FAKE NEWS: 20th Century Fox apologizes to local newspaper for hoax website

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Movie company apologizes to local newspaper for fake news site. (KTRK)

The Leader, a newspaper that's been covering the Heights-Garden Oaks area for decades, is fending off backlash over a fake news website with a similar name.

The hoax website, HoustonLeader.com, posted made-up stories as part of a promotional campaign for a new movie, "A Cure for Wellness."

Twentieth Century Fox apologized for using that site and four similar ones set up in other cities.

The studio said in a statement, "In raising awareness for our films, we do our best to push the boundaries of traditional marketing in order to creatively express our message to consumers. In this case, we got it wrong."

It continued, "The digital campaign was inappropriate on every level, especially given the trust we work to build every day with our consumers. We have reviewed our internal approval process and made appropriate changes to ensure that every part of a campaign is elevated to and vetted by management in order to avoid this type of mistake in the future. We sincerely apologize."

The promotional stunt caused disruptions for the staff of The Leader.

"People that would never go to our Facebook page started commenting on our Facebook posts," said owner and editor, Jonathan McElvy.

The Houston hoax website posted controversial and entirely made-up stories like "Thirty year study of vegans found increased rates of mental illness."

"The vegans are angry and they are taking it out on us," McElvy said.

The calls, emails and comments came pouring in to The Leader's offices from people searching "Houston Leader" and reaching The Leader, where staff had to explain they're not behind the controversial headlines.

"That's what bothered me more than anything, was the local people who saw it and thought we had done it," McElvy said.

McElvy was annoyed to learn the hoax website was a campaign by 20th Century Fox to promote its new movie.

"I've called it fascinating but it ticks me off too," he said. "The goodwill, our name is all media companies have."

A frustrating ordeal but one that's also shown the paper's staff how much support they have.

"The local folks have really come to our defense," McElvy said.

The Leader and McElvy Media are exploring legal options. McElvy said something has to be done to combat fake news posing as legitimate sources.

ABC News contributed to this report.
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