Phelps vs. Great White Shark: An Epitome of Fake News

Last Sunday on Discovery Channel, the event of a lifetime took place. Two top predators competed to see which was truly faster: man, or beast. The first contestant was Michael Phelps- one of the fastest swimmers on earth and certainly one of the most famous. The second was one of the top predators of the ocean- the efficient, deadly, and ferocious great white shark. But not really.

Discovery Channel amped the event up for months. Tierney Bricker writes about the hype: “Discovery Channel said in a press release announcing the special: ‘He is our greatest champion to ever get in the water: Michael Phelps. 39 world records. 23 Olympic golds. But he has one competition left to win. An event so monumental no one has ever attempted it before. The world’s most decorated athlete takes on the ocean’s most efficient predator: Phelps V Shark – the race is on!’” (ENEWS). Phelps himself talked about the event several times to the press, helping to increase the excitement.

“Phelps vs. Shark” was the biggest hoax since the Trojan Horse!

Media professionals and average citizens alike were duped. “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White” belongs with “Kim Jong Un is the Sexiest Man in the World,” “Paula Deen- I Am More Popular Than Jesus Christ,” and “US Customs Agents Confiscate 900,000 Counterfeit Gummy Bears…” in the category of fake news. Phelps did not race a great white shark. He raced against a CGI.

Drowning in anticipation for the Sunday night special, people from all over the world leaned in close to their screens, eagerly awaiting the race.

And what did they get? Phelps swimming alone in the ocean with a shark- like suit and fins on. Discovery Channel defends their Shark Week opener adamantly. They say Phelps wouldn’t stand a chance without their suit that mimics shark skin and their sideways fins. They say that they studied the great white shark and created an accurate representation for how the shark would swim with their computer- generated- shark.

I don’t want hypotheticals!

Anyone can do a quick Google search and compare Phelp’s top speed: 6 mph to a great white shark’s: 35 mph. Even though we know who should win the race, anything can happen on game day. What if Phelps ends up racing a particularly slow shark? What if the shark has a bad day? Even if Phelps loses to a real shark, by how much? These are all questions left to be answered.

Discovery wanted an excuse to study the great white shark and to use their advanced shark suit. But that’s not what the people wanted. The people wanted to see Phelps in a tank with a shark- separated by glass- racing. Is that really too much to ask?

Yes, I know it’s difficult to get a shark to swim in a straight line or to swim at top speed on command. However, I’m sure there’s some way to incentivize the shark into doing just that. All the time, money, and ingenuity used on developing a shark suit should have been devoted to making the race live and against an actual shark. Michael declared after the “race,” which he lost by two seconds, that he wants a rematch. I speak for the people when I say, “Give it to him.” Only this time, we demand that it be real.

Gary Parrish
Turns out “Michael Phelps races a shark” was really just “Michael Phelps swims alone and then compares his time to a shark’s time.”

Check out more tweets about the subject here:



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