So Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a Northwest Washington restaurant. Imagine that.
Actually, someone did. The fake “news” then raced around the internet like chicken pox through a kindergarten.
But who could possibly believe such trash?
Actually, people did. The restaurant and its neighbors were besieged with death threats.
And Sunday, a man from North Carolina barged into the restaurant with an assault weapon to search for the children he believed were being held there. He reportedly fired at least one shot as everyone fled.
No one was hurt — this time.
The nation is on notice now that the clamor over fake “news” on the internet is more than much ado about nothing.
Our nation abounds with fools who are willing to believe anything they see, no matter where they see it, especially if it caters to their prejudices.
Internet fakery contributed to Clinton’s defeat — to what extent, we may never know.
The worst of it is not personified by Edgar M. Welch, the 28-year-old from North Carolina who took the sex ring slander seriously and whose two children may have to visit their father in prison for a long, long time.
No, the worst of it is the people who have duped so many folks like him. They belong behind bars even more than he does, but can’t be put there.
Where they definitely don’t belong is in public offices like that of the president-elect’s national security advisor-to-be, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.
Both he and his son, Michael G. Flynn, have used Twitter and other social media to spread some of the lurid stories associating Clinton with sex rings and other crimes. On Nov. 2, for example, the general posted this to Twitter:
“U decide — NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc. … MUST READ!”
Flynn attached a link to his source, truepundit.com, which is to the internet as the National Enquirer is to print. The defamatory article is still featured on its site.
After Sunday’s alarming event, Flynn’s son, who was said to be on Donald Trump‘s transition team, took to Twitter to defend the slander that had provoked it.
“Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story …” he said.
Hours after Mike Pence insisted that the younger Flynn had “no involvement in the transition whatsoever,” the transition spokesman admitted in effect that he had been, but was no longer involved.
Both Flynns should have been fired.
What will deservedly remain a story is that Trump chooses advisors with such base instincts and execrable judgment. The possibility that the Russians originated these libels makes the national security adviser’s irresponsibility all the more ominous.
If somebody puts out the false news that North Korea is preparing to invade the South, would the national security adviser retweet that, saying U decide?
Trouble is, Trump’s own instincts are as bad, or worse. He plays Twitter like a pipe organ without a care as to whether what he tweets is true. His apologists would have us believe that it’s like shooting the bull over beers in a bar, that he doesn’t care that much whether what he says is true. Nonsense. He cares. He lies deliberately, knowing that the bigger the lie, the more people will swallow it.
There wasn’t a speck of evidence or truth in his Twitter claim that he would have won the popular vote but for 3 million illegal voters. To their credit, most of the media finally called the lie on that one.
But that bell can’t be unrung. There are doubtlessly more than 3 million fools who will go on believing it, and other Republicans are counting on them to help sell more voter suppression schemes to compliant legislatures and gullible courts.
“The long-running Republican war against the right to vote has now gone national at the instigation of President-elect Donald Trump,” observed a New York Times editorial.
Vice President-elect Pence, who surely knows better, was on ABC Sunday defending Trump’s “right to express his opinion.” When host George Stephanopoulos challenged the truth of it, Pence replied, “I don’t know that that’s a false statement, George and neither do you.”
This is the same deplorably deceitful diversion as Michael T. Flynn’s tweet, “U decide” and his son’s claim that the “Pizzagate” lie will remain a story until it’s proven false. The bigger the lie, paradoxically, the harder it is to prove to some people that it’s false. But that’s beside the point. If Trump or Pence have any evidence of anyone voting illegally, let them produce it.
They won’t—because they can’t. Indeed, in Michigan, Trump’s lawyers opposed a recount, saying that “all available evidence” shows that the election “was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”
At least truth still matters somewhere, if only in courtrooms.
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in North Carolina.