Rinse, repeat: Right-wing media just can't stop pushing fake stories

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

After their smear of Shirley Sherrod dissolved, the right-wing media moved on to two new fake stories: that Mexican gangs had "invade[d]" Texas and taken over two ranches, and that President Obama "backed the release" of the Lockerbie bomber. Indeed, the right-wing media regularly embarrass themselves by running with entirely fabricated stories.

Days after fake Sherrod story dissolves, RW blogs run with fake "invasion" story

Bloggers Amato, Dvorak invent story that Mexican gangs have "taken over" two ranches near Laredo, TX. In a July 24 post on his "Diggers Realm" blog, Dan Amato wrote that "word is coming in that Los Zetas, the highly trained killers formerly with the Gulf Cartel, have crossed into the United States and taken over at least two ranches in the Laredo, Texas area." He reported that San Diego Minutemen founder Jeff Schwilk had "tipped me off to this story." Similarly, in a July 24 Examiner.com post, Kimberly Dvorak reported that "In what could be deemed an act of war against the sovereign borders of the United States, Mexican drug cartels have seized control of at least two American ranches inside the U.S. territory near Laredo, Texas." She added that "Two sources inside the Laredo Police Department confirmed the incident is unfolding." Amato subsequently updated his post, linking to Dvorak's post and writing that the story "is now 100% confirmed by second source within the Laredo Police Department."

Right-wing media run with "invasion" story. Right wing blogs, including Andrew Breitbart's Big Peace blog, Michelle Malkin, Weasel Zippers, and Jawa Report quickly picked up the story. Acknowledging that they had "not been able to independently confirm" the story, Big Peace's "Sun Tzu" quoted from Amato's story under the headline "BREAKING NEWS: Multiple Ranches in Laredo, Texas Taken Over by Los Zetas." Malkin reported, "rumors are swirling of a Zetas-led invasion into Texas ranches," while Jawa Report wrote that the rumor "should be the headline story put out by the American media."

Laredo Morning Times: "Officials know nothing of rumored Zeta standoff." On July 24, the Laredo Morning Times reported that law enforcement officials had been "bombarded" with calls about the rumor but that "officials with the Laredo Police Department, Webb County Sheriff's Department and Border Patrol said they knew nothing about such an incident, while Erik Vasys, an FBI spokesman in San Antonio, said the agency does not comment on rumors."

Conservative blogger Owens debunks story. In a July 24 post on Breitbart's Big Government blog headlined "No, Texas Hasn't Been Invaded," blogger Bob Owens wrote that he contacted the acting watch commander at the Laredo Police Department, who told him that they would not be involved with such an incident because its alleged location was outside their jurisdiction, but they would "know if such an event is occurring." Owens also wrote that he contacted the county sheriff's department who "told me that there was no invasion and no law enforcement siege, and that deputies were continuing normal operations."

Caught pushing fake story, right wing bloggers acknowledge that it is false. Big Peace updated their post, writing, "Never happened reports Laredo paper" and linking to the Times article. Malkin updated her post to note that the Laredo Police Department denied the rumors, and she linked to Owens' entry debunking the rumor. Rather than correct its post, Weasel Zippers simply removed it without any notation that it had done so.

Amato, Dvorak stand by their reporting. In a later post, Amato defended his original report, writing that he trusted Dvorak's confirmation of his story and indicating that that "there may indeed by a bona-fide news blackout" by the Laredo Police Department. In a July 26 post, Owens reported that he had emailed Dvorak and Amato pointing out that their stories contain "literally no evidence of anything, except for unsupported claims by anonymous sources" and asking when they would issue a retraction. According to Owens, Dvorak replied by writing "I have yet to get anyone at Sheriff's, BP or DHS to say this is false and here is my name and title. I stand by my story, as for others I cannot verify." Owens wrote that in a follow-up email, Dvorak stated, "So to me there is no proof one way or the other."

