Was the highly respected Times hoodwinked by a hoax?

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From a general interest perspective, this story of a huge media property being the victim of a hoax is splashy headline stuff.

From a human perspective, and from a personal one, what is happening to Oliver Kay, a highly respected writer for a well-regarded UK media property, is a living nightmare.

Kay, chief football correspondent for The Times (probably among the top five football writing positions in England) appears to have written extensively about a new, big-player tournament in club soccer that doesn’t really exist.

It’s all about a “scoop” on the world’s top clubs being offered ginormous money to take part in a 24-team tournament to take place every two years in Qatar and bordering Gulf states.

Only, there may be no such thing.  It may have been completely, totally made up all along. It seems that the origins of Kay’s story may be a mock article on the French website Les Cahiers du Football.

More details on the story, the alleged Qatari-backed event and on Kay’s defensive response are here. (The image above is from The Times.)

As I said, from a human and from a professional perspective this is truly awful stuff.

It doesn’t take CSI-level forensic journalistic work to figure out how this can happen. This is just a theory … but it seems uncomfortably plausible in this case.

Once they achieve a certain level and fame, some journalists tend to move in fairly high company. They yield a certain power to influence, so the powerful invite them into their inner circles. (The journos may not share the bank account of the elites, but they get a gold pass into some elements of the elite world.)

As the concentric circles of life expand outward, some sources may covet a tiny slice of the elite-world pie by making painting themselves as someone in the know.

The spoof gets around … the wrong “someone” misunderstands what it’s all about … they want to appear to be in the know … they tell some journalist of this thing …

You see where this is going.

It is absolutely a journalist’s job to vet his or her sources. It’s a journalist’s responsibility to filter information, too. Does the source have an agenda? Are they trustworthy types? Are they really in a position to know?

But as I say all the time, and as I remind myself every day, “Journalism is more art than science, and on our best days we still get some of it wrong.”

Sometimes, alas, the parts we get wrong can be very, very wrong.