I emailed Arthurs and asked her how this story came to be. She replied:
I have tried to contact TNI to figure out exactly what is going on, but have had no joy as yet. I am in touch with the editor of Ad Age and we are trying to figure it out together....TNI was indeed the source of the original details and the quotes. I can't be much more helpful than that at the moment. They seem to be quite elusive.
TNI Press Ltd appears to be just two people: Christopher Paul Brandes and Allison McDonald-Brandes, a husband-and-wife team in Preston, England. According to Company Check, TNI Press has a net worth of roughly $5,000 -- so it's very unlikely it's working for Armani or Rihanna. Chris Brandes seems to specialize in shots of naked or nearly naked celebrities for U.K. tabloids, given the copious number of photo credits he possesses, though I have serious doubts he actually took all those pictures. Aside from that, little is known about them. Brandes has yet to respond to my requests to answer a few questions via his Facebook or Twitter accounts.
So somebody made up a survey as an excuse to run sexy photos and grab some Web traffic. Who cares if they want you to think Rihanna is sexy? (I don't, but your mileage may vary.) However, this is a perfect example of what's wrong with the Web as a source of news and how it's only getting worse over time.
Fake story with sexy pix? Guaranteed page views with minimal investment of time or effort? Welcome to the future of Web news.
With bare-bones staff and freelancers paid a few pennies per page view, the press release becomes king. Give me a photo and three facts, and I can give you the world -- or at least 400 words worth of Google-friendly tripe, accuracy not required.
Of the publications that carried the story, none to my knowledge has issued a retraction or a disclaimer, despite the fact that Ad Age discredited the story four days ago. Allegedly, the Daily Mail is working hard to ferret out the truth about how this bogus story came to be.
To paraphrase Disraeli, there are three kinds of untruths: lies, damned lies, and press releases. So long as they come with pictures of sexy women, funny cats, or cute babies, nothing else seems to matter.
Do you long for more articles about sexy women, funny cats, or cute babies in 2012? Post your requests below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. And Happy New Year.
This article, "The best fake news money can buy," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.