The Few, The Proud, the Falsified News Story

There’s a story that’s going around (and around, and around) that’s so full of crap, I thought it was time to set the record straight — it has turned into an urban legend. It also has some profound implications on how someone is trying to manipulate you.

First, the fake story, which I’ve seen variously attributed to the Associated Press, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and others:

Well Written Police Report

Orville Smith, a store manager for Best Buy in Augusta , Georgia , told police he observed a male customer, later identified as Tyrone Jackson of Augusta , on surveillance cameras putting a laptop computer under his jacket… When confronted the man became irate, knocked down an employee, drew a knife and ran for the door.

Outside on the sidewalk were four Marines collecting toys for the “Toys for Tots” program. Smith said the Marines stopped the man, but he stabbed one of the Marines, Cpl. Phillip Duggan, in the back; the injury did not appear to be severe.

After Police and an ambulance arrived at the scene Cpl. Duggan was transported for treatment.

The subject was also transported to the local hospital with two broken arms, a broken ankle, a broken leg, several missing teeth, possible broken ribs, multiple contusions, assorted lacerations, a broken nose and a broken jaw…injuries he sustained when he slipped and fell off of the curb after stabbing the Marine, according to a police report.

Notice how poorly written it is: ellipses (“…”) thrown in here and there, spaces before commas, “police” is improperly capitalized, and the whole thing is not at all in newspaper style (example: AP would have abbreviated Georgia as “Ga.”) While it’s true that the AP’s standards have been slipping for a long time, they’re not that bad! Anyone with common sense should smell a rat just from the poor writing quality alone.

Nothing But the Truth

Here’s the story as it appeared in This is True at the time. While most of the copies I’ve seen online have no date at all (which is another good clue that it’s fake!), this did not happen last week. It happened 26 November 2010, and was in True’s 26 December 2010 issue:

He Went Attaway

Best Buy store sales manager Orvin Smith said Tracey Attaway, 39, was shoplifting in his Augusta, Ga., store. When confronted by staff, Attaway “pulled out a knife so he could make sure he could get out the front door.” Outside were four Marines collecting donations for Toys for Tots. Marine Cpl. Phillip Duggan “clotheslined” Attaway as he tried to run by, Smith said, but Attaway “got up and started swinging a knife around.” Attaway ended up behind Duggan and stabbed him in the back, witnesses say, and then ran. The other Marines chased Attaway down, and held him for police. Investigators say Attaway tried to steal merchandise valued at $1,365, plus a laptop computer he left behind when he ran from store staff. Duggan was released from the hospital the next day, but a judge didn’t allow Attaway to post bail because of his extensive criminal record. (JW/Augusta Chronicle) …That’s OK. The Marines are patient.

(“JW” in the source area means it was written by Jennifer Weiner, who was True’s first outside contributor. The tagline is my riff on what she submitted, which was “…I know a few Marines were probably wishing he had been bailed.“)

Now, it’s totally possible that the fake story is True’s “fault” in that the tagline implies that the Marines would like to really beat the guy up. (Um, he “fell off a curb” to get those injuries! Really! nudge-nudge, wink-wink.)

And indeed, I didn’t see the fake story until several weeks after True’s version came out, so perhaps one of my readers embellished it to be “How I wish it had happened.”

OK, It’s Fake. So What?

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the fake story is wrong from its very first word: the store manager’s name is Orvin Smith, not “Orville”. That’s not the only changed name: the suspect isn’t “Tyrone Jackson” but rather Tracey Attaway. I have little doubt the name was changed because “Tracey Attaway” didn’t sound black enough. “Everyone” knows what race “Tyrone Jackson” is, eh?

Very similar to the subtle racial slurs in the previous urban legend I wrote about, on the Medal of Honor recipient Ed Freeman, and how his story was manipulated for political slander (yeah, that’s the way to honor a war hero!) The pattern I wrote about there repeats here: it’s actually a racist propaganda screed. Yes, it’s an amusing story, but those who just buy into it without critical thought are playing right into the hands of the racists who purposefully doctored this story.

