The Rise And Fall Of Right-Wing Media's Fake Theory That Harry Reid Was Beaten Up

Right-wing media have baselessly speculated for months that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was injured in a physical altercation, and now, a Las Vegas man claims to have invented the false rumor to see whether it might become fodder for the conservative media bubble. 

Reid accidentally sustained extensive injuries to his face and ribs on January 1, while exercising at his home.

In the months that followed, right-wing media ran wild with speculation that Reid was lying about his injuries -- on the March 27 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh claimed Reid was “behaving like somebody who may have been beaten up.” Breitbart.com published an “investigation” into Reid's story, going so far as to obtain “a copyrighted digital image” of the model floor plan of Reid's home is based on, and claiming it had “uncovered facts that appear to discredit Reid's version of the home exercise,” such as the distance between his shower door and his bathroom cabinets. John Hinderaker, who runs the conservative Powerline blog, helped spearhead the conjecture. Only four days after Reid's injuries were reported, Hinderaker noted that "[s]ome are speculating that he had a run-in with Las Vegas underworld characters," though admitting there “is zero evidence for that.”  On March 28, Hinderaker asked: “Was the Senate Majority Leader in the pocket of the Mafia? That seems like a question worth exploring.”

With the right-wing rumor mill churning, a Las Vegas man has come forward saying he duped the conservative talking heads with phony rumors about Reid. Lawrence Pfeifer told the Las Vegas Sun on April 26 that he “started a false rumor that the injuries suffered by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid several months ago were the result of an attack by Reid's brother ... after becoming appalled that right-wing political blogger John Hinderaker published a rumor that Reid's injuries stemmed from an assault by a Mafia enforcer.”   Using the name Easton Elliott in his dealings with Hinderaker, “he pitched his fake story about the Reid brothers' supposed fight to Hinderaker, author of the Power Line blog, to test whether the blogger would publish it.”  

Pfeifer's false story first appeared in an April 3 Powerline post which relayed the account of Easton Elliott. Hinderaker reported that Elliot had seen Reid's brother, Larry Reid at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on New Year's Eve, bloodied and “visibly intoxicated” :

Some time between 10:00 and 11:30 p.m., a man entered the meeting. His appearance was striking: there was blood on his clothing, beginning around his midsection. His left hand was swollen. He appeared to be somewhat intoxicated and was visibly agitated. He introduced himself as “Larry.”

In a group discussion that was heard by a number of people, Larry said that he had just had a fight with a family member. Larry said he had been at a family get-together, and he didn't remember much about the fight because he had blacked out. When he came to, he was rolling on the ground, fighting with a family member, and his clothes were bloody. Now, he said, he was frightened that the Secret Service would come after him.

[...]

Easton Elliott didn't think much more about Larry until, several weeks later, he saw a newspaper story about Larry Reid, Harry Reid's brother, being arrested for DUI and assaulting a highway patrolman. The story was accompanied by a photograph, and Elliott immediately recognized Larry Reid as the “Larry” who had attended the AA meeting on New Year's Eve. 

Pfeifer told the Las Vegas Sun that he had included details that “should have been seen as red flags, including that AA allows intoxicated individuals to attend meetings on New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve.”  

But the tall tale spread quickly through right-wing media. Limbaugh read parts of the Powerline post on his show, saying “Hinderaker can't vouch for it. Neither can I. But if what he says about the AA meeting is accurate, then the inferences seem reasonable ... So, bottom line, somebody attacked Harry Reid on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.” Glenn Beck talked about Elliott's allegations on his radio show, saying that if the details could be verified, “this one I could believe.” World Net Daily reported the allegations in a post titled “Was Harry Reid really pummeled by a relative?,”  while The Gateway Pundit called Reid's brother “the main suspect in his brutal beating.”  Hinderaker even pushed the rumor when he guest-hosted The Laura Ingraham Show, saying “any normal person who just looks at the photographs that have been released of his face ... the first thing you would say is, that guy got beaten up.”

Hinderaker attempted to explain running with the fake rumor in an April 26 post, saying that he never attempted to verify Pfeifer's rumor about Reid and that his “constant theme has been to call for an investigation of what appear to be obviously suspicious circumstances.”