Web entrepreneur Jason Calacanis' prank claims about the Apple tablet yesterday were so over the top, we had to laugh. Until prestige media started reprinting them like they had merit, and our good humor turned to amazement.

We've put together a collage of the credulous coverage (click to enlarge):

Here's the backstory:

On his Twitter starting Tuesday night Wednesday morning, a few hours before Apple's scheduled announcement, Calacanis said he had been a "beta tester" for the then-undisclosed iPad. He also said....

  • That it was powered by solar panels.
  • That it included a TiVO-esque personal video recorder.
  • A built-in high-definition TV tuner.
  • A fingerprint reader for security.
  • Thumb-driven mouse gestures.
  • Wireless internet through Verizon and AT&T.
  • A custom version of the cheesy, decidedly low-rez Facebook game Farmville in which you shook the tablet to plant seeds and tilt it to "spread water around."
  • Facial recognition.
  • Wireless electric charging.

You can read the tweets below.

It was all obviously bullshit. Good-humored, fun-loving bullshit, but BS nonetheless. A "beta tester" — like paranoid Apple would allow non-employees to take unannounced, top-secret products home, much less a loudmouth like Calacanis. Thumbrinting and facial recognition - a bit redundant, no? Two carriers: yes wireless phone companies love to work together, especially on niche products.

And we're sure some of the smart people who wrote up Calacanis' tweets, inevitably at arms length and often with a question mark in the headline, knew it was bullshit. But as per news media tradition, a reporter can't just write, "this is obviously bullshit." That would be injecting opinion or snark, heaven forbid, into a "straight" news stories. So the writers, no matter what they might really think, ended up in the position of lending credence to Calacanis' joke, if only by dint of earnestly asking if it might be true.

It should be noted that the opinion-happy blogosphere also took Calacanis all too seriously. TechCrunch's CrunchGear, for example, wrote that Calacanis might have "spoiled" Apple CEO Steve Jobs' big speech.

Even AOL's Joystiq, a blog Calacanis himself started, uncritically echoed the Los Angeles entrepreneur, adding, "we'll be sure to be retroactively thrilled about the verified parts" of Calacanis' story when they come true.

Which bring us to something darker: Some outlets didn't just take Calacanis seriously, they tried to cover up their mistakes. Joystiq has nuked their post entirely, though we were able to insert it above (plus Joystiq logo) thanks to the magic of Google Reader. CNN/Money was the worst offender, completely rewriting their article so it looked like a history of the prank rather than something they once took very seriously. We've included the Google cache of the original above.

Listen, news media: Yes, pranks can be tricky. We've been had too. But if you're getting fooled by this grade of semi-deception, maybe it's time to reconsider what you're doing and how you're doing it.

As for Calacanis, he deserves kudos for actually highlighting an important issue with his latest bout of attentionmongering. Gizmodo's Joel Johnson perhaps said it best:

Hoax tweets (read from bottom):

(Top pic: Calacanis, by doctorparadox on Flickr)