I originally thought maybe “Orville” was just a lazy error, until I considered that Orville sounds more white than Orvin. Can’t very well tsk-tsk over black-on-black crime, right? Let’s make the manager sound more white! It’s them darkies that are the problem! Why, that po’ white store manager was just mindin’ his own business, and tryin’ to support those brave Marines out front!

Tracey Attaway's Mug Shot
Tracey Attaway’s booking photo, taken after his arrest. Does this really look like someone who just received “two broken arms, a broken ankle, a broken leg, several missing teeth, possible broken ribs, multiple contusions, assorted lacerations, a broken nose and a broken jaw”?

Yeah, sure. And while it’s a cute fantasy to think a pack of Marines would beat a lone assailant to a pulp (“two broken arms, a broken ankle, a broken leg, several missing teeth, possible broken ribs, multiple contusions, assorted lacerations, a broken nose and a broken jaw…”), the reality is shown at right.

Pretty much, not a scratch on him. And that’s exactly what I would expect from a number of trained warriors who are in good shape: they used only the force necessary to stop a violent attack and subdue the perpetrator.

Seriously: would you want your military forces to decide to dole out severe beatings to citizens? Is this what you want of your police? Or would you prefer criminals were simply subdued, arrested, tried, and sentenced according to law? That’s what I want out of the people we pay to protect us. That’s how a democracy works.

Seeing the Obvious

This is True is definitely not a “debunk the urban legends” web site, but this story just isn’t going away. And with the holidays coming up, I can see it’s is just going to go around more with that lovely “Toys for Tots” tie-in, so it’s getting more important to set the record straight.

Oh, and before someone dismisses this with the canard that I’m “just a bleeding-heart liberal,” consider I’m the one who wrote this. This essay isn’t about conservative vs. liberal, it’s about seeing an obvious pattern and crying foul, and such ad hominem tactics will fall on deaf ears.

When you get an urban legend passed on to you, think: is it simply funny, or is there a hidden agenda behind it?

The Few, The Proud, the Falsified News Story

August 2017 Update

Still being sent out on Twitter. An example:

My Tweeted Reply:

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To really support This is True, you’re invited to sign up for a subscription to the much-expanded “Premium” edition:

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The Few, The Proud, the Falsified News Story
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30 Comments on “The Few, The Proud, the Falsified News Story

  1. Well, for what it’s worth, I saw this a while ago (I see it crops up in an list email dated 23rd December last year, with the item dated November 27th 2010 and attributed to the AP) and immediately dismissed it as a joke, assuming no intelligent person would think that that was an account of an actual event.

    Interestingly, that version gets the manager’s name right and doesn’t give the criminal’s name, so if there was an agenda, it presumably wasn’t the same one as in the case you saw.

    Thanks for the data points. It apparently has morphed over time, just as the Ed Freeman item has. -rc

  2. Too right. It is a shame but there are many people in this country who only see black people on the six o’clock news, on the daily perp walk. Unless the suspect is still loose it is irrelevant what color he is. Color is a helpful descriptive term when searching for someone. And please use color to mean color only and not as an indication of a foreign race of strange creatures. We are all members of the Human Race. We just have different levels of melanin present in our skins. And the Marines could have been of any color. It is their merits that make them MARINES.

    Exactly. I knew the suspect was black before the story came out, and ignored it because there was no relevance. Just as the reporter of the original story didn’t comment on the Marines, who well could have been black, Asian, Hispanic, etc. -rc

  3. Well I bought into it the first few times I got it as an email, because I TRUSTED the people who sent it to me. And I learned my lesson when other people didn’t TRUST the things I sent them. Now I check almost everything I get that even sounds ‘off’. Not surprisingly, THEY are bringing up things that should have been gone and forgotten, as though it was just today. Humans are too trusting, and some are just loving stirring the pot.

