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1990s / Buckwheat Hoax 1990
ABC News found itself in an embarrassing position in 1990. Acting on a viewer's tip, 20/20, ABC's weekly news magazine, aired a "Where are they now?" segment about former Our Gang member Buckwheat. The story claimed that Buckwheat, whose real name was Bill English, was modestly employed as a grocery bagger at a Tempe, AZ supermarket. Immediately following the broadcast, dozens of Our Gang fans called ABC to tell the network they had been duped by an imposter. The real Buckwheat was named Billie Thomas--and he had died of a heart attack in 1980. Among the whistle-blowers was Our Gang alumnus Spanky McFarland who had worked alongside Thomas from 1934 until 1942. (Buckwheat stayed with the series until its conclusion in 1944.) Shortly after the hoax was exposed, a reporter from A Current Event interviewed McFarland via satellite from his home in Dallas while simultaneously interviewing English via satellite from Tempe. English came across as mumbling, evasive, incoherent, and thoroughly unconvincing. Moreover, English claimed to be the "first Buckwheat"--even though there was only one. The fallout of the debacle was that Lynn Murray, the producer of the 20/20 segment, was fired for doing inadequate research. Thomas's son sued ABC for damages. Hugh Downs issued an on-air apology on the following 20/20 broadcast. ABC News released a half-hearted, semi-apologetic media statement describing the situation as awkward "because English truly believes he is Buckwheat." English went to his grave in November 1994 still maintaining he was Buckwheat.