Hoaxes, Hopes And Fears (Rebroadcast)

Mar 28, 2019

Poster for P.T. Barnum's show with Joice Heth
Credit J. Booth and Son / Wikimedia Commons

Author Kevin Young says he started out writing about “why we deceive, and I ended up thinking about why we believe.” The result is the book Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts and Fake News. Young says there are many reasons we believe hoaxes, “but a lot of it is because we want too." Note: this interview originally aired in January. 


Young will speak Thursday March 28th at 7:00p.m. in Room 2452 of Knauss Hall at Western Michigan University. His address is sponsored by the University Center for the Humanities and Western’s English Department. Young was originally scheduled to speak at WMU in January, but it had to be rescheduled due to weather.

Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts and Fake News chronicles a history of hoaxes going back to P.T. Barnum. Young says Barnum didn’t invent the hoax, “but he came close to perfecting it.” Young says some of Barnum’s shows are disturbing, in part because of their use of race. But he says they did prey upon people’s hopes. Young says over time, hoaxes have played upon people’s fears and created greater cynicism and doubt.

Extended interview with Kevin Young in WMUK's WestSouthwest Brief

Young’s book chronicles many different types of hoaxes, including fabricated stories in the media. Young says journalists should have high standards, but he says most of the journalistic hoaxes have been found by other reporters. Young says Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee acted admirably by being upfront when it was discovered that reporter Janet Cooke’s story about an eight year old heroin addict was fiction. The Post returned the Pulitzer Prize it won for the story, and Young says Bradlee also considered why he and others fell for the hoax.

As Young was trying to finish his book, new hoaxes kept coming to light. He says at some point he had to finish writing Bunk. Young says “sometimes I think about is there an epilog?” Young says what he likes about the book is “I really was thinking about the history of the hoax, and it does apply then to the future of it, which is all around us.”

Image from Wikimedia Commons