Even Glenn Beck acknowledges story "is not true." On his June 26 radio show, Beck said that "there's another story that some of the ranches have been taken over down on the border this weekend, and apparently that is not true." He added that he had asked Fox News' "brain room" to "look into that this weekend, and they wrote back and said that is not true."

After fake "invasion" story implodes, conservative media move on to fake Lockerbie story

Sunday Times: "[T]he United States wanted Megrahi to remain imprisoned." On July 25, The United Kingdom's Sunday Times reported on a letter Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the London US embassy, sent to British officials stating that the Obama administration supported keeping Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi imprisoned, but that in the event he was released, they preferred to release him in Scotland rather than send him to Libya. From the Sunday Times (accessed via Factiva):

In the letter, sent on August 12 last year to Alex Salmond, the first minister, and justice officials, [deputy head of the London US embassy Richard] LeBaron wrote that the United States wanted Megrahi to remain imprisoned in view of the nature of the crime.

The note added: "Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose." LeBaron added that freeing the bomber and making him live in Scotland "would mitigate a number of the strong concerns we have expressed with regard to Megrahi's release".

Right-wing media nonetheless distort article to falsely claim Obama "backed [the] release" of Megrahi. Numerous right-wing media subsequently claimed that Obama "backed [the] release" of Megrahi, misrepresenting either the Sunday Times article or an Australian article on the Times piece that Matt Drudge posted with the false headline, "White House Backed Release of Lockerbie Bomber." In pushing this falsehood, conservative blogger Pamela Geller called on readers to "Demand [a] special investigation, file charge of treason," while Rush Limbaugh claimed that Obama "wanted to make nice with the Muslim world."

Right-wing media regularly promote absurd, entirely fabricated stories

Right-wing media eagerly spread absurd claim that Obama plans to "ban sport fishing." On March 9,Robert Montgomery reported for ESPNOutdoors.com that President Obama's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force "could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing the nation's oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters." Montgomery cited no evidence for his claim, and the task force in question issued a report seeking to "better manage," not ban, recreational fishing. Right-wing media, including Glenn Beck, Fox Business's Eric Bolling, Limbaugh, Malkin, RedState, Fox Nation, and Jim Hoft quickly forwarded his report. ESPNOutdoors.com executive editor Steve Bowman subsequently acknowledged "several errors in the editing and presentation" of the article, and noted that the column "was not properly balanced and failed to represent contrary points of view." In a March 17 post calling Limbaugh's claims about fishing "Pants on Fire" false, Politifact noted that "the draft framework says nothing about banning fishing."

Fox, right-wing blogs snared by satire post about a global warming activist freezing to death. Fox Nation, Hoft, Ace of Spades, and JammieWearingFool all hyped a March 29 EcoEnquirer.com report that "Famed global warming activist James Schneider and a journalist friend were both found frozen to death on Saturday, about 90 miles from South Pole Station." EcoEnquirer.com is a satire site, which at the time featured "Breaking News" about the successful 2027 Bali global warming conference. Other EcoEnquirer.com stories include "U.S.-Canada Border Conflict Continues" and "EPA to Mandate Reductions in Emissions from Volcanoes."

Right-wing smear machine falls for fake Obama quote labeled as "satire." An August 25, 2009, post to the blog Jumping In Pools reported that in Obama's college thesis -- which the post's author claimed had been obtained by Time's Joe Klein -- Obama attacked the Founders and the Constitution. The post included no evidence and was tagged as "satire." Nonetheless, right-wing media including Pajamas Media blogger Michael Ledeen, Fox Nation, American Thinker's Denis Keohane, Pamela Geller, Lou Dobbs, and Rush Limbaugh all trumpeted the story as if it were true. After Klein stated that the report was "completely false" and that he had "never seen Obama's thesis," Limbaugh acknowledged that the Obama quotes may be "made up," and Ledeen apologized for falling for "a hoax, or a satire."

