SFGN investigation reveals online reporter may be a fraud

The Washington Post and the Toronto Sun reported this week that a poll conducted by the Orange County Equality Project in Southern California found Britney Spears to be the gay community’s greatest Gay icon with 31 percent of the vote. 

But there’s one problem: It appears to be fake.

 

SFGN has discovered no proof that there is an Orange County Equality Project located in Southern California. 

A Google search not only fails to authenticate who or what the Orange County Equality Project is, Palazzo’s references to its results are not bolstered by any facts delineating when and where or how the poll was released or administered. SFGN has now contacted Palazzo four times via e-mail for additional information about the Equality Project and information contained in his article about the poll. 

Palazzo has yet to respond. 

The information contained in the news articles in both the Post and Sun appears to have originated in the unauthenticated story Palazzo posted on Examiner.com, entitled: “Britney Spears named number one Gay icon in Southern California.” 

SFGN also contacted two members of the Orange County Equality Coalition, an organization with a similar name. Both members thought SFGN was referring to their Coalition. When further questioned, Vice Chair of the OCEC Felicity Figueroa said she’s never heard of the Orange County Equality Project, Fernando Palazzo, or Joel Waddell, a “gay activist” and member of the organization often quoted in Palazzo’s articles. 

The GLBT National Help Center, which maintains the largest LGBT resource database in the U.S., also has no record of the group. 

“We checked our resources, and we do not have any info on Orange County Equality Project,” Executive Director Brad Becker said. 

The same goes for the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County. 

“Maybe you mean OCEC? Orange County Equality Coalition?” replied Executive Director Ginger Hahn. 

SFGN additionally checked the State of California’s corporation’s database and found no records of an Orange County Equality Project. Guidestar, a website database of nonprofits around the country, was also checked with no results. The organization also doesn’t appear to have a website, phone number, Facebook or MySpace page.

According to Palazzo’s bio, he writes for the ‘Orange County Gay Culture’ section on Examiner.com. His first article appeared on the website January 28. His bio reads:

 "Fernando Palazzo is an openly gay graduate student at [university left out] who enjoys writing about pop culture. He has been heavily involved in organizations that support gay marriage all over Southern California.”

Palazzo doesn’t mention any of those organizations he’s involved with.

And the source that Palazzo quotes in some of his articles, Joel Waddell, also appears to be suspicious. Waddell is purportedly a member of the Orange County Equality Project, and is frequently quoted saying outrageous things, many of which seem to focus on his hatred of Lady GaGa. 

“Lady Gaga is a talentless scam artist. She is to the Gay community what Hitler was to Germany—completely destructive,” Waddell was quoted as saying. 

The next day ‘Joel Waddell’ apologized for his Lady Gaga/Hitler comparison in another article titled, “Gay activist Joel Waddell apologizes for Lady Gaga/Hitler comparison.” 

On Friday, Palazzo posted a new blog claiming the Orange County Equality Project conducted yet another poll: “What man do Gay guys fantasize about the most.” This story from Palazzo asserts that “Gay men fantasize about James Franco and Barack Obama the most.” As with the first poll, it’s just as suspicious. Besides the percentages, few details are given. There is no information on by whom, how, or when the poll was conducted.

While no credible news sources have yet to disseminate the second poll results, a search of the initial poll indicates the story went viral once the Toronto Sun and Washington Post picked it up. Palazzo’s original article was also reported in his hometown Orange County paper, the OC Weekly, celebrity sites such as starpulse.com and on international news organizations websites, such as the timesofindia.com and PinkNews.co.uk. 

At the bottom of the Post’s blog entry they cite the Toronto Sun as their source. The Toronto Sun mentioned no source for its article, and all the articles flowing out into the Internet appear to have their genesis in the possibly specious and as yet unproven claims made by Palazzo. 

The OC Weekly quoted Waddell and attributed it to Examiner.com. But this isn’t the first time OC Weekly has used Palazzo’s stories as a source. The weekly newspaper also used material from Palazzo in a blog entry about Bristol Palin. It appears the information the OC Weekly took from Palazzo’s story “Orange County Gays condemn Bristol Palin as speaker” could also be fake. The OC Weekly even congratulated Palazzo on his good work. 

“Openly gay graduate student Fernando Palazzo gets the scoop for Examiner.com,” the OC Weekly blog entry reads. Despite the accolades, SFGN has to ask whether Palazzo got a scoop or the OC Weekly and some very major news organizations have all been duped.