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Fake news? Meet the guy who practically invented it

Joey Skaggs

photo by ArtChick

Charles Runnells , The News-PressPublished 8:01 a.m. ET Jan. 22, 2017 | Updated 7 hours ago

People talk about “fake news” like it’s something new.

it’s not.

Media prankster Joey Skaggs has been doing it since the 1960s — long before Facebook, Twitter and the so-called “fake news” crisis. He’s concocted all kinds of bizarre schemes to fool gullible news reporters and their unsuspecting audiences.

Take, for example, his infamous “cat house for dogs” — a brothel for stressed-out dogs that got national attention in the 1970s.

Or his portable confession booth parked outside the Democratic National Convention in 1992, complete with Skaggs disguised as a Catholic priest.

Or his annual Father’s Day Parade that doesn’t actually exist. That is, until a Chinese TV crew decides to visit Manhattan, and Skaggs has to come up with something for them to film, including official T-shirts and actors pretending to be parade participants.

None of those things were real, of course. But that didn’t stop the news media from reporting on them.

Skaggs isn’t sure if those reporters completely bought his hoaxes or if they did the stories with a knowing wink-wink to the audience. But either way, he says, it’s a problem.

“If they were totally gullible, that’s understandable,” he says. “It’s a good story, and I give them good visuals.

“But if it’s wink-wink, why is it wink-wink? What am I replacing that’s more newsworthy? That’s a tremendous problem. They could be covering something more important.”

Skaggs and his hoaxes are the stars of the new documentary “Art of the Prank,” one of more than 50 films being shown next week at the annual Bonita Springs International Film Festival.

The fest features screenings of narrative, documentary, animated and short films. It also hosts workshops and Q&A sessions with the films’ creators and stars, including Skaggs.

“Art of the Prank” couldn’t be more timely, Skaggs says. Fake news is all over social media — bogus news stories designed to sway public opinion or generate page views, regardless of facts, truth or journalistic ethics.

“Of course, there’s a big difference between that and what I do,” he says. “I’m calling attention to fake news, but a lot of people don’t see that. They want to shoot the messenger.”