A Cheatin' Heart at 99.5
On the Air, at Least, Host Kane Says He Staged Roadside Faux-Philanderer Stunt
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Kane cheated. But don't expect him to be contrite.
Local radio host Kane of 99.5 FM said on his show Wednesday that he was responsible for engineering and perpetuating a bogus story that national media covered widely last week. Repeating a stunt that had been successful in other radio markets, Kane deployed an intern to stand by the side of Leesburg Pike near Tysons Corner with a sign announcing infidelity: "I cheated. This is my punishment." Then the young man, who called himself William Taylor, gave Kane an exclusive interview about the whole affair.
Kane (who refuses to disclose his own real name) now says he hoaxed the media as an experiment in fluff tolerance and fact-checking standards. He then proceeded on his show, and via Twitter, to criticize reporters who'd tried to fact-check the story he'd concocted to check up on fact-checking.
Coverage of the ersatz adulterer made news worldwide and became a Web sensation. For many onlookers, "Taylor's" sign-bearing served as a catalyst for musings on contrition and the messier corners of love.
When confronted Tuesday morning by The Washington Post outside 99.5's Rockville offices after his show, Kane denied that his on-air conversation with "Taylor" was a stunt. He then said he had no authority to comment. Managers and program directors at "The Kane Show" had refused for several days to respond to multiple calls and e-mails inquiring about the veracity of the cheater-with-a-sign story.
Just as Kane began the outsize circus, so he brought it to a close, like a ringmaster eager to linger in the spotlight till the last elephant has trotted out of the ring. On his show, Kane described the "Taylor" stunt as a social experiment that aimed to test media response to a relatively unimportant story. (The hoax played out during extensive coverage of the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.)
Kane wouldn't talk to us, but via his Twitter account, he suggested that the "Taylor" bit was not a publicity stunt. "MEDIA: ur getting it ALL wrong. if it was publicity, I'd have my name on it," he tweeted. "YOU made it a story by not checking your facts. Don't blame me."
Evidently Kane decided to officially debunk the "Taylor" story only because the real media were asking questions -- otherwise content to let the fakery float in the ether indefinitely. Such untruths have, of course, become easier and easier to perpetrate as the Web has enabled readers to instantly share the stories that grab them -- from significant deaths to lighter human-interest fare.
Stunts have a long history in American radio. In 1952, for instance, an Omaha station marked the one-year anniversary of a catastrophic local flood by rebroadcasting the year-old emergency announcements without explanation. Panic ensued, though there wasn't a flood in sight (maybe no one was fact-checking).
At what point did Kane have an obligation to set an internationally covered story straight? Executives at Clear Channel Communications, which owns 99.5, did not respond to calls and e-mails requesting comment.
"I think what they said this morning is all they're gonna say," a Clear Channel PR rep, Michele Clarke, said Wednesday.
"Should he have done it?" pondered Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia University's journalism school. "Rush Limbaugh promotes himself in all kinds of ways; people in media take credit for having pulled off all kinds of wondrous deeds. I don't see a hard-and-fast difference. There are people who are in the business of exalting their on-top-of-it-ness, and some of them go as far as purveying a falsehood."
Those who became suspicious about "Taylor" early on include radio veteran Justin Kratzer of Greenville, S.C., who began doubting the veracity of "William Taylor's" sob story last week after he learned that "The Kane Show" had landed an exclusive "Taylor" interview. Kane regaled his listeners last Thursday with bogus details of "Taylor's" affair, with "Taylor" claiming that his self-lacerating sign was a means of making amends to his wronged wife, "Karen."
Kratzer says he himself participated in two radio stunts that resembled the "Taylor" hoax -- one in 2006 at Greenville's Hot 98.1, and one earlier at Hot 104 in Mobile, Ala. Kratzer says that during his first week as the promotions director for 98.1, he stood by the side of a road in Greenville for two hours with a sign announcing, "My name is Mike. I cheated on my wife and this is my punishment."
He subsequently did an interview as "Mike" on 98.1 and an NBC affliliate covered the fake story. Kratzer says the "Mike" stunt was designed to garner publicity for the station, and it did.
The details of Kratzer's story were confirmed by Fisher (that's just one name, like Kane), who was 98.1's program director at the time. Asked last week about "Taylor's" interview that aired here Thursday, Fisher opined: "Yeah. It's a total bit. I'm not trying to out him, but it is."