Christophe Kuchly et Raphaël Cosmidis

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Times New Roman

Times New Roman

How one Agence Transe Presse news inspired a bit too much an article from The Times, a newspaper which now denies any plagiarism.


Humour is always more successful when the reader is a native speaker, and even more when we talk about a fake news. Subtlety and hints implied, quite easily spotted by a wise reader, get sometimes lost in translation. Knowledge of the media is an important element as well. McLuhan's famous line "The message is the medium" makes all sense here. The Cahiers du Football have no intention to get information out and there is not one journalist who makes calls and uses sources on their behalf. This context, well-known by french readers and journalists, even if some people got caught in the past, is not known abroad.



A copy a bit too consistent

Ok, let's admit it, true information can follow wrong information. Purely by chance, or as a trigger. A football club falsely linked to a player might get information about him, find him interesting and eventually sign him. Why not. But the case here seems much clearer.

First step : the fake news is published here in the night from March 11th to March 12th, with a name ("Dream Football League"), a picture, and figures completely made up by the writer. This has to be clearly understood: Les Cahiers' piece was published before The Times' piece. A simple Google search will prove that.

Second step : March 13th, around 3:30 AM, The Times publishes exclusive information weirdly similar. Name of the project, date of launching, number of clubs participating (even on invitation), spending limits, and the same picture. An almost perfect match. Except that everyone in England is yet to realize that.

Shortly after the publication of the article, other British papers run the story. Opinion pieces on the topic appear and English-speaking journalists talk with each other on Twitter, saddened by the possibility of such a project. They are quickly warned by the usual Cahiers readers, especially by us, Christophe and Raphaël, who write on les Dé-Managers, a blog associated with Les Cahiers. We tell them that their exclusive is actually based on an entirely fictional article. At that moment, few of them take us seriously.


Source or not source

Attacked by strangers in the middle of the night on the reliabilty of their sources, the Times' journalists are asleep or extremely discreet. Their colleagues stand up for them, sure of their probity. After all, the article is written by Oliver Kay, chief football correspondent for The Times. It's true, the man is known to be reliable. But what can reputation do against a body of presumptive evidence so huge? Soon, questions are infinite, and our knowledge of Les Cahiers makes us representatives.

While some Times readers are feeling duped and the writer of the opinion piece is wondering whether he has just written about nothing concrete, a stranger, whose profile seems solid, invites Christophe to chat with him via direct messages. The man assures that in this fake news delirium, we hit the truth. The name would be fake (DFL, also used in The Times article) but the idea of sixteen teams going to Doha to play a competition, starting from 2015, would be true. Negotiations with QSI (owner of PSG) would exist, something that three English teams' owners would have confirmed to The Times. The idea would exist backstage and journalists would have been aware of it for a while. Anyway, the speed with which the news was covered shows how the world of football goes crazy with its fantasies whenever Qatar is mentioned.

If the explanation can be credible, the fact that a fake scoop would have pushed journalists from The Times to reactivate their sources to give a true scoop, added to the same name and the same figures...this still seems odd. So does the use of the picture, created for the satirical piece, presented by The Times as a picture created by the promoters of the project. It's normal, replies the one who has now introduced himself a one of the sources. He claims to know about Qatari projects. The article would be just a test to bother the UEFA and kill the Financial Fair Play, and using the elements from the Agence Transe Presse fake news would only back up the three-pages story (how would using a fake news help build veracity?) without giving all the elements. Is this source real? Is he just a fraud ? Either way may be possible but we have collected a lot of hints leading us to think this source is a fraud who pretends to have information. So has Richard Whittall from Counter Attack.


A lot of questions

Was Oliver Kay really tricked by this man (he happens to follow him on Twitter, which may not mean anything)? Did his source, whoever it is, send him the picture we used in our piece? Did Oliver Kay get real information and somehow it got mixed up with ours, completely made up? There is no way to know the truth yet and we, for the time being, are just allowed to make guesses. But one thing is sure: made-up facts, published on our website in a satirical article with no intention to fool foreign medias, ended in The Times print edition 24 hours later. There would have been something to laugh about had The Times staff not tried to justify themselves by presenting us as profiteers who wanted to make the most of the situation.

On the face of things, only The Times will be able to explain what happened, or will have to do so. Oliver Kay used the occasion of a weekly chat on The Times website this Wednesday to announce a forthcoming publication of evidence. We are now waiting, while remaining circumspect when dealing with such methods. The next few days should bring their revelations, small or huge ones. Unless, of course, Les Cahiers du football are hiding a psychic from the world, a bigwig from The Times or someone close to qatari leadership (Qatar FA have denied the genuineness of the project). Last time we checked, we were not.


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