How many times have we warned you to exercise extreme caution about stories perpetuated by the alt-Right echo chamber?
Time and time again.
This is a streamlined propaganda system – a self-referential dynamic.
One site runs a far-fetched story and encourages other sites in the alt-Right network to pick it up. Somewhere along the line, Breitbart, RT, and Sputnik catch on and “legitimize” the fake news. Then, the very same fringe sites that created it in the first place cite Breitbart, RT, and Sputnik as “proof.” If Fox gets duped into picking it up, well then all the better.
Recall that earlier this year, one of the stories (and I use “stories” there to denote the fact that they are just that, “stories” – as in “probably fairy tales”) that made the rounds on the alt-Right circuit centered on the murder of 27-year-old Democratic Party staffer Seth Rich.
We generally stayed away from that story. Why? Simple: because it seemed to us like it would be impossible to disentangle truth from lies.
But not everyone stayed away. On May 16, Fox News ran what the network celebrated as a “bombshell story” about the murder case. The Fox report only served to lend undue credence to conspiracy theories about Rich’s untimely demise.
Well sure enough, Fox had to retract the story.
Of course the alt-Right blogs who perpetuated it didn’t retract anything, but what they did do was proceed to try and cover for their fuck-up by running post after post about CNN. To which we responded as follows:
Now, a lawsuit claims that Trump himself collaborated with Fox News to concoct the story.
The Fox News Channel and a wealthy supporter of President Trump worked in concert under the watchful eye of the White House to concoct a story about the murder of a young Democratic National Committee aide, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The explosive claim is part of the lawsuit filed against Fox News by Rod Wheeler, a longtime paid commentator for the news network. The suit was obtained exclusively by NPR.
Wheeler alleges Fox News and the Trump supporter intended to deflect public attention from growing concern about the administration’s ties to the Russian government. His suit charges that a Fox News reporter created quotations out of thin air and attributed them to him to propel her story.
Fox’s president of news, Jay Wallace, told NPR Monday there was no “concrete evidence” that Wheeler was misquoted by the reporter, Malia Zimmerman. The news executive did not address a question about the story’s allegedly partisan origins. Fox News declined to allow Zimmerman to comment for this story.
The story, which first aired in May, was retracted by Fox News a week later. Fox News has, to date, taken no action in response to what it said was a failure to adhere to the network’s standards.
The lawsuit focuses particular attention on the role of the Trump supporter, Ed Butowsky, in weaving the story. He is a wealthy Dallas investor and unpaid Fox commentator on financial matters, who has emerged as a reliable Republican surrogate in recent years. Butowsky offered to pay for Wheeler to investigate the death of the DNC aide, Seth Rich, on behalf of his grieving parents in Omaha.
On April 20, a month before the story ran, Butowsky and Wheeler — the investor and the investigator — met at the White House with then Press Secretary Sean Spicer to brief him on what they were uncovering.
The first page of the lawsuit quotes a voicemail and text from Butowsky boasting that President Trump himself had reviewed drafts of the Fox News story just before it went to air and was published.
Spicer now tells NPR that he took the meeting as a favor to Butowsky, a reliable Republican voice. Spicer says he was unaware of any contact involving the president. Butowsky now tells NPR he was kidding about Trump’s involvement.
“Rod Wheeler unfortunately was used as a pawn by Ed Butowsky, Fox News and the Trump administration to try and steer away the attention that was being given about the Russian hacking of the DNC e-mails,” said Douglas Wigdor, Wheeler’s lawyer.
According to the lawsuit, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer met at the White House with Wheeler and Butowsky to review the Rich story a month before Fox News ran the piece.
On May 14, about 36 hours before Fox News’ story appeared, Butowsky left a voicemail for Wheeler, saying, “We have the full, uh, attention of the White House on this. And tomorrow, let’s close this deal, whatever we’ve got to do.”
Butowsky also texted Wheeler: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you.”
Spicer admits to meeting with the two, but denies claims about the president.
On May 16, the Fox News Channel broke what it called a bombshell story about an unsolved murder case: the fatal July 2016 shooting of 27-year-old Democratic Party staffer Seth Rich.
Unfounded conspiracy theories involving Rich abounded in the months after his murder, in part because WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cryptically suggested that his death may have been related to the leaks of tens of thousands of emails from Democratic Party officials and their allies at the peak of the presidential campaign.
Fox News’ story, which took flight online and ran in segments across major shows, breathed fresh life into the rumors. Fox reported that the leaks came from inside the party, and not from hackers linked to Russia — despite the conclusions of the nation’s most senior intelligence officials. The network suggested Democrats might have been connected to Rich’s death and that a cover-up had thwarted the official investigation.
The network cited an unnamed FBI official. And the report relied heavily on Rod Wheeler, a former police detective, hired months earlier on behalf of the Riches by Ed Butowsky.
I don’t think we need to comment any further.
But you can and should read the full story from NPR here.