On Saturday, in communities all over the United States, protesters took to the streets in what many of them called rallies to “save our children” from the very real problems of sexual abuse and abduction -- except that these rallies were organized online by supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
According to NBC’s Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins, reporters who specialize in the dangerous and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, more than 200 “Save The Children” or “Save Our Children” (these appear to be used interchangeably) rallies were scheduled across the country beginning on August 9, but taking place as recently as August 22. The marches were often peaceful and, when talking to reporters, they “rarely mention[ed] QAnon or wider conspiracy theories, sticking instead to demands like stricter laws against pedophilia and greater media attention on sex trafficking.” But the rallies were not actually about protecting children; in actuality, they were attempts to lure more people into supporting the demented conspiracy theory.
Unfortunately, media all over the country failed to report on the rallies’ connections to QAnon, supporters of which have been linked to child abductions, domestic terrorism, and at least one murder. Instead, most media outlets covered the nationwide QAnon rallies as credible attempts to call attention to child abuse -- even when well-known QAnon-related slogans and signs were plainly visible, sometimes even appearing in the televised reports.
Reporters should already know about the dangerous conspiracy theory: It has been mainstreamed by Republican congressional candidates and flourished in Facebook groups; President Donald Trump has promoted QAnon-promoting accounts on Twitter over 200 times, and he called a QAnon supporter congressional candidate “a future Republican star.” Despite high-profile actions social media platforms have taken against QAnon-related content, the conspiracy theory continues to thrive online. Media outlets need to do better at identifying and truthfully reporting the conspiracy theory’s increasing influence.
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen documented examples of news programs ignoring the rallies’ QAnon links this past weekend on Twitter and the Atlantic Council’s Zarine Kharazian compiled a database of over 100 media articles on these rallies, many of which did not mention QAnon.
Media Matters compiled a sample of news reports from across the country that failed to properly contextualize the rallies.
- WTOV, an NBC affiliate in Bellaire, Ohio, reported on the city’s Save The Children march on August 22. The report did not mention QAnon and, instead, described the event as a peaceful march, noting that over 200 other marches were happening throughout the U.S. at the same time.
- WNEM, a CBS affiliate in Bay City, Michigan, covered a Save our Children rally in Saginaw, Michigan, on August 22. WNEM’s report did not mention QAnon and described the march’s purpose as bringing “awareness to child sex trafficking.” The video shows one participant wearing a shirt that reads “save a deer, hunt a pedophile.”
- WANE, a CBS affiliate in Fort Wayne, Indiana, reported on its local Save our Children march on August 22. There was no mention of QAnon in WANE’s reporting of the march. The anchor opened the report saying, “The city of Wabash united to march against child trafficking and pedophilia,” and she went on to describe the march as “peaceful.”
- KRBC, a CBS affiliate in Abilene, Texas, covered the city’s Save The Children walk. The report did not mention the event’s ties to QAnon and instead covered the event as an effort to raise awareness about human trafficking and child abuse.
- KWQC, an NBC affiliate in Davenport, Iowa, covered their Save our Children rally on August 22. The anchor described the event as a “protest” to “bring awareness to human trafficking.” There was no mention of QAnon in KWQC’s report.
- WWMT, a CBS affiliate in Michigan, covered a Save our Children rally in Grand Rapids. The report made no mention of QAnon, although a protester carrying a sign with the hashtag “adrenochrome” written on it was clearly visible in the report. Adrenochrome is a chemical compound that is the subject of conspiracy theory in the QAnon world.
- WJCL, an ABC affiliate in Georgia, covered a Save the Children rally in Savannah on August 9. Even though the report included a conversation with a woman holding a sign referencing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, the reporter made no mention of any QAnon connections.
- On August 16, WBOY, an NBC/ABC affiliate in West Virginia, reported on a Save our Children rally in Clarksburg. During the segment, the reporter noted that “the event was localized after it recently became widespread on social media platforms” and an organizer stated, “People don’t even know why they are hashtagging #saveourchildren, they just know they are doing it.” Still, the report included no mention of QAnon.
- KOAA, an NBC affiliate in Colorado, covered a rally in Pueblo on August 22. The report noted that the event was organized by a group titled “Operation Wake Humanity,” but they made no mention of any possible QAnon connections.
- WBND, an ABC affiliate in Indiana, covered a Save the Children rally in Mishawaka on August 16. References to Pizzagate and adrenochrome were visible on a protester’s sign, yet the reporter made no mention of QAnon.