"Fake news" is in the real news these days so perhaps this is the right time to confess that in my 20 years as a Los Angeles Times columnist I came close to printing some untrue items — unwittingly, of course.
I was about to tip readers to participate in an important research project when I happened to notice that a phone number in the ad was for a pizza hotline, not the National Security Agency. (Or is what what they wanted us to think? Maybe I better get back to you on that.)
Then there was the time I was going to book a luxury river cruise through beautiful downtown L.A. until I spotted the date of the maiden voyage on one announcement.
On another occasion, I thought I had the scoop of a lifetime when I came into possession of a parcel map in Baldwin Park that designated an extraterrestrial "landing site." That is until a developer explained to me that the description was just a light-hearted commentary on how such maps (right) are so packed with information that nobody reads every word.
I promptly stopped accusing the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of a coverup.
Most of the official-looking fakery that I came across was of the old-fashioned type of put-on, not something for a political cause.
Oh there were some commercial publicity stunts — now-defunct Buzz magazine pitching a fake "Topless Traffic School" or a chiropractor's eye-catching billboard of what turned out to be a mannequin.
But, as I said, most of the items I encountered seemed intended just to find out if anyone was paying attention. For example, the renaming of Valley Circle and Niagara Avenue.
Or the editing of a freeway sign by someone who had steel plates on his mind. Reader Mike Peck said it was up for quite a while in the South Bay.
But not as long as the contribution of artist Richard Ankrom, an exception to the fakery trend. Annoyed that there was no downtown sign on the 110 indicating a turnoff for the northbound 5, Ankrom created one (photo by Gary Leonard). And he even dressed like a Caltrans worker and climbed up on the overpass to post the sign.
It was in place for more than eight years before Caltrans replaced it — one of So Cal's finer pieces of guerrilla art.
It proved so popular that the city eventually allowed it to remain.
Some dispensers of old-fashioned fake news are repeat offenders .
Caltech students' mischievous stunts include the rewiring the Rose Bowl scoreboard one New Year's Day, thereby enabling pranksters to make it appear, at one point, that Caltech and MIT were playing in the game, instead of UCLA and Illinois.
Officials quickly turned off the scoreboard before Illinois, which was losing big, could use it as an excuse to flee the stadium.
A national park sign in West L.A. might have tricked me but I happened to see it in person while visiting my mother. It was, I discovered, a concrete traffic island, not exactly a rustic spot to pitch a tent and get in some fishing. One reader later wrote, saying he was looking for a park ranger job. The landmark designation has since been removed.
The lack of a commencement speaker for Loyola Marymount's 1990 grads prompted one student to extract some real fake revenge. He created an announcement that a certain big TV star had been given the honor. I knew that was ridiculous.
Now if the press release had said his sister Lisa was going to speak I might have believed it.
I haven't even mentioned fake local news, such as a yard-sale type placard I saw posted in Long Beach. I went to the address it gave — strictly out of journalistic curiosity, you understand — but didn't find anything. At least I don't think I found anything. Actually, I don't really remember anything about that visit.
Steve Harvey can be reached at email@example.com. His Twitter address is @sharvey9.