Right-wing media adopt "insane conspiracy theory" that Obama lied about attending daughter's soccer game. On April 13, American Thinker's Cat Corbern reported that Obama "may have been lying about attending his daughter's soccer game last weekend," claiming that the game "didn't exist" because "there were no scheduled soccer games for Sidwell Friends April 10." Limbaugh, Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, Confederate Yankee, and Don Surber all ran with the story. CBS' Mark Knoller subsequently reported that "a CBS colleague happened to be at the soccer game on his own & saw the Obamas there," while ABC's Jake Tapper reported that "many ppl saw POTUS at daughter's soccer game at ft reno park soccer field" and criticized the "insane conspiracy theory." Even after the story had been debunked, Breitbart's Big Journalism reported that "The inquiring minds in the media suddenly don't care much that the president 'dissed' them and that there was no soccer game scheduled and it certainly would not have been at the address given by the presidential staff."

Right-wing media apply quote about Obama inauguration crowd size to tea party rally. Following the September 12 tea party rally, several conservative blogs quoted National Park Service spokesman "Dan Bana" as saying the protest was "the largest event held in Washington, D.C., ever." In fact, the spokesman, whose actual name is David Barna, used that quote to describe President Obama's inauguration.

Following Free Republic, Drudge's lead, media run with Obama photo that doesn't show what they claim. After a Free Republic member posted a Reuters photo of President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the 2009 G8 Conference, Matt Drudge promoted the same photo by suggesting Obama was inappropriately leering a young girl. Subsequently, Fox News and the New York Post followed their lead, highlighting the photo online and on screen, in some cases with provocative, needling, or scolding commentary, suggesting that Obama had ogled the girl. But a review of the video, which the media promoting the photo either did not watch or did not allow to give pause, makes clear that Obama was attempting to navigate high steps while reaching back to help someone behind him do so as well. As Fox News host Greta Van Susteren said after airing video of the event, "Yes, a still picture can lie. And this one does."

Breitbart burns right-wing media with false claim of Community Organizers Pray[ing] TO" Obama. On September 29, 2009, Andrew Breitbart's Breitbart.tv embedded a video with the headline "Shock Discovery: Community Organizers Pray TO President-Elect Obama." The video included captions such as "Deliver Us Obama" and "Hear Our Cry Obama," suggesting that the crowd was "pray[ing]" to Obama. Beck, Dobbs, and numerous right-wing blogs including Malkin, Morrisey, Hoft, and Geller subsequently ran with Breitbart's story. Breitbart.tv later "updated" the post with "the longer version of the original event" -- a video that did not include the captions -- and added an editor's note acknowledging that "there is a debate over what is actually being said" and that the crowd may, in fact, be saying, "Oh God," rather than "Obama."

Fox Nation, Drudge Report, CNS distortion: White House requested "Jesus" be hidden during speech. The Fox Nation and the Drudge Report advanced an April 15, 2009, CNSNews.com article claiming the White House requested that Georgetown University "hide 'Jesus' " during a speech there by President Obama. However, as the CNS article noted, the White House requested "all signs and symbols" on the stage -- not solely the name of Jesus -- be covered.

Claim that alleged bomber is a registered Democrat collapsed -- after Limbaugh boosted it. In a May 4 post, RightPundits.com reported that alleged Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was a registered Democrat, citing no evidence. Hoft and Limbaugh quickly forwarded the claim. On May 5, Media Matters contacted the offices of the registrar in Shahzad's hometowns and confirmed that he is, in fact, not a registered voter in those towns.

Fox & Friends forwards Hoft's debunked suggestion that NAACP president was in attendance at Sherrod speech. On July 21, Jim Hoft claimed that NAACP president "may have been at" the speech by Sherrod in which she made statements that were taken out of context to smear her as a racist, based on Sherrod's reference during the speech to "The President who is with us tonight." Media Matters Senior Fellow Eric Boehlert contacted the NAACP and received confirmation from two national NAACP officials that Jealous "wasn't there." That evening, Hal Pressley, the president of the local Georgia NAACP chapter confirmed to CNN that he was in attendance during Sherrod's speech. The next day, Fox & Friends guest host Juliet Huddy nonetheless falsely suggested that Jealous "was supposedly there" at the speech.

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