Joe Henderson: Only lowest of low would spread lies about Parkland students
February 14, 2018 - Parkland, Florida, U.S. - Students gets a hug from a family member after a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (Credit Image: ? Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post via ZUMA Wire)


What kind of vermin would say two Parkland students grieving from last week’s massacre at their high school were really actors who were being paid to make gun owners look bad?

I think we can all agree this represents the lowest of the low. Well, apparently not “all” of us. Helping spread that lie is why Benjamin Kelly lost his job Tuesday night as an aide to Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa.

Kelly sent an unsolicited note to Alex Leary, Washington correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times, that said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

When Leary asked for proof, he was provided with a link to a YouTube conspiracy video. Not long after, Kelly was out of a job.

Yes, Kelly got what he deserved for spreading crap even as funerals are being held for victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. But I ask again, what kind of horrible human being tries to turn an unfathomable tragedy into a personal attack on two students because they dared to speak out in the first place?

Well, someone did. They must be very proud today.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio summed it up as well as anyone by tweeting this was the work of a “disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency.”

I got into a long back-and-forth on Facebook Tuesday night about that subject with a guy I knew back in high school a long, long time ago but hadn’t kept up with. He was adamant the story was real and that I was a big part of the problem because I didn’t believe it.

He noted, “Yesterday CNN was caught using professional actors claiming to be Parkland students demanding gun control. My question is, when can we expect to read your column condemning CNN for