  4. “is there a hidden agenda behind it?” — With the increasing frequency of these types of email stories of late, I am concerned that there is indeed a driving force with a hidden agenda behind them. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, and I urge everyone who receives these kind of emails to not just shrug and ignore them, but to correct them and send them back up the line. “For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing.”

  5. This write-up epitomizes why I’ve followed you since I first read “Dumbth News” in my first issue of Skeptic back in 1999. Bravo, Randy, keep it up.

    I enjoyed doing the “Dumbth” column, originated by Steve Allen. -rc

  6. For some unfathomable reason, there seems to be a widespread belief that our military is comprised of wild,uncontrollable hooligans that we “turn loose” upon the enemy and HOPE for the best. Witness the myth that a puppy is issued to each Marine in boot camp to care and nurture throughout the process. And upon graduation, one of the requirements is that the Marine be able to kill the dog that he’s nurtured, to prove that he’s sufficiently trained as a cold-blooded killer suitable for war.

    The press is full of incidents in which individuals have engaged in improper, illegal, and criminal conduct in military service. They are punished, as are civilians, when it’s found out. The military, out of necessity, is a highly disciplined force, and most enlistees adhere to the discipline. Or are summarily discharged quickly, often under dishonorable conditions.

    NJP (non-judicial punishment, in lieu of court martial) in the Corps is particularly more severe than the other branches, which does not imply that any of them take it lightly. Even if civilian authorities did not charge Marines for excessive force, you can bet that their gunny sgt would! Article 134 of the UCMJ, Conduct prejudicial to the good image of the armed forces. Stockade time, and hefty fines, such as 3 months forfeiture of pay, not to mention demotion in rank, are all possibilities under NJP.

    Just to add, for some reason again, there is an attitude that only social or intellectual rejects, those unable to acquire “real” jobs, are the only ones to enlist. Given that the US military is the most technologically advanced in the world, there is no room for dummies who can’t learn. Since most enlistees typically have no college degree, the military invests in a LOT of training to bring them up to skill. Said training being the equivalent in many cases to an Associate or even Bachelor Degree in civilian life. It has been decades since civilian courts offered a defendant the choice of incarceration or enlistment in the Army. Today, a lack of high school diploma, or even a misdemeanor conviction, is sufficient to prevent one’s chances for enlistment.

  7. I get your point, and it’s a shame someone felt the need to manipulate the story. I admit to passing this along, but to add another “data point”: I actually generally skip right over the names of the perpetrators so I didn’t even notice the phenomenon you’re decrying; even if I’d read the names, I wouldn’t have thought to stop and “decode” them for racial undertones. And as the first commenter posted, I hope everyone who is intelligent enough to read a few lines of text can tell it’s a joke.

    While this isn’t an urban legend debunking site, there are several, the most known being Snopes. Sure enough, after I wrote this, I found they did cover it. They did, however, miss the point I picked up on. -rc

  8. Thanks for the detailed follow-up. I got very annoyed with the constant re-posting of versions of this, with people making playground-fight-crowd comments saying it was a good thing. If they really think that bystanders (the Marines in this case) should be applauded for handing out disproportionate vigilante justice, then they should probably be happy to get rid of the whole presumption of innocence & legal system, and support pepper-spraying for … well, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m much relieved to hear that the Marines in reality kept their response proportionate.

  9. While most of what Mike from Dallas says about the military is true, they have unfortunately lowered their standards in some ways. It is possible to get in to the Army with a felony conviction; my nephew did it over a decade ago.

    And there were numerous reports during the first years of the Iraq war of the military needing to lower their standards in order to meet their recruiting requirements. They allowed both more serious legal convictions and higher ages to enlist. The fact they couldn’t meet those needs was one of the reasons so many units had their time in Iraq and Afghanistan increased and their home time decreased.

