A few news organizations, including The Sun, were fooled today by a prank Web site carrying a message that purported to be from Mayor Sheila Dixon. The backstory is this: a British official compared the city of Manchester, which has had a spate of violence, to The Wire, which was, of course, about Baltimore.
A British blogger then made up a fake Web site made to look like Dixon’s official one, in which he, as Dixon, took the politician to task. The post read, in part:
To present a television show as the real Baltimore is to perpetuate a fiction that dishonours our city. It is as pointless as boasting that Baltimore has a per capita homicide rate a fraction of that in the popular UK television show Midsomer Murders.
The Baltimore Police Department is working hard to protect the people of this city and it should be remembered that The Wire was just a television show. As this video shows, there is so much more to Baltimore than The Wire.
The site, which appears to be no longer accessible, then linked to a video showing scenes from the violent Midsomer Murders show, accompanied by the theme song from The Wire. The video points out that there are more deaths in the British show than in the American one, then ends with the “Visit Baltimore” logo.
This afternoon, Dixon’s (actual) office sent out a statement correcting the record and saying that “The city’s Law department as well as the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology have been informed and are currently investigating this violation of the city’s website for copyright infringement of the City of Baltimore and the Office of Mayor.” Mayoral spokesman Scott Peterson also forwarded an e-mail from the blogger behind the fake site:
I made a joke for my friends that was circulated more widely than intended. No-one was supposed to be fooled beyond the words “Midsomer Murders” and just in case, I made a little video and linked to it which was in no way conceivably genuine. I registered the domain in my own name, I wrote using English spelling, I left a message in the source code and at the bottom of the page I attributed the copyright to my blog pseudonym. I didn’t imagine anyone in the US or in the UK would believe it.
Please could you pass on my apologies to anyone in your office who has been inconvenienced by this prank. I will be editing the masthead to make it clear that it’s not the real site.
The mayor’s spokesman told me that, despite the statement about the law department investigating, the city plans no litigation against blogger Hilton. “No, at the end of the day it’s a hoax,” Peterson said.
That said, “We want to make sure people understand that this is serious,” Peterson said. “It’s not a joke when you lift the website’s information…. It is dangerous and we’re just lucky that it wasn’t anything more of a serious intent.”