Whoopi Goldberg was the target of a fake story. It’s become a regular occurrence.

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Whoopi Goldberg, the co-host of ABC’s The View, was the target of a fake quote circulating online claiming she used a racial epithet against Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. And it wasn’t the first such attack; Goldberg has become a prominent target of fake news and harassment.

On July 20, Twitter user Josh Cornett -- who previously created a fake quote targeting Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- tweeted that “sources at ABC” said Goldberg had told “co-host Ana Navarro” that she “won’t sit there and be lectured by Trump’s Sand Nig*er,” referring to Pirro, who had appeared on The View and sparred with Goldberg.

The quote, which ABC’s publicity director has said “absolutely is false,” has spread on Twitter, including from QAnon conspiracy theorists Michael Moates and Lisa Crowley, and on Facebook and message board 4chan. It was also pushed on air as real by North Dakota talk station KHND-AM, where a host said Goldberg has “no morals and no compass.” A petition was even launched calling for Goldberg’s firing based on the fake quote.

Since early 2017, Goldberg has become a regular target for fake stories like this one, smearing the host’s reputation:

  • In March 2017, a site that claims to be satire but buried its satire disclaimer made up a story claiming that Goldberg criticized the widow of a slain Navy SEAL by saying, “She was just looking for attention. These military widows love their 15 minutes in the spotlight.” Fake news sites subsequently posted the story, helping spread it on Facebook, where users responded by calling Goldberg a “fat, ugly, ignorant, racist pig” and a “scumbag.” The fake quote was also turned into a meme that spread online. California talk station KSFO-AM shared the story on air, with the hosts indicating they weren’t sure it was true but saying they “wouldn’t put it past her.” Syndicated radio show Walton & Johnson also shared it, with the hosts seemingly suggesting that someone should shoot her, saying, “Surely there’s a sniper rifle somewhere in Hollywood.”

  • That same month, Christopher Blair, a self-proclaimed troll who has made up stories to fool conservatives, falsely claimed that Fox News had hired “filthy, lying liberal” Goldberg to replace its host Sean Hannity. Multiple sites based in Macedonia and in Kosovo subsequently copied the article. Accounts subsequently shared the Kosovo site’s copy on Facebook, writing the story “won’t go over well” and “definitely deserves the ‘angry’ reaction,” according to text captured by the social media tracking app CrowdTangle.

  • In April 2017, a digitally manipulated image of Goldberg wearing a shirt showing President Donald Trump shooting himself in the head appeared online. The image continued to spread online into the summer, and it also spread to radio, shared on air by conservative radio hosts on Michigan's WDTK-AM (which later corrected the story) and Pennsylvania’s WFYL-AM (where a host suggested viewers should boycott The View).

  • In June 2017, Blair published another made-up story that Goldberg had been arrested for running a puppy mill. Multiple sites based in Macedonia subsequently copied it, and accounts that seem to be based in Macedonia shared it on Facebook, where users said the report showed Goldberg should be “in jail where she belongs” and that it was “time to take Whoopi to the garbage Dump!”

  • In May, after Roseanne Barr’s ABC show was canceled because of a racist tweet she posted, the fake image of Goldberg with the Trump shirt was revived in defense of Barr. Barr retweeted the image, which went viral again on Facebook. It was even shared by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. It also exploded onto the air waves of radio stations throughout the country -- where hosts used it to suggest some kind of double standard -- including Texas music station KISS-FM and talk station WBAP-AM, Colorado talk station KCOL-AM, Maryland talk stations WCBM-AM and WFMD-AM, Louisiana talk station KAOK-AM, Illinois talk station WLS-AM (where a co-host told another host pushing the image that it was fake), Pennsylvania talk stations WFYL-AM and WAEB-AM (where a host said it could be photoshopped before sharing it anyway), Florida talk station WHPT-FM, Georgia talk station WYAY-FM, South Carolina talk station WYRD-FM, Ohio talk station WNIR-FM, and syndicated radio shows Rick and Bubba and Beyond Reality.

  • In July, notorious fake news site YourNewsWire, without any proof, claimed that ABC was “considering firing” Goldberg. The likely fake story has gained traction on Facebook, where it was shared, among other places, on an alt-right page, and it was copied by a site based in Kosovo.

These fake stories have taken their toll: Speaking on The View, Goldberg said the fake military widow story “endangered my family’s life and endangered my life.” When the fake Trump shirt image first appeared the following month, Goldberg was again forced to debunk it on The View, noting it was a photoshopped image of the shirt she actually wore to the Women’s March. And when the image was revived by Barr and others in May, Goldberg criticized Barr on The View and again explained that the image was fake.

These attacks on Goldberg come as studies from Pew Research Center have found that Black people and women have disproportionately been the target of online harassment. Another regular victim of fake news, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), is also a Black woman.

There are signs that these fake stories are still spreading: A 4chan user shared the fake military widows quote meme in a July 23 thread about “Politically sound negroes,” writing, “Kill this one.” And though an incognito Google search for “whoopi trump shirt” shows debunks right below, it still brings up as the top result shirts from the fake image for sale from different sellers with labels such as “Whoopi Goldberg Trump shirt,” “Whoopi Trump Shirt Make America Great Again,” and “Whoopi Goldberg Make America Great Again Trump Shirt.”