Fox News barely covered news of an armed man who fired off shots in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria in an effort, he said, to “self-investigate” a fake news report. The network’s dismissal of the story -- which got plenty of coverage on other cable networks and broadcast nightly newscasts -- fits into an overall conservative media approach in which some outlets discount the problem fake news poses while some actually push the false stories, despite their dangerous consequences.
On December 4, a man was arrested after he walked into Comet, a D.C. pizzeria, with an assault rifle and, according to The Washington Post, fired “one or more shots.” The Post reported that the man “had come to the restaurant to ‘self-investigate’” a fake news item claiming that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her aides were engaging in illegal sex trafficking at the pizzeria. As The Daily Beast noted, “The fake news began proliferating on websites like 4chan and Reddit, especially a Reddit forum frequented by Trump supporters and the alt-right.” The bogus claim eventually made its way to to Alex Jones, an ally of President-elect Donald Trump and a conspiracy theorist, and his website Infowars.
The day after the conflict, Fox News didn’t mention the event until 6:30 p.m., and then it addressed the topic only glancingly, devoting no more than two minutes over three brief mentions to explain what happened at the pizzeria or how fake news inspired it. Rather than investigating how fake news led to the armed incident, Fox host Tucker Carlson used a brief mention to kick off a segment that attempted to delegitimize the idea of fake news. Carlson’s takeaway from the armed invasion was that “it’s convinced many on the left that the speech they disagree with on the internet, which they’re calling now ‘fake news,’ should be actively suppressed by the authorities.” Carlson’s guest, Washington Free Beacon writer Bill McMorris, described fake news as “whatever people living in the liberal bubble determine to be believed by the right,” and suggested that The New York Times’ reporting on a possible surge in Hispanic voters should be considered fake news.
CNN and MSNBC, however, both devoted considerable time to the incident throughout the day, with CNN mentioning it during nearly every show in its lineup and highlighting the dangerous consequences of the proliferation and spread of fake news. CNN’s senior justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, noted on the December 5 edition of Anderson Cooper 360 that “people connected to Donald Trump’s transition team spread the baseless claim” that spurred the attack, including Michael Flynn Jr., the son and chief of staff of Trump’s national security adviser pick, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
Even the December 5 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC’s Nightly News, and CBS’ Evening News -- all just 30-minute shows -- managed to devote time to examining “how a fake news story can lead to real world consequences."
Fox News figures and others in right-wing media have dismissed the impact of fake news altogether, calling concerns about its proliferation and spread “nonsense” and “silly.” At the same time, conservatives have repeatedly fallen for fake news stories. Fox media critic Howard Kurtz hyped a fake quote that his network had already apologized for taking seriously. Fox’s Sean Hannity was forced to back down and apologize after pushing a fake news item alleging that “Michelle Obama had deleted … tweets” praising Clinton “from her timeline” because of the FBI’s investigation into the former secretary of state. People in positions of power and influence, like Trump national security adviser pick Flynn, Trump’s son Eric Trump, and Trump’s former campaign manager and frequent adviser Corey Lewandowski have fallen for and pushed fake news.
All news networks -- including Fox -- should take seriously the crucial task of combating fake news and highlighting its dangerous impacts, particularly given that those who will drive policy have shown they are not immune to its impact.
Methodology: Media Matters searched Snapstream for mentions of “Comet” and “pizza” on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. on December 5.