60 Minutes Investigates “Fake News”

Published: March 29, 2017

By Jim Lichtman
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Courtesy Dan Piraro - Bizarro.com

Courtesy Dan Piraro – Bizarro.com

What stood out to me in watching last Sunday’s show, where 60 Minutes journalist Scott Pelley interviews an individual who traffics in “fake” news, is how perfectly plausible he could sound. The more I listened, however, the more I realized I was listening to “fake” plausibility.

“ ‘What we are talking about are stories that are fabricated out of thin air,’ says 60 Minutes producer Guy Campanile. ‘By most measures, deliberately, and by any definition, that’s a lie.’

“The 60 Minutes team found that people who fabricate stories do it for different reasons. For Jestin Coler, the man behind the fake news sites National Report and Denver Guardian, making up the news was ‘fun.’

“One of his successful stories was about an Ebola outbreak in Texas that never happened. He admits he was trying to get readers to believe it actually occurred — and wound up acquiring 6-8 million page views on a series of related stories, which he referred to as the ‘Fearbola campaign.’

“ ‘He said he did it because it was like an addiction,’ producer Michael Radutzky says. ‘The more hits [Coler] got, the more of a rush it was.’ ”

Like the “rush” Alex Jones got from promoting the hoax that Comet Ping Pong – a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. — harbored a child pornography ring connected to Hillary Clinton. The propagation of this absurd piece of fake news, led a North Carolina man to travel to Washington to “self-investigate” … with an assault rifle.

“The incident caused panic, with several businesses going into lockdown as police swarmed the neighborhood,” The Washington Post reported (Dec. 5, 2016).

Jones has since apologized for helping to spread the story.

“We apologize to the extent our commentaries could be construed as negative statements about Mr. Alefantis [the owner] or Comet Ping Pong, and we hope that anyone else involved in commenting on Pizzagate will do the same thing,” The New York Times reported (Mar. 26).

“The hoax,” The Times points out, “has had real-world consequences. The pizzeria, Mr. Alefantis and his employees have been besieged by threats. Nearby businesses have also been affected. And the hoax has even spread to other pizzerias around the country.”

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating in more direct terms: individuals who deliberately spread false, misleading, or deceptive information are liars. Period. And in my opinion, those involved in spreading that kind of slander about Comet Ping Pong should be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowable.

“[Michael] Cernovich,” 60 Minutes explains, “is a southern California lawyer who runs the website Danger & Play. He describes himself as ‘right of center politically,’ and 60 Minutes reported that Cernovich has become ‘a magnet for readers with a taste for stories with no basis in fact.’ Cernovich’s online articles include a bogus report that Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s disease and a fake sex cult story about Hillary Clinton’s ‘inner circle.’

“Cernovich told 60 Minutes, however, that he believes everything he publishes is true.

“During the interview with Cernovich, the 60 Minutes team realized that the very definitions of words like ‘true’ and ‘false’ were not agreed upon by everyone in the room.

“ ‘Getting into an argument about it is like going down the rabbit hole,’ Radutzky says. ‘And it wasn’t our job to go down the rabbit hole. It was our job to interview him and understand how he makes the decisions he makes.’

Scott Pelley: Do you believe that, or do you say that because it’s important for marketing your website?

Michael Cernovich: Oh, I believe it. I don’t say anything that I don’t believe.

Scott Pelley: That doesn’t seem like a very high bar.

Michael Cernovich: It’s a high bar because I’m an attorney. I know how to weigh and measure evidence.

“Cernovich,” 60 minutes explains, “streams commentary daily and publishes on social media. He reached Twitter users 83 million times last month.

Michael Cernovich: That was a slow month, too. We hit 150 million sometimes. What I’m doing is, it’s punchy, it’s fun, it’s counterintuitive, it’s counter-narrative, and it’s information that you’re not gonna see everywhere else.

“In August,” Pelley points out, “he published this headline: “Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s Disease, physician confirms.” You don’t think that’s misleading?

Michael Cernovich: No.

Scott Pelley: You believe it’s true today?

Michael Cernovich: Oh, absolutely.

“That story,” Pelley points out, “was sourced to an anesthesiologist who never met Clinton. It got so much traction it had to be denied by Clinton’s doctor and the National Parkinson Foundation.”

Michael Cernovich: She had a seizure and froze up walking into her motorcade that day.

Scott Pelley: Well, she had pneumonia. I mean–

Michael Cernovich: How do you know? Who told you that?

Scott Pelley: Well, the campaign told us that.

Michael Cernovich: Why would you trust the campaign?

Scott Pelley: The point is you didn’t talk to anybody who’d ever examined Hillary Clinton.

Michael Cernovich: I don’t take anything Hillary Clinton is gonna say at all as true. I’m not gonna take her on her word. The media says we’re not gonna take Donald Trump on his word. And that’s why we are in these different universes.

It may be “punchy” and “fun,” but it also bears no relationship to real journalism and Cernovich should provide a disclaimer at the top of his website that makes that fact abundantly clear.

Sadly, this is the new world order we currently inhabit; a place where facts no longer matter and everything has become  politicized.

A woman contacted this site recently in response to a commentary asking where I got a specific quote, apparently overlooking the link I had provided. I wrote back explaining about that link and providing an additional link in the text of the e-mail. She explained that she was new to the Internet, was not aware of the process and thanked me.

I responded by adding, “Be careful. While there’s a lot of information on the Internet, there is also an abundance of false information. Check at least three reliable sources before believing.


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