  10. Actually, I think it’s far funnier that the Marines subdue a knife-armed suspect WITHOUT having to try too hard. When you’re a Marine, you don’t have to prove you’re tough. Everyone just knows. 🙂

    Good point. -rc

  11. As a Marine, I have to admit, the original fake story is a real hoot to read.

    He received “two broken arms, a broken ankle, a broken leg, several missing teeth, possible broken ribs, multiple contusions, assorted lacerations, a broken nose and a broken jaw…” from “falling off a curb”.

    While I recognise the point is to debunk racism and promote that the Corps are NOT violent thugs, you have to admit there is some humour in it.

    I did: “Yes, it’s an amusing story, but those who just buy into it without critical thought are playing right into the hands of the racists who purposefully doctored this story.” -rc

  12. I get emails like this now and then. I always check them before forwarding them. It is surprising how many times people get mad at me when I point out “it ain’t true”. I have 7 fact check sites, plus Google/Bing/Yahoo that I search. A little common sense goes a long way too.

  13. This is a really great analysis. Stuff like this is what keeps me reading, despite the times that I get pissed off at you.

    I tend to be more likely to comment when I disagree with something than when I agree, and I figured maybe I should try to balance that out a bit.

    Thanks. And I’m glad I piss you off sometimes: it means you’re thinking. I’d much rather you thought for yourself than just agree with everything I said — especially since sometimes I’m just trying to provoke people, and I’m not saying what they think I’m saying! -rc

  14. Michael Moseley: I’m always surprised at just how much people get mad, too. A coworker sent a mass email to everyone at work about Ed Freeman, and I replied with a link to Randy’s writeup, and you wouldn’t believe how many snarky replies I got back (although I did get two people who said they stood with me). On the plus side, I got removed from everyone’s “mass propaganda email” distribution lists.

  15. It would make for a good Jumbo-Joke Entry, perhaps changing back to the original names and correcting the grammar. Then you could link here for the real story.

    Laura, I’ve had the opposite experience. I became my office’s official fact-checker whenever they think someone is pulling their leg.

  16. Laura, Maine wrote: “…I’m always surprised at just how much people get mad, too ….”
    I have a theory. When you debunk something, even if you take pains to do it in a nice way, some people seem to feel that you should have believed them anyway. “Who are you going to believe — me or your lying eyes?” is an all-too-common attitude, perhaps because objective questions of truth may not be so important to some people as the question of whether you are loyal to that person. This may be related to why some people are committed members of one political party or religion or marriage, even after the relationship turns abusive; some people would rather be factually wrong or even die than surrender their allegiance to their team.

  17. Rationality and the ability to think clearly and logically have taken a big hit in recent decade. When I went to university logic was a required course — you could not progress to Junior or Senior status without satisfactorily completing the course.

    I know from others that some were even required to take such a course in high school.

    As far as I know, there are no longer any *public* high schools or colleges/universities in the US that now *require* at least a passing grade (which should really be an “A” or “B” IMHO).

    I am not in a position to sit on a school board or a board of regents. However, I do suggest we need a return to teaching logic in the public education system. Perhaps, after a few decades of such teaching our social networks might be filled more with intensely good discussions and debates. Currently there are some good trends to follow on the social nets. However, a notable portion of what comes along is irrational, emotional, not-like-me yadda yadda. We in the US need to exercise some self respect and self restraint in our words and deeds! (Off soapbox, ready for onslaught of whatever may come.)

    Actually, this comment would be on-topic on about half the posts in this blog! -rc

  18. Sarah, Santa Clara: Because the lack of logical thought has become a problem for many workplaces it has become popular to give “Critical Thinking” inservices. The only one who could possibly think this would make up for a semester in logic is someone who did not have a semester or two of said logic courses. Convoluted and sideways thinking were the two main principles of the inservice. I will say the boss apologized to me for making me sit in with the younger members of our group.

    And kids, it is not your fault. It is the fault of your educators. You will have to seek an education for yourself in the libraries of the world. Most of which is online. Keep reading!

  19. So the story was doctored up for some amusement. So what.

    You’re crying wolf at the name changes, implying they were for racial reasons … seriously c’mon. When I first read the doctored story, I got no impression at all that race was involved. In fact, being military and knowing our demographics, I’d expect the marines represented multiple races and would find it likely one of them is black.

    You’re focus on race, just confirms your biases.

    “My are focus”? Sorry, just because you’re blind doesn’t mean I am. There’s only one reason to purposefully change the name. Can you name another? And I already answered your “So what?” question — the section is labeled OK, It’s Fake. So What? — but somehow, I’m not surprised you missed the point. -rc

  20. I strongly believe that “check with snopes” is an excellent rule of thumb for anybody receiving a “share this with all your friends” message — either because the message explicitly tells you to, or because it’s so funny that you want to pass it on.

    I’ve occasionally responded on a public forum to say that the previous message someone posted is actually an urban legend. Often, they get annoyed with me: “I posted it as a funny joke, not as a true story” is a common reaction. But even for an item that’s “obviously” a joke — which btw is never obvious to *everyone* — I find that the writeup in snopes almost always has interesting information to add!

    Snopes is good, but they sometimes don’t go very deep into their analysis — they certainly missed the point of this one and why it was changed. -rc

  21. I agree with the points you’ve made but you can’t assume anyone thought the same way you did when you read it. I received this story in an email from a co-worker. I did not assume any races based on names. I actually paid no attention to names at all. My own brother (who is caucasian) is very capable of doing something this stupid. And I agree with T, from Texas, the military men were probably multiple different races which is exactly what was pictured in my head when I read the story.

    Also, I did catch that they wanted you to deduce the military men beat up the thief and that was why he had so many injuries from “falling off a curb.” Not for one second did I think that was true, and I hope most people would not have believed that.

    I’m not at all saying that people who read it are fools for believing it. I’m saying that it’s rather obvious that there is manipulation intended; what other reason could there be for altering the names? Yes, certainly white guys are capable of being this dumb. That’s the point: guys of any race are capable of being this dumb. But that’s not the impression that the person who altered it wants to leave you with. -rc

  22. In response to T, Texas, Tiffany and others — Just to be clear, I think that Randy is not trying to say that people who pass this on are necessarily thinking about race, and I don’t think so either. But if you’re trying to argue that the person who made the name changes isn’t racially motivated… you do realize that most people with racist ideas aren’t going to say, “Hi, I hate black people and think most of them are criminals”? It would be easier if people were that upfront about it, but that’s the price we pay for making unambiguously racist behavior socially unacceptable — people don’t want to admit to shameful behavior. By current standards, this is pretty obvious racism.

  23. However, to follow up, the perpetrator’s name is Tracey Attaway.

    Since Attaway is Black, he was falsely accused, railroaded, and convicted to a Life Sentence in the George State Penitentiary. He had 30 other false arrests on his record. Apparently the White cops in Georgia didn’t like him very much.

    Apparently, the White store detectives, in addition to falsely accusing Attaway of trying to steal a laptop, also planted “two digital cameras, an Xbox game, a PS3 game and a PS3 game controller with a combined value of $1,365” on him, before the Marine stabbed himself in the back to make it appear an innocent Black man had committed a crime.

    Attaway didn’t deserve the Life Sentence for attempted murder since the White Marine wasn’t injured that badly and should of been minding his own business.

    But, after all, we have to keep that minority population in our prisons over 50% so Republicans can get re-elected.

    See? It’s not so hard to be a Liberal! Or at least sound like one…

    You don’t sound liberal to me, “Pilgrim”, but that is a very good imitation of a bigot. And I’m not sure how you can “follow up” with the guy’s name when it’s part of the original post. -rc

  24. The Truth Is Out There. Thanks for finding it for us. Don’t you think there should be penalties for passing on bogus emails? Public flogging?

    Don’t you think you’re being rather lenient? -rc

  25. Why can’t you people just read the story, get a laugh and go on about your business? Why do you feel compelled to analyze everything to such depth. Are you trying to prove your the smartest person in the room? Your analysis here has brought you full circle, right back to what we all knew to begin with, but decided to Just enjoy it. Excuse my “Incorrectness” but you psuedo intellectuals need to get a life!

    What is it about the simple truth that threatens you so, “Lola from Angola” who is really in the United States accessing the site from a Cingular-based cell phone? “Your” poking your head in here demanding we mind our own business, and you haven’t even taken a moment to see what in heck this business is. You “pseudo” obliviots need to get a clue! -rc

  26. I don’t know if you realize this or not but it’s PEOPLE JUST LIKE YOU THAT’S THE REASON THAT RACE IS STILL AN ISSUE!! You had to dig pretty darn deep into that ONE VERSION of the story to make it about race!! Kids today don’t even see color in others until people like you bring it up. When your generation is dead and gone, race will be of little importance… Here’s a good idea, GROW UP OR GO AWAY!!!

    Let’s see if I have your theory correct: if one notices racism, that person is a racist, and indeed perpetuating racism, and should be condemned. Staying with your theory, you have noticed racism in the write-up on this page, so therefore you are a racist. Got it.

    My response: bullshit. Those who discover murdered bodies cannot be assumed to be the murderer. Those complaining about cars speeding through a neighborhood where children are playing are not speeders. And those who notice news stories have been altered to promote racism, and condemn such efforts, are not racists, they’re the opposite of racists. You came to my web site to post a suggestion that I “GO AWAY”? I live here. You may not be a racist yourself, but you have indeed proved yourself to be an obliviot, no matter what your race. Thank you for your clear illustration of what lack of thinking brings society. -rc

  27. Other than “Dugann Augusta curb” that I used for google I didn’t really notice names.

    Prior to WW2 it was pretty much standard for Marines to practice “mess with one Marine, you mess with all Marines” as a fighting style, it tended to keep locals (everywhere) in check. Merchant sailors (otherwise pushy) would make way.

  28. The evening news last night.

    Miami- black man robbed a store
    Detroit – black man shot and killed two men
    Nashville – black man robbed and shot store clerk

    Anyone see a pattern?

    I certainly do! I see selective choices to demonstrate clear racism. You are a disgusting excuse for a human being. -rc

  29. I see some people are mad that this “news” has been proven mostly true except for the injuries which they wholeheartedly believe as true when, in fact, that part is the “Fails” part of the story.

    Even on all the Marine forums this story is called out as fake news (mostly fake). And I have yet to ever see a news article that was real give a shopping list of injuries like these fake news stories do.

    Yes, the Marines stopped the bad guy, yes one of them got a cut that needed 3 stitches. No big deal. I got 3 over my eye and was right back to duty that same day.

    Yes, the marines have a bad ass reputation to uphold and there are many civilians that will do that for them even if they have to make things up like in this article.

    But the worst part of all this is that there are so many gullible people out there that will believe this with zero apprehension or doubt as to the full truthfulness of the content.

    That is the only part that saddens me.

  30. Re: our Democracy. I have a few pet peeves. One: We live in a Republic, not a Democracy. Another: It is the Democrat Party, not the Democratic Party. How I wish people would stop making those mistakes and continuing to pass them on to young people. Most, if not all, politicians also use these incorrect terms.

    You’re splitting hairs in an awfully pedantic way. The United States is a a federal republic and a representative democracy. What is a “democracy”? “Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” (American Heritage). If you don’t think that describes the U.S., then you’re deluding yourself.

    Next, if you go to the source, the Democrats’ web site, you’ll see (as of this date) “Together, we are the Democratic Party.” -rc


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