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Gawker Falls for Ivy League Mugger Hoax

By Leslie Albrecht | February 7, 2011 12:22pm
A fake news report about a mugging at Columbia University tricked some media outlets.
A fake news report about a mugging at Columbia University tricked some media outlets.
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DNAinfo/Mariel S. Clark

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — A Columbia University student's attempt at satire tricked some media outlets into reporting that a cold-hearted Columbia professor refused to accept homework from a student who arrived late to class after being mugged.

Gawker reported Monday morning that Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs Professor Paul Thurman wouldn't let a student named Jane Watkins hand in her homework because she was two minutes late to class after she was mugged by two men dressed in black wearing ski masks, citing a report by a student-run blog.

"They started to run away with my bag but I screamed and begged them to let me have my Statistics homework," Gawker wrote, citing the Morningside Post, a blog at SIPA.

"I told them they could have my wallet, my iPhone, anything- just not the homework ... I knew that Professor Thurman would have been really angry if I tried to turn the homework in late. So I hobbled to the SIPA building as fast as I could. I thought because I was only two minutes late he’d be lenient. I thought wrong," the Morningside Post quoted Watkins as saying.

But a Columbia spokesman said Monday that the report was a hoax, citing an author's note at the bottom of the Morningside Post article.

"It's a satire," wrote author Matt Schiavenza, after apparently fabricating a quote attributed to Prof. Thurman in which he said, "why should I be lenient just because it wasn’t strictly her fault for being late? Besides, if she had consulted her z-tables she would have known that the probability of being mugged on that block is quite high and she probably should have taken a different route to class."

Gawker later added an update saying, "Yea, this is definitely satire. Columbia students are still advised never to leave campus."

Schiavenza also added a "follow-up" in the comments section, claiming that Columbia security officers believed the muggers were undergraduate fraternity members.

He responded to e-mailed requests for comment by saying he would not be available until Monday afternoon.

Calls and e-mails to Thurman were not returned.

The account echoed a recent real-life mugging in which a Columbia student was knocked to the ground and robbed of his iPhone in broad daylight.

After a commenter said the Morningside Post story read like something out of the satirical newspaper The Onion, Schiavenva admitted in the comments section that his report was a hoax.

Morningside Post added an editor's note Monday saying, "We thought we’d have a little bit of fun with this one. Imagine if the New York Times had a beat writer covering SIPA."