5 Scary & Sensational News Stories That Were (Thankfully) Proven False

We live in a world that runs on a 24-hour news cycle. There is news constantly being produced for online reading, TV, and — never forget — print. There is so much information from all over the world that circulates so quickly, and while journalists strive to avoid sensationalism and report as factually as possible, sometimes mistakes work their way into the mainstream news media. And sometimes there is speculation about future events that has to happen in order to inform the public, but the speculation doesn't always pan out to resemble what had been previously reported. In essence, there have been some scary and sensational news stories that turned out to be false when all was said and done.

And I'm not talking about hysteria that came about because of fiction presented as news à la Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio drama in the 1930s. These were news stories believed to be fact and widely reported as such across reputable news sources until retractions and corrections were made after the real facts came to light.

Here are some of the most terrifying and sensational from the last couple of decades that scared the pants off of us until the stories were set straight.


This one is a classic. Amidst months of news reports that the start of the year 2000 would cause disastrous technology complications (and a rumor that a nuclear missile could launch accidentally), there were high levels of fear about the potential fallout from such problems. I have memories of footage that showed families stocking their pantries with months worth of food and bottled water, and filling up their bathtubs with water (in case the bottled water ran out? I'm not sure). There were educated speculations that war would break out between Russia and the U.S. People were nervous, and there was a very tense feeling in the air leading up to New Years.

But then the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, and pretty much nothing happened. There were a couple non-vital tech hiccups, but nothing even remotely approaching the predicted pandemonium occurred.

The Vengeful Polish Dentist

I believed and was utterly horrified when I read the 2012 story (reported by several major news organizations) about a Polish dentist extracting every single one of her ex-boyfriend's teeth in a terrifying act of revenge. The story was originally published in the Daily Mail, and was complete with quotes from the supposedly toothless boyfriend. Polish authorities looked into the accusations laid forth in the Daily Mail's article, and determined that the entire story had been a fabrication.

Balloon Boy

The public went up in arms when the "Balloon Boy" story dominated the news in October 2009. Balloon Boy (real name: Falcon Heene) was 6 years old that when footage of a huge weather balloon, supposedly carrying Heene, floated around the air, up to 7,000 miles above the ground. Heene's parents claimed that their son was riding around the balloon, but after the balloon landed on the ground several hours later, nobody was inside, and people were maybe even more pissed then than they were when they thought a small child was in life-threatening peril.

The Heene family was written off as fame-seeking and insensitive when Balloon Boy let it slip during an interview after the incident that the entire thing had been orchestrated "for show."

Gabrielle Giffords' (Non)Death

Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords suffered a very serious gunshot wound in Tucson in 2011. Giffords is alive and well to this day, but in the hours following the shooting, NPR reported that Giffords was not only shot but had also been killed. The NPR report was quickly picked up by several other very reputable news organizations, including The New York Times and CNN.However, within a few hours NPR had completed additional reporting that found Giffords was still living, and they quickly issued a correction and an apology.

The 1 Percent Tip

In February 2012, when there was still quite a lot of heat surrounding Occupy Wall Street and contempt was high for the 1 percent, a story was released across several major news outlets that further incensed everyone who had already more than had it with the richest of the rich in the U.S. The story ran with an image that depicted a receipt from a lunch out at restaurant, with a 1 percent tip and a note saying "Get a real job!" The tip had reportedly been left by a bank executive, but it was later revealed by the restaurant that the image with the insultingly low tip had been doctored and was inaccurate.