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By Stump Connolly

 

I opened Facebook the other day only to see a quote from Vice President Pence on health care that I found appalling. So appalling it was uncanny.

Too uncanny.

“What the American people need is not more health care. What we need is more Jesus care. I believe that if we can get more of these people with pre-existing health conditions back into the churches you would see a lot of healings and many of these problems would just go away. People who lead Godly lives don’t worry about doctors. We have the Lord to take care of us.”

If I told you this represents Mike Pence’s real feelings about health care, would you believe me?

Don’t.

It’s one in a rash of fake news items now circulating in liberal social networks that first appeared in early May on Fox News The Facebook Page and was shared 23,000 times before Snopes.com, a website that debunks Internet memes, called it out. “The quote was entirely fabricated,” Snopes reported. “There is no public record of Pence ever saying such a thing. Despite the inclusion of what appears at first glance to be a Fox News logo on the image macro, Fox News wasn’t connected in any way with its circulation.”

What alarms me is two of those shares came from journalist friends of mine who should know better. In the way friends tell friends who tell other friends in their social network, my fear is that this casual sharing might somehow help the quote find its way into the mainstream media. And the conspiracy theorist in me suspects this may be Phase II of the Russian campaign to meddle in American politics.

Just as they planted stories on alt-right websites in the last election, maybe they are now working the left side of the digital street, hoping someone will publish these memes and give credence to the notion all news is fake news.

Why do I think that? Because we are all conspiracy theorists these days. The intrigue over Donald Jr’s meeting at Trump Tower and the ever-changing explanations from the White House have somehow poisoned our ability to discern the truth.

Here’s another example. Only hours after I saw the first Facebook post, I received another titled “Trump’s latest Russian ties are dirtier than ever.” It came from a website called act.tv, which bills itself as the voice of the resistance, and purports to show Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee for FBI director, is a tool of the Russians because his law firm once represented Gazprom and Rosneft, two of Russia’s largest oil companies.

A slide show of unflattering pictures and text set to music lays out an argument that Gazprom “is connected to” a Ukrainian oligarch under indictment in Chicago for racketeering, who is a business associate of Paul Manafort; and Rosneft has a $500 billion joint agreement with Exxon to explore for Arctic oil that was negotiated by Rex Tillerson before he became Secretary of State. But there is a lot of space between the dots in this conspiracy theory.

If the goal of the Russians is to undermine our confidence in democracy, they’re doing a bang-up job. I’m not surprised they put so much time and effort into influencing the media. Journalism is the last bastion of truth –– guarded by the 1st amendment. But if you can make people doubt what they are hearing ––It isn’t all that hard. Some 65 percent of Americans say they don’t trust the media –– where can we go to find the truth? Donald Trump’s twitter account?

Last week, Rachel Maddow reported on MSNBC that she had received an allegedly “top secret” NSA document describing Russian attempts to hack our election. The document came by email (of course) from an anonymous source. So she not only had to check its authenticity, but the metadata encrypted into its creation. In the end, she decided not to run with the story.

She began her broadcast this way.

“Somebody, for some reason, appears to be shopping a fairly convincing fake NSA document that purports to directly implicate somebody from the Trump campaign in working with the Russians in their attack in the election.”

And she ended it this way.

“This is news, because: Why is someone shopping a forged document of this kind to news organizations covering the Trump-Russia affair?”

Not all of us have NBC’s resources to fact check stories, but it behooves us NOT to retweet something that sounds too good to be true.

In the words of the immortal City News editor A.A. Dornfeld, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”


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