The First Step in Stopping Conspiracy Pollution


Rhode Island’s own Dan McGowan appears in an article by CNN’s Brian Stelter about how the news media can address “conspiracy theory ‘pollution.'”  By that phrase, Stelter means Internet noise alleging, for example, that the students who’ve turned activist after the shooting last week at their school in Florida are not whom they claim to be.  McGowan’s contribution:

I heard from quite a few journalists as well. Dan McGowan, a reporter at WPRI in Providence, recommended engaging in the comments sections on stories and social media.

“I really think reporters and thought leaders need to take more time to tell people why the information they are posting is inaccurate in a way that isn’t insulting,” McGowan said. “Rather than rolling our eyes when a friend posts something that is completely false, why not take an extra second to say, ‘Hey, are you sure that is accurate? That’s, not'”

That’s certainly a worthwhile activity, although its reach might be limited.  The first step, though, should be for the news media to address the reasons that some number of Americans find it plausible on its face that journalists would promote an activist without having checked his or her background.

When the blogosphere discredited Dan Rather and showed him to be promoting phony evidence in an attack on President George W. Bush, the public debate shifted from whether media bias was a myth to how pervasive it was.    Or recall the story of Ryan Holiday back in 2012:

He expected it to take a few months of meticulous navigation, but he found himself with more requests than he could handle in a matter of weeks. On Reuters, he became the poster child for “Generation Yikes.” On ABC News, he was one of a new breed of long-suffering insomniacs. At CBS, he made up an embarrassing office story, at MSNBC he pretended someone sneezed on him while working at Burger King. At, he offered helpful tips for winterizing your boat. The capstone came in the form of a New York Times piece on vinyl records — naturally, Holiday doesn’t collect vinyl records.

Stories of the news media’s running with supposed evidence before verifying it are everywhere, and almost always with the error in the same political direction.  Even within the gravity of the Florida shooting, we had the rapidly reported, but apparently false, statement that the shooter was affiliated with a local white supremacist group.

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Moreover, one needn’t be a conspiracy theorist to marvel at the speed with which the students organized.  In other words, it would be reasonable to suggest that some activist organization is, at the very least, advising them, yet that possibility hasn’t been raised in any coverage that I’ve seen.  If it were part of the story — and it needn’t be presented in a way hostile to the students — that would go a long way toward conveying the sense that news consumers are getting the whole story.

Instead, the impression is that journalists are using the students’ activities to put pressure on elected officials for a political agenda, and that impression makes it easier to believe that they’d let some professional activist pose as a student.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    From yesterday’s and today’s news. At a “Town Hall” meeting of survivors from the Parkland school shooting, CNN “scripted” questions for the students. Dome refused to ask them. The driver of the car that killed a woman in Charlottesville last summer, was fleeing rifle fire. The fire came from an avowed “communist”. I do recall a “blurb” that mentioned this last summer, but it quickly disappeared.

  • guest

    “The First Step in Stopping Conspiracy Pollution”, that’s easy…turn off Fox News, they are the largest purveyor of this nonsense.

    • Mike678

      Examples, please. Don’t worry–we won’t hold our breath….

  • Christopher C. Reed

    “All the News That Fits The Narrative” — NYT

    Never forget: “Fake but accurate”