When news came through that former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was to join news network Al Jazeera, it's easy to see why it interested The Washington Post. Al Jazeera had just announced it would launch an American operation, and Palin had worked extensively with Fox News.
Problem was, this wasn't ''news'' at all. It was a manufactured story from satirical website The Daily Currant. But Post contributor Suzi Parker ran with it and the inglorious correction sits atop the online article to this day.
Fake news sites are proliferating. Empire Sports, National Report, The News Nerd and Mediamass are among the names you probably won't recognise but could seem credible to a casual and unsuspecting audience. The brands sound innocuous and, in today's rapid-fire online media landscape, reliable enough to be used as a source.
For legal purposes, the websites identify themselves as satirical, but often in surreptitious ways. Perform a Google search for 'The Daily Currant' and it proudly bills itself "The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record". But follow a link directly to an article and you will see no such disclaimer.
Proprietors of these sites may be seeking to emulate the success of The Onion, the standard-bearer in satirical news. Founded in 1988, it grew from a college-town rag to a national juggernaut headquartered in Chicago. Its bread-and-butter format is instantly recognisable: a banal, everyday act written up as a breaking news story. Some items deviate from this template but the joke is almost always made clear in the headline.
But content on the imitation sites typically spans a spectrum of crediblity. Current celebrity stories on The News Nerd stretch from the immediately believable ("Solange in Fist Fight With Jay-Z After Hair Insults") to the far-fetched ("Patti Labelle Arrested After Fist Fight With Aretha Franklin").
Over at The Daily Currant, recent stories tell of Barack Obama offering a $US700 billion bailout for the Veterans Administration, and China contracting the NYPD to advise on repressing protests.
At least part of the criticism of these satirical sites is highly subjective: that they're simply not funny enough. Politico media blogger Dylan Byers accused Daily Currant headlines and articles of lacking the sort of humour which made The Onion clearly identifiable as satire.
"Almost no one mistakes The Onion for a real news organisation," Byers wrote. "That's not just because it has greater brand recognition. It's because their stories make readers laugh."
That argument is partly accepted by 'Currant' founder, Daniel Barkeley. "We write articles that seem more real than articles you might see in the The Onion," he told Slate last year. Barkeley was reported as having only one colleague at that time, and the site still produces just one story every few days.
But it makes money - New Republic reported the site could bring in up to $US130,000 a year in ad revenue, with smaller competitors like Mediamass and Huzzlers' earning around the $US40,000 mark.
The 'Currant' scored another recent success when its tale of New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman filing for bankruptcy got picked up by The Boston Globe and then Breitbart, a political news website. The article claimed Krugman had spent $US84,000 in a single month on "rare Portuguese wines and 19th-century English cloth".
The stories are often believable enough to fool experienced but time-poor editors and journalists. But they can also appear on major news websites - potentially even The Sydney Morning Herald - courtesy of automatic processes that promote sponsored content.
The Globe is a respected US broadsheet, with around 200,000 paid subscribers and 23 Pulitzer prizes under its belt. In the Krugman case, the satirical story appeared deep in the recesses of the Globe's website, Boston.com, having arrived from a "third party vendor".
"We never knew it was there till we heard about it from outside," Globe editor Brian McGrory told The Washington Post. Before it was taken down, the Boston.com article referenced its source as Austrian finance magazine Format, which in turn cited The 'Currant'.
Dr Peter Chen, senior lecturer in media politics at the University of Sydney, notes there is a long tradition of satirical newspapers in print. "In Queensland where I grew up there was one called The Bug," he said. "People have been pranking newspapers since newspapers were created.”
But Dr Chen also argues the online space has led to a proliferation of misinformation that thrives on the reduced resources of traditional newsrooms.
"Under the well-funded robust model back in the day, that was probably less likely to occur," he said.
Dr Fiona Martin, senior lecturer in online media, said regulation of these sites is not feasible and "people now have to be very aware of how to verify information that they find online".
And fake news doesn't necessarily need the endorsement of a major media brand to gain traction. A 2008 'Currant' piece titled "Todd Akin Claims Breastmilk Cures Homosexuality" was recommended more than 43,000 times on Facebook and 3400 times on Twitter. Barkeley claims the UK Guardian contacted him, asking for the video.
This is also a reflection of the way we consume and share media online. A recent study by the US Media Insight Project found six in 10 people do little more than read news headlines. And what about the stories we post to Twitter or Facebook? No, we don't read them either. Tony Haile, CEO of traffic analyst Chartbeat, revealed earlier this year: "We've found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading."
Fool me once - more media mistakes:
Gone to the dogs - In December 2013, Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po seized on a satirical Weibo post (China's version of Facebook) suggesting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had his uncle executed by feeding him to a pack of dogs. It was later picked up by Singapore's The Straits Times. The report, needless to say, was baseless.
Museum of Muslim culture - In October 2013, Fox News anchor Anna Kooiman had to apologise after she gave legs to a 'National Report' satire piece claiming Barack Obama offered to fund a museum of Muslim culture out of his own pocket during the US government shutdown.
The Hitler Diaries - In 1983, German magazine Stern claimed to have unearthed Adolf Hitler's personal diaries from 1932 to 1945. Less than two weeks after the mag announced the discovery to extreme interest, forensics experts denounced it a forgery.