The Internet has made it extremely easy for anyone to be a journalist, and to get what they consider news to be out there. And with that has come wave after wave of bogus stories, some that can even get past the biggest skeptics.
That happened over the past couple weeks with a report that Harlan Ellison had settled his case against Andrew Niccol and his film "In Time," winning nothing more than a screen credit for Ellison. The story, written by Eric Shirey, appeared on Yahoo News, through what it calls its Yahoo Contributor Network.
That story, published Nov. 2, seemed to have it all -- except for attribution of where Shirey received the information to publish his story.
But how did this story make it to Yahoo News, and earn a pickup from a number of news outlets, including Syfy's Blastr, the Orlando Sentinel and even this site?
Apparently, the Yahoo Contributor Network is a more fast and loose version of online news that is different from its main news aggregation. There, Yahoo encourages would-be journalists to register for its network and submit content. That content, according to Yahoo's website, does not appear to be vetted through the site's own editors. Instead, writers are encouraged to develop interesting stories that will expand audience reach, the more readers meaning more money for the writer.
Stories from these writers can either come from the writer's own sources, or through an assignment desk. No one from Yahoo has responded to a request for comment on whether Shirey developed this story on his own, or picked it up from the Yahoo assignment desk.
Shirey himself has not responded to a request for comment. He has since posted another story on one of his aggregator websites, but has not removed his Harlan Ellison story.
It is possible that Shirey himself was duped. But by whom? And why did he not attribute where the information came from?
One place he didn't get it from was Harlan Ellison's official website, Webderland. While the main portion of that site has not been updated in four years, there is an old-style message board called "Unca Harlan's Art Deco Dining Pavilion" inside that Ellison has been known to frequent, interacting with regular and passer-by fans interested in him and his work. Ellison has made it clear over the years that he doesn't frequent the Internet, and does not do email. He does, however, comment on this message board, which has generated about 200 posts since the end of October.
The posts are regularly cleared out. The current batch of posts goes back only to Oct. 30, well after Ellison's lawsuit against Niccol was announced.
Since Oct. 30, Ellison himself has posted a little more than a dozen times. But in those posts, he never once mentions the lawsuit, even after other posters in the same thread start congratulating him.
The last time Ellison posted was Nov. 8. In that post, he talked about a new documentary television series he was a part of that "paid well." He was responding to a post from "Dennis C." from six hours earlier -- a post that came less than a half hour after one from someone identifying himself as Bob Ingersoll who declared in bold letters "Harlan Ellison Still Undefeated."
Ingersoll noted a story from Blastr that had picked up Shirey's Yahoo story about the settlement.
"He has just settled out of court for a screen credit in all subsequent re-releases of the movie, streaming, video and the like," Ingersoll posted. "The article doesn't mention ... whether there was any additional financial remunerations. And given such out-of-court settlements usually have non-disclosure agreements, I won't ask. But congrats to Harlan and thanks for his continuing efforts to fight the good fight."
Another poster identifying himself as Steve Perry followed up less than an hour later with a detailed post of his own talking about how those giving writing credits can earn residuals from film profits, based on his knowledge of the Writers Guild of America collective bargaining agreements with the studios.
A second poster also congratulated Ellison, all wrapped around the post from "Dennis C." that Ellison chose to respond to.
If the information listed there was incorrect, why did Ellison choose not to correct it?
That's a question that only Ellison can answer, and he has not chosen to answer it on his official website as of yet.
Adam Thurston, an attorney with Drinker Biddle & Reath in Los Angeles who is representing Ellison in his case against Niccol, did not address that specific issue to Airlock Alpha. Instead, he said the case had not been settled, and no agreement was made to provide Ellison with credit in "In Time."
"We have no idea where the story came from and have no further information," Thurston said. "As for Mr. Ellison, he has not and will not be commenting on litigation while it is pending."
That may explain why Ellison chose not to comment on the posts congratulating him on his non-existent court victory. But it's hard to imagine that even the outspoken Ellison would feel that correcting reports the case was over by simply saying "You're wrong, there is no settlement" would jeopardize his case in any way.
Instead, it just raises more questions on where Shirey got his story, and added yet another complication to this lawsuit.
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