Teddy Roosevelt on a Moose: Fake News, or Fake Fake News?

Video did teddy roosevelt ride a moose

President Theodore Roosevelt was larger than life, in many ways. He explored the Amazon. He delivered a campaign speech after being shot. (“The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best,” he told the horrified audience.) He was the very first president both to drive a car and fly in a plane. He got into a bar fight in a tiny town called Wibaux, Montana. And on at least one occasion, Roosevelt rode in a saddle on a moose. There’s even a photo of that last thing: Teddy in his iconic white safari hat, perched atop an antlered beast as it fords a body of water flanked by evergreens. The legs of our 26th president dangled in the water.

It’s fitting, somehow, to find Roosevelt in this unusual position. (The man did at one point have a pet bear named Jonathan Edwards.) The problem is that this particular ride never happened. The image is doctored—a photograph of the president that was cut and glued atop a picture of a moose. Up close, the famous photo is easy to identify as a sham: The seams around his legs and hands are messy and indicate foul play. (Anybody who knows much about moose wouldn’t need to make a close inspection. The wild creatures are not exactly friendly, and they certainly don’t appreciate being ridden.) Yet the image, ripe with the juicy mythology of a president who could sometimes seem as though he’d ridden out of a tall tale, has been shared far and wide, and treated as the real deal. Today, you can find it printed onto mugs, posters, and even cheeky T-shirts.

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Its fakeness too has become iconic. Roosevelt is often trotted out astride his moose for discussions of the problem of deepfakes. The picture makes the point that photo manipulation isn’t some new phenomenon. I’ve used it myself, pointing out that the spread of misinformation and doctored images didn’t suddenly pop up with the release of Photoshop in 1990. In fact, just recently, I found myself about to make this very point—with this very photo as the illustration—in a book I’m writing about the future, based on my podcast Flash Forward.

Then it occurred to me how little I really knew about the picture’s origin. It was clearly fake, that much was obvious. But who had done the faking, and for what reason? And was its awkward cutting and pasting really meant to be deceptive? Had Teddy put it out himself to show how badass he was? Or had a rival put it out to try and catch him in a lie? What exactly are we debunking here? I also didn’t know, right then, that trying to find out more about this photograph would send me down a rabbit hole of digitization, historical memory, fake news, and questions about how and why we share things at all.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>