FAKE NEWS TEST: Headlines, answers and analysis

The FOX 9 Investigators developed a “Fake News Test,” and surveyed more than 1,100 people.  The vast majority of respondents took the survey through Facebook, a frequent source of ‘fake news’ throughout the 2016 Election Cycle.  The respondents are therefore, self selecting in this survey, which is not considered scientific. We found many of the respondents had a difficult time distinguishing fake versus real headlines.

WATCH STORY: 'Fake News' - The media's existential crisis

1. “Intel Chiefs Presented Trump with Claims of Russian Efforts to Compromise Him”

REAL: 61%  FAKE: 39%

ANALYSIS:  This is a January 12, 2017 headline from CNN.  BuzzFeed and CNN were the first to report this story, based on unconfirmed accounts from a former British intelligence officer. BuzzFeed published the actual intelligence brief. The reporting was criticized by some because the account could not be independently confirmed, and US intelligence agencies were skeptical about its overall veracity. 

In his first press conference as President, Mr. Trump also said the story was fake.

“I’m not going to give you a question,” President Trump said to CNN White House Reporter Jim Acosta.  “Your organization is fake news,” said the President. 

University of Minnesota Journalism Professor Jane Kirtley believes the story was fair game.

“Once it had the intelligence communities attention it's not fake news anymore, and it's not irresponsible journalism to report it,” said Kirtley.

2.  “White Nationalists see advocate in Steve Bannon who will hold Trump to his campaign promises”

REAL: 49%  FAKE: 51%

ANALYSIS:  It’s a real headline from CNN on November 15, 2016, with an on-the-record interview with former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke. Steve Bannon is a special advisor to the president and former publisher of the Alt Right site Breitbart News. He is a key figure in the Trump Administration. One could argue about the precise nature of alleged ties with the Alt Right movement, but it's a relevant story about an influential figure.

3. “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide”

REAL: 14%  FAKE: 86%

ANALYSIS:  An August 2016 headline from a site known for spreading malware and fake news, and appropriating the trademark for ABC News with a very similar URL. According to a survey by BuzzFeed, this was one of the most popular fake news headlines of the last year. The myth-busting site, Snopes, calls it a recycled old chestnut that has no basis in the truth.

4.  “President Obama Confirms He Will Refuse to Leave Office If Trump Is Elected”

REAL:  5%  FAKE: 95%

ANALYSIS:  This headline appeared, among other places, in The Burrard Street Journal in September 2016, which makes clear on a disclaimer that it is a purely satirical site.

5. “Hillary Clinton has enough electoral votes to win the White House in final Fix map”

REAL: 24%  FAKE:  76%

ANALYSIS:  The vast majority of polls failed to predict Donald Trumps electoral win. This headline, that appeared on the eve of the election in The Washington Post, is among the stories that got it wrong. There are lessons to be learned here: about prognostication, the error rate in polling, aggregating and weighting errors in polling, and the overall tendency in the media to treat campaigns as a horse race. But the reporting was true based on the available evidence. 

6. “Steve ‘Turn On the Hate’ Bannon, in the White House”

REAL:  40%  FAKE: 60%

ANALYSIS:  A real staff editorial from the opinion pages of the New York Times on August 15, 2016.  The sensational and opinionated tone of the headline appears to have influenced many of the respondents, 60 percent of whom considered this a fake headline. It’s a very real headline, but clearly one with an opinion and slant. 

7. “Florida man dies in meth-lab explosion after lighting farts on fire”

REAL: 40%  FAKE: 60%

ANALYSIS:  This February 2016 headline from The Valley Report has been called fake by a number of sites evaluating fake news. 

“Some of these stories my be exaggerated, embellished or an outright work of fiction,” states a disclaimer on the site. And it offers this sage advice:  “Use proper judgment when reading anything on the internet.”

8. “Van Full of Illegals Show Up to Vote Clinton at SIX Polling Places”

REAL:  16%  FAKE:  84%

ANALYSIS:  This headline and accompanying story, was heavily circulated on Facebook and Twitter during November 2016. The article offers no proof that the van was filled with illegal immigrants, and provides a link to a Phoenix FOX affiliate, which did not report on anything concerning this story. This was one of many voter fraud stories without evidence or substantiation that circulated on the internet during the 2016 election cycle.

9.  “Steve Bannon Aligns With Vatican Hard-Liners Who Oppose Pope Francis”

REAL:  31%  FAKE:  69%

ANALYSIS:  A headline from NPR on February 8 seemed bizarre at first blush, but the story is based on solid reporting, with on-the-record sources by the New York Times regarding Bannon’s relationship with American Cardinal Raymond Burke. Still, 69 percent apparently thought the story was to bizarre to be real and called it fake.

10. Man shoots off his own penis taking selfies with gun


REAL: 49%  FAKE: 51%

ANALYSIS:  This is a widely spread hoax that originated with a satirical web site. The photo that accompanied the article was from a completely unrelated article. 

11.  ‘The Electoral College was meant to stop men like Trump from taking office’


REAL: 41%  FAKE: 59%

ANALYSIS:  A real tweet from Liam Stack, a veteran reporter for the New York Times, that links to an article in The Atlantic. The original article is considered analysis. But the nature of the headline is so sensational, many questioned its authenticity. The Public Editor of The New York Times criticized Stack and another reporter who had postings on Twitter that reflected a particularly political point of view. That said, the news aspect of the reportage is real and legitimate. 

12.  “Pizzagate:  Podesta pedo perps and Clinton’s international child sex trafficking ring exposed”

REAL: 8%  FAKE:  92%

ANALYSIS:  This story, widely known as PizzaGate, has been widely discredited. It is based on a conspiratorial interpretation of emails released by WikiLeaks. 


REAL: 6%  FAKE: 94%

ANALYSIS:  This widely discredited article began with InfoWars, a site affiliated with talk radio show host Alex Jones.  No evidence is offered.  It appears to be entirely speculative. The Fox 9 Investigators reached out to the people who run the web site for comment and have not heard from them.

14.  “Donald Trump Won 7.5 Million Popular Vote Landslide in Heartland”

REAL: 26%  FAKE: 74%

ANALYSIS:  The Alt Right site Breitbart News published this story in November 2016. The story relies on a fake map and some very creative math. In essence, the map eliminates all the counties Hillary Clinton won in the so-called ‘Heartland,’ which appears to be anything that is not the East and West Coasts. The reporter also eliminates 52 counties where Hillary Clinton did very well. The Washington Post has a detailed analysis of the errors of omission in this report. Bottom line:  Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes.

15.  ‘Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President’

REAL:  11%  FAKE:  89%

ANALYSIS:  This story originated with WTOE 5 News, which describes itself as a fantasy news site. The Pope did not endorse Donald Trump, nor did he endorse Bernie Sanders, which has also been reported by fake news sites.


We asked people to evaluate two statements that have broad scientific consensus.

A. Human behavior is contributing to global climate change.

FACT 63%

B.  Vaccines are, overall, safe and beneficial

FACT: 77%