An international beef sizzled over the weekend after social media grilled a fake Russian report about a New York restaurant honoring President Vladimir Putin’s 65th birthday with a special hamburger.
Russian state media served up a story on October 7, Putin’s birthday, claiming that Lucy’s Cantina Royale in New York City had created a special five-patty burger weighing in at 1,952 grams to commemorate the year the president was born.
WATCH: RUPTLY’s original report
The report, which quoted a waitress at the restaurant named Tamara, was produced by RUPTLY, a company owned by the Kremlin-backed television station RT, and broadcast on state-run Rossia-24 television.
TASS news agency published the story and also reported that a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., had created a Hot Like Putin pizza that included red peppers, meat, onions, and pickles.
State-owned Channel One also ran the story and noted that not only foreign leaders but “ordinary citizens” around the world were going to “extremely original” lengths to celebrate Putin’s birthday.
That’s when Aleksei Kovalev, whose website The Noodle Remover investigates the veracity of propaganda, thought “something didn’t smell right.”
None of the restaurant’s social-media accounts showed any mention of the special, so Kovalev called the restaurant, which is located near the Manhattan transit hub of Penn Station, to ask about the burger and was told “it has nothing to do with us.”
Kovalev then found a picture of the waitress on various casting agency websites and identified her as an aspiring actress named Tamara Ilizarova.
After receiving conflicting reports and phone conversations on whether the burger did, indeed, exist, restaurant owner Sean Ryan finally e-mailed Kovalev with a definitive answer.
“Lucy’s Cantina Royale was the subject of a hoax involving Vladimir Putin’s birthday,” according to the e-mail from Ryan, published on Kovalev’s website.
“Our restaurant has never celebrated Vladimir Putin’s birthday in any way, shape, or form and has never offered a Putin Burger. Lucy’s completely disavows the statements made in the video, which are false. The employees responsible for this hoax have been suspended pending an investigation.”
Ryan also confirmed that a restaurant employee named Ted Bryan, who was quoted in the report, did not exist.
Efforts by RFE/RL to call the restaurant on October 9 were unsuccessful.
A copy of the video report on RUPTLY’s YouTube channel was taken down on October 9.
“This story was deleted, because on further examination it turned out that it did not meet the editorial standards of RUPTLY. The actions, which became the central part of this report, were the personal initiative of individual employees, and not the restaurant itself, which, unfortunately, affected the accuracy of this video. We express our gratitude to our audience, which drew the attention of the agency to the inaccuracies in this story,” RUPTLY said in a statement on October 9.
Alan Crosby is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL.