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True Pundit

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  • Pro-Trump media launch attacks on student survivors of Florida school shooting

    The attacks, which have received a boost from Donald Trump Jr., are now being condemned by one of the students

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    After any mass shooting, disinformation spreads online like wildfire. It happens immediately, created and disseminated on purpose, often in real time as the event is unfolding. This week, even as the Parkland high school shooter was still at large, posters on 4chan and 8chan immediately went to work spreading false information about the shooter being a linked to a white supremacist militia, the most widely reported of the multiple hoaxes about the massacre found online. And in the aftermath of the tragedy, lies and hoaxes about the survivors who have been speaking out against school massacres have gained traction in certain corners.

    Dr. Kate Starbird, a professor at University of Washington, has done a lot of research on what she refers to as alternative narratives. She writes: “Over time, we noted that a similar kind of rumor kept showing up, over and over again, after each of the man-made crisis events — a conspiracy theory or ‘alternative narrative’ of the event that claimed it either didn’t happen or that it was perpetrated by someone other than the current suspects.” Starbird also highlights the role that botnets play in disseminating alternative narratives.

    What Starbird describes has played out time and again. What’s different about the Parkland shooting is how quickly and powerfully survivors began speaking out. Some students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School immediately took to social media calling on President Donald Trump and Congress to do something about guns and calling out commentators like Fox’s Tomi Lahren for saying now wasn’t the time to talk about guns. David Hogg, a student journalist who interviewed students on lockdown during the shooting, made several TV appearances demanding leaders take action. Another student, Emma Gonzalez, called out the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the legislators who do its bidding. Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, went on CNN calling on Congress to do more to “to end gun violence, to keep our kids safe." Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed, screamed at President Trump on CNN to “do something.” Student survivors are organizing a march on Washington D.C..

    And now, Parkland survivors are targets for fake news campaigns, conspiracy theories, harassment and doxxing. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has already suggested that the entire shooting is a false flag, which implies that all of the survivors are actors in an elaborate hoax. As survivors speak up, there are already attempts to attack and discredit them individually.

    Survivor David Hogg has been the target of conspiracy theories since he began speaking out. The day after the shooting, one far-right account noted in a since-deleted tweet that Hogg was suspicious for speaking so eloquently.

    Both the #Qanon conspiracy theory crowd and Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich are claiming that Hogg is a plant because he is the child of an FBI agent.

    Right-wing cable news channel One America News Network shared Wintrich’s post, and Gateway Pundit’s video of Hogg is currently one of the top posts on The_Donald subreddit.

    Hyperpartisan site True Pundit also ran with it.

    Donald Trump Jr. liked tweets sharing the conspiracy theory.

    One conspiracy theory site alleged that Hogg was a plant with a “radical agenda” because he used an earpiece from a remote location while talking with an anchor in a studio. It’s unclear how else he was supposed to hear what was being asked.

    One popular theme that is making rounds online is that the survivors are “crisis actors.” Conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer said as much on Twitter.

    Gateway Pundit accused student survivors of “partying like rock stars” based solely on them smiling in pictures, saying, “The photos come off as if they were promo stills for Glee: The High School Massacre.”

    A meme circling in The Storm conspiracy theory subreddit also attacked the students for posing for a picture.

    Another circling in #Qanon alleged that the same woman was photographed following other mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

    Numerous YouTube videos, some with hundreds of thousands of views, have been published about crisis actors in the few days since the shooting. A typical #Qanon user said that the imperative was to “expose” these students “and have them sent to jail.”

    Users on 4chan accused Alhadeff of being a paid actor, not a grieving mother who had just lost her child. 4chan users also claimed that the students who countered Tomi Lahren on Twitter were plants. A student who appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Emily Kolber, was also accused of being a paid actor.

    It’s on all of us to have the survivors’ backs as they continue to speak out. The kind of abuse they’ll be subjected to is predictable. We can track where it originates and how it spreads. Media outlets covering the shooting need to be aware of these trolling operations and include them in their reporting. Tech companies must protect survivors from abuse and stop the spread of false information. We should all think carefully and confirm facts before we share any stories and information about survivors online.

    Update: David Hogg condemned the attacks in a statement to Buzzfeed:

    "I just think it's a testament to the sick immaturity and broken state of our government when these people feel the need to pedal conspiracy theories about people that were in a school shooting where 17 people died and it just makes me sick … It's immature, rude, and inhuman for these people to destroy the people trying to prevent the death of the future of America because they won't."

    Research by Nina Mast, Natalie Martinez, Cristina López G., and Alex Kaplan

  • Fox's perfect storm: Jake Tapper edition

    Fox News throws in a lie about Tapper into its terrible anti-Muslim coverage of the New York City truck attack

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News’ latest mischaracterization, this time about comments made by CNN’s Jake Tapper, may have gotten national attention, but the tactics the network used are par for the course for Fox.

    During the October 31 edition of his CNN show, host Jake Tapper said that the phrase “Allahu akbar” is “sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances and too often we hear it being said in moments like this.” He was referring to an attack in New York City in which the attacker reportedly shouted “Allahu akbar” after he killed eight people by driving a truck down a bike path. Soon after the show aired, websites that promote fake news and other pro-Trump outlets pushed stories about Tapper’s comments, many of which took them out of context. Fox News Insider also published an article with the headline “CNN's Jake Tapper: 'Allahu Akbar' Can Be Said Under 'Most Beautiful' of Circumstances.” A subsequent (and since deleted) tweet from Fox News promoting the article claimed that “Tapper says ‘Allahu Akbar’ Is ‘Beautiful’ Right After NYC Terror Attack.”

    The story got national attention after Tapper called out Fox for “lying,” but it’s actually nothing new for the network, which is prone to both taking people out of context and attacking other media, frequently targeting CNN. The premises for these attacks can be as ridiculous as they are misleading. Fox has even taken its own polling out of context in a desperate attempt to prove a point. And while many on the network have lashed out at the “media” at large, Fox often seems to single out CNN in particular.

    There was also anti-Muslim sentiment injected into Fox’s suggestion that Tapper’s comments were sympathetic to terrorism. And that was likely no accident as, at this point following the terror attack, Fox was in the midst of its typical anti-Muslim crusade.

    Here is how the events unfolded:

    October 31:

    November 1:

    Madeline Peltz contributed research to this piece.

  • Politico Magazine Highlights Fox’s Megyn Kelly's “Bad Practice” Of Reporting Conspiracy Theories  

    A “Chunky Stream Of Likely Hokum Flowing Like An Open Sewer On Her Show”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Politico Magazine highlighted Fox News' Megyn Kelly peddling anti-Clinton conspiracy theories and disinformation on Fox News’ The Kelly File, and the “bad practice” that has infected the 2016 presidential campaign.

    On the October 3 edition of Fox News’ The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly and correspondent Trace Gallagher covered debunked Clinton conspiracy theories including Hillary Clinton’s supposed plans to carry out a drone strike on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Politico Magazine described these stories as a “chunky stream of likely hokum flowing like an open sewer on her show,” and described the air time she gave the stories as “bad practice.” From Politico Magazine:

    Earlier this week, Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly provided a prime-time example of how to inject unsubstantiated rumors into the news flow. In a brief segment on her show, she allowed Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher to promote three spurious Clinton rumors. One was about Hillary Clinton’s health, picked up from a story in the always dubious Daily Mail online, which was an excerpt from Ed Klein’s new book Guilty as Sin. The second was a two decades-old-plus supermarket tabloid allegation, resurfacing in a Drudge Report headline, that Bill Clinton had a son by an Arkansas prostitute. And the third cited a report from the super-dubious True Pundit website citing “sources at the State Department” alleging that while serving as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton asked of Julian Assange, “Can’t we just drone this guy?”

    “OMG,” Kelly said twice after Gallagher’s segment, making little effort to arrest the chunky stream of likely hokum flowing like an open sewer through her show. Now, all three of these tales may be eventually confirmed. The smart journalist never says never. But until there’s more to go on than hearsay, it’s bad practice to repeat somebody else’s tips as if they’re news.

  • Conservatives Run With Sketchy Conspiracy Website’s Utterly Baseless Claim Clinton Wanted To "Drone" Assange

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Assange

    Wikileaks and some conservative outlets are running with a claim that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton openly speculated about targeting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange with a drone strike. But the report in question comes from an anonymously-sourced article from “True Pundit,” a fringe conspiracy website that even conservatives have criticized.

    On October 2, True Pundit posted an article claiming that during a meeting of “State’s top brass” in 2010 to discuss how to deal with Wikileaks, Clinton asked of Assange, “Can’t we just drone this guy?” The site only attributes the comment to anonymous “State Department sources. ”The fact-checking website Snopes looked into the True Pundit article and found their claim “unproven,” pointing out that the source of their purported Clinton quote was “a vague and anonymous reference that does not yield to verification.” (It’s also unclear why multiple sources with knowledge of this supposed incident that took place in a meeting of senior State Department staff would choose to leak them to a minor conspiracy blogger rather than a credible news outlet. )

    RT, the international news network owned by the Russian government, picked up the True Pundit story. Wikileaks’ official Twitter account also promoted the story, as did Trump allies Alex Jones and Roger Stone. FoxNews.com cited the Wikileaks tweet in its report on Assange rescheduling the time of a proposed address this week.

    True Pundit’s supposed scoop comes on the heels of months of laughable articles forwarding conspiracies about Clinton.

    The site wrote that anonymous “NYPD sources” had told them that during the recent Commander-In-Chief Forum, Clinton was “sporting a mini earbud wired to receive stealth communications from her campaign handlers.” (That conspiracy was picked up by the Trump campaign, along with Alex Jones, the Drudge Report, and Fox’s Sean Hannity)

    The site also promoted a YouTube video claiming to show Clinton “using hand signals to trigger Lester Holt” during the presidential debate. (This claim was held up by Fox News as an example of conspiracy theories that came out of the debate.)

    True Pundit claimed that during the debate there was a “medical episode played off by Hillary Clinton’s frozen smile, shaking head and upper torso with her eyes closed” during which “a concerned Donald Trump can be seen mouthing the word ‘seizure’ to his family and campaign advisors.”

    In August, True Pundit offered “an unprecedented reward of $1 Million (One Million Dollars US) for Clinton’s true medical records” and said Clinton was rumored “to be suffering from a plethora of medical ailments” including dementia, post-concussion syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease, a brain tumor, brain injury, and complex partial seizures.

    Conservative blogger Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit, no stranger to oddball conspiracy content, noted, “TruePundit may be a hoax website” (though he still devoted an article to promoting the claim about the Assange drone strike).

    Heat Street, a conservative website run by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., also described the Assange drone story as a “conspiracy theory.”

    Conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson of Alex Jones’ Infowars initially described the True Pundit story as “iffy,” but after Wikileaks posted it said, “thought this was a fake story, until Wikileaks tweeted it out.”