in the wider world, and the role U2 have played role as artists and advocates.
There was a great buzz putting together that was in many respects a labour of love – one which captures the scale of U2’s ambition, and the demands they place on themselves as musicians and as a band in a really fascinating way.
However, to echo the renowned Roman poet Horace, even Homer sometimes nods!
In the issue, we published an old print ad in which a tape of the War album was apparently offered from with the purchase of a Walkman.
The ad was given to Hot Press for the issue by a good friend who worked at the time in Island Records, U2’s record company, as an example of the kind of thing that was done back then to promote records. He had worked closely with U2 – and described the ad in such knowing, affectionate terms alongside references to ads in NME, and so on, that there was no reason to question it.
Or so one might have thought! Overnight, with the digital issue of Hot Press landing in people’s inboxes around the world, a Canadian subscriber pointed to the visual. “The problem is that the ad is a fake,” Aaron J. Sams offered. “It was created in 2014 via Photoshop. The original ad was from a 1986 catalogue!”
Fake news, eh? Well, it turns out that Aaron is right: the ad was faked-up as a piece of intended satire, in the context of the iPhone giveaway of U2’s 2014 album Songs of Innocence. But when our Island friend pulled it from his files, he remembered it as the real thing. Or maybe 'even better than the real thing'!
“Our design team were amazed at how ahead of their time the Island marketing department were in 1983,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said. “They probably were – but not in the way our man from Island thought!”
And now for a confession. This is not the first time that Hot Press has been involved in a fake news controversy involving U2 – and satire!
“We were preparing a special issue of some kind – I think it was probably for April’s Fool's Day! – back in the 1980s,” Niall Stokes recalls, “when some wonderful genius suggested that we should pack the news section with a bunch of over the top, obviously made up, news stories. The point was to satirise the whole business of writing news, and have a bit of fun generally.
“The point in satire is that there has to be an element of believability, so that the reader is sucked in. But then, in theory at least, the language becomes fantastically exaggerated and – particularly set alongside a few other mad fabrications – the reader twigs. And laughs. Not always, however!
“One of the spoof news stories – or fake news stories! – we produced was headlined U2 SPLIT UP, or words to that effect. I think it was written by Liam Mackey, who was probably the funniest writer ever to grace the pages of Hot Press and was also a huge U2 fan. We all laughed at the outrageousness of the stories and figured that the whole thing was great fun. Which it was – until the magazine hit the news stands on the following Thursday morning, that is.
“Within an hour of the office opening, we’d had people wedged into telephone boxes ringing us to share their emotional devastation at the fact that the band they loved had decided to go their separate ways. Some of them were in tears. The office manager of the time, and whoever was on the reception desk, were both entirely innocent of the news team's pranks – and so a bit of soul-searching had to be done when the editorial team plonked themselves at their desks that morning.
“Everyone in the editorial crew was aghast! How could people have been taken in by this ridiculous spoof story – which had been dreamt up in the knowledge that it was so inconceivable that people couldn’t possibly think it was true? But that was exactly what had happened.
“And of course back then there was no quick or easy way off letting people know that it was just a bit of silliness and fun. I think we got a few DJs to mention it on RTE 2fm, and that took the heat out of it. But for a few days at least, a small part of the world had been horrified at the thought that the members of U2 had gone their separate ways. It is astonishing now to think that 35 years, or more, later, they are still together – and that a similar story would be headline news in media all across the world.
“I think the only story which topped that was a comment in Catlicks, which was the Hot Press gossip column at the time. Eric Clapton owned a horse and it won a race. We were naturally thrilled for God, as Clapton was known at the time, and reported the fact with great enthusiasm in the magazine. Having named the horse, our equine correspondent added a coda (with tongue firmly in his cheek) that unfortunately, after a steward’s enquiry, the horse had been disqualified because the owner was doped!
“You can imagine what we felt when, shortly after the issue was published, we received first a phone call and then an outraged letter from Eric Clapton’s manager, claiming that this was a grievous libel and looking for an immediate retraction and an offer in relation to damages for loss of reputation and so on, and so forth.
“After the inevitable hilarity, the question remained: what do we do now? Frantic phone calls were made to see if we could nip the whole thing in the bud, but we hit a wall, and that was the way it stood till, out of the blue, a few weeks later, we received another phone call. ‘Don’t worry,’ Liam Mackey was told, much to his relief. ‘Eric thought it was hilarious. He tore it out of the magazine and has it stuck to his fridge with a magnet'. Needless to say, we were very flattered at the thought: God was reading Hot Press. But that was the end of that particular fake news story.”
To which all we can add today is: apologies to all. Fake news isn't entirely new. And remember: one of the most important rules is not to take life too seriously.