Pizzagate: When fake news gets real
“Americans just got a glimpse of what it will mean to have a conspiracy theorist–in-chief,” said Olivia Nuzzi in The DailyBeast.com. This week, a man opened fire with an AR-15–style assault weapon in the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, who thankfully injured no one, said he was “self-investigating” a popular fake news story known as Pizzagate, which claims that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring from the pizza joint’s basement. There was absolutely no evidence for the story, yet that didn’t stop it from spreading across social media and into Trump’s administration. Before the election, incoming national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn posted a tweet linking Clinton to “sex crimes with children.” Flynn’s son Michael Jr., who has served as his chief aide, recently insisted that until “pizzagate is proven to be false, it’ll remain a story.’’ These are the kind of people who will now run our country?
Let’s not get hysterical, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. Yes, fake news on the internet is “toxic to public discussion.” But conspiracy theories have existed forever, both on the Left and the Right. “Just ask Dan Rather about those memos.” There’s no way to prevent quacks from generating sensational stories that gullible people will choose to believe; credible journalistic outlets repeatedly debunked Pizzagate, but that didn’t matter to a nut job like Welch, who, “if he hadn’t shown up at the doorstep of this restaurant, would have shown up at the gate of Edwards Air Force Base asking about the aliens at Area 51.”
Yes, conspiracy theories have always existed, said Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post, but never before have we had a president who gives them his imprimatur. The Chief Birther appointed Steve Bannon, head of the conspiracy-generating website Breitbart News, as his campaign manager and chief adviser. Now, as he prepares for the presidency, Trump wants “to cross another bridge— into a world without facts.” When a surrogate was asked last week about Trump’s baseless claim that millions of immigrants voted illegally, she replied, “There’s no such thing... anymore, as facts.” To his supporters, she explained, whatever Trump says is “truth,” while whatever the media says is a lie. We are crossing over into a truly Orwellian dystopia, said Eric Frazier in The Charlotte Observer. “Objective, verifiable facts no longer matter as much as our preconceptions and passions do.”