The Fat Squad

1986, New York, New York

"Having difficulty sticking to your diet?" So asked David Hartman on ABC's Good Morning America as he introduced Joe Bones, ex U.S. Marine drill sergeant and proprietor of the Fat Squad, an organization created to help wipe out fat. Bones, (a.k.a. Joey Skaggs), was televised with Hartman on a studio kitchen set with a fat client and six tough looking calorie cops standing guard around a refrigerator.

"Once you hire us, you cannot fire us. Our commandos take no bribes." Bones explained. "For $300 a day plus expenses, 24 hours a day, with a three day minimum, Fat Squad commandos will keep you from breaking your diet using physical force as necessary. A new commando is with you every eight hours, so while you're sleeping, on the job, or out on a date, the Fat Squad guarantees you will not eat anything you're not supposed to eat."

Bones' client Steffani Martin told Hartman she'd been given the services of the Fat Squad as a birthday present from her husband and explained how embarrassing it was to have commandos in the bedroom at night. But she'd lost weight and was happy.

The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post had been among the first media establishments to fall for this hoax. The story then made a wire service and went around the world in a week. In the process, it received wide coverage in countries such as Japan, Australia, England, Italy, Germany, and France.

The phenomenal preoccupation with obesity in America was never more exemplified than by the public and media frenzy to jump on the Fat Squad band wagon. Customers, sales reps, potential partners, investors, and volunteer disciplinarian commandos came out of the woodwork. Newspapers, wire services and television shows from around the world flocked to the Fat Squad headquarters at 107 Waverly Place, New York (the same studio that Skaggs had used for many other hoaxes over the years) and reported on the story.

Good Morning America had heard about The Fat Squad either from Skaggs' mailed media announcement, or from any number of media reports on the fledgling operation. Unfortunately for David Hartman, he failed to recognize Skaggs who had recently appeared on Good Morning America with his Fish Condos, condominiums for upwardly mobile guppies. But viewers did not. ABC got calls from people who recognized Joey Skaggs, telling them they'd been fooled. Included was a writer for The New York Post which prompted a GMA producer to call Skaggs. The next day David Hartman apologized to his viewing audience explaining that GMA, along with many other reputable news agencies, had been had.

© 1997 Joey Skaggs