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Seeing's not always believing

A meteorologist and a cockroach are not what they seem. YouTube strikes again.

By RODNEY THRASH
Published September 23, 2006


One of the most watched clips on YouTube.com, the popular video sharing site, is "cockroach vs. weatherman." It features Sarasota meteorologist Justin Mosely screaming like a - well, let's not go there. Visitors to the site, which boasts 20-million viewers a month, can't seem to get enough of the blooper.

Viewer comments:

FROM blwant 1 week ago

i have watched this about ten times and am still laughing out loud.

FROM reedthis (1 week ago)

I almost wet my pants. lol

FROM royalsapien (1 week ago)

This instantly became one of my favorite internets (sic) videos of all time.

But while the rest of the world is laughing, SNN6, the 24-hour news station that employs Mosely, is not.

There's a back story, and it highlights one of the problems with YouTube and sites like it. Online, things are not always what they seem.

Contrary to what people may think, the footage never aired, said station general manager Lisa DesMarais. Someone anonymously posted the clip on YouTube without SNN6's knowledge or authorization.

"It was basically something that happened during a pretaping," she said.

Mosely did not respond to interview requests. "He wants to get past this," DesMarais said. "It's not who he is."

The video, which runs 51 seconds, begins like the opening credits of a movie, with white letters against a black backdrop.

WEATHERMAN FREAKS OUT WHEN A COCKROACH CRAWLS ACROSS HIS LEG.

As he talks about rains moving across Central Florida, Mosely looks to the ground. He lifts his knee, scoots backward, puts his hand toward his mouth. He gasps.

"I'm so sorry, Bill," Mosely says.

He looks down again.

"Oh my God," Mosely wails.

"What the hell just happened?" someone in the background says.

"This is what just happened," Mosely says. "That thing was crawling on my leg."

The screen fades to black again.

THREE HOURS LATER THE COCKROACH IS BACK FOR MORE.

More screaming.

"There was no 3-hour delay," DesMarais said. "Somebody, I don't know who, altered that video. It all happened within 20 seconds or less. The bug didn't go and come back."

It's not the first time YouTube has featured videos that blur the line between fact and fiction, a point highlighted at least two other times in as many weeks.

Last week, CBS asked YouTube to remove a video of its report on attitudes toward the Iraq war. Posted by an anonymous user, the video pieced together portions of an interview that never aired with an actual story by national correspondent Byron Pitts. YouTube complied with the request.

Also last week, the world found out that lonelygirl15, whose video blogs averaged 2.5-million viewers, was a fraud. She's New Zealand actor Jessica Rose, not the sheltered home-schooled girl she portrayed in her online confessionals.

"People now have the tools to create their own media and remix media that already exists," said Mark Glaser, an expert on online videos who writes for PBS's MediaShift blog. "Anytime there's a camera on, you really have to assume that anything could happen to that footage."

So is there a way to tell if something online is a hoax or not?

"It takes media literacy, more skepticism," Glaser said. "For the person watching these things, you have to consider the source."

And what does YouTube have to say about all of this? The company, which has gone from a fanciful idea born in a garage in February 2005 to a cultural hit that now accounts for 60 percent of all videos watched online, declined an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.

"At this time, we are focused on servicing the tremendous growth of the service and the business," spokeswoman Caroline Tanaka said in an e-mail.

Meanwhile, the clip continues to circulate on the Internet, radio and cable TV. It made The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and VH1's Best Week Ever. On that show's Web site, it is one of the "Favorite Posts" under the header, "The Best YouTube Video Eva."

Since the clip first aired on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, at least 40 additional versions of the video have appeared on the site. One of them, "The Original Cockroach vs. Weatherman," has been watched 244,400 times.

So far.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at (727) 893-8352 or rthrash@sptimes.com

On the Web

To see the video, go to YouTube and type "cockroach and weatherman" in the search window.