Friday, July 3, 2020
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Alleged D.C. shooter was investigating ‘fake’ news

A North Carolina man has been arrested in connection with a shot fired inside a northwest Washington pizzeria. He says he was “self-investigating” posts on Facebook and Reddit that Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John D Podesta, were running a child sex abuse ring out of the pizzeria, NBC News reports.

As reluctant as I am to attach a label of “fake news” to any report, it can’t be denied that self-described journalists or self-appointed vigilantes, with no integrity whatsoever, don’t know how to pursue leads or evaluate evidence on a trail of a story.

The hacked emails from Mrs Clinton’s account mentioned this pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong, and conspiracy theorists started making up the rest. At some point, there were reports about the child sex ring, and the pizzeria started getting an increase in the number of followers. People started tweeting about it:

Then the pizzeria started getting threats: “I will kill you personally,” read one text message.

Then this afternoon, a man armed with an assault rifle showed up, customers and employees scattered, he fired a shot into the floor, and that was it. Nobody was hurt, and police arrested the suspect quickly.

The reason I’m reluctant to call anything “fake news” is that the person publishing it is probably just writing good copy like a novelist would write fiction, like The Onion or the National Enquirer. It’s the sharing and the tweeting that get out of control.

The New York Times quoted President Barack Obama as warning last week that we are “in an age where there’s so much active misinformation and it’s packaged very well” on social media sites.

Editorial

Again, I stress: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, and certainly, know your sources. Sites like The New York Times, the Washington Post, FOX News, NBC, and so forth, maintain high editorial standards and report facts as the facts they are. However, each site maintains a different level of editorial bias: some stories are selected or spun in certain ways. The news isn’t fake, at least on these sites, but some stories may also go unreported.

Then there are the other “news” sites that actually make up details and report them as facts without giving readers any warning. In this case, there was never any link between Mrs Clinton and a sex ring being run out of a pizzeria, but when rumors get shared, people tend to lose their ability to analyze the reports critically or to confirm sources.

I defend their right to publish whatever they want about public figures like Mrs Clinton, but I am astounded at the lack of media literacy among Americans who should have learned how to tell the difference between a fabricated news story and actual reporting.

Our libel laws depend on a case involving the publication of a political cartoon in the Hustler magazine, and part of the argument was that nobody actually would believe the incorrect facts asserted in the cartoon about a president of the United States. Our next president originally said he wants to modify our libel laws, and he may want to do that because people can’t tell the difference anymore between facts and fabricated copy designed as clickbait. If people can’t tell the difference between facts and fabrications, political satire is in jeopardy.

And another thing: I don’t think it’s a good idea to self-investigate an alleged sex ring by picking up an assault rifle and going to Washington. We have police for that sort of thing. If you really believe there’s a sex ring being run out of a pizzeria, the best thing to do might be to call the police and let them investigate it. Who has that kind of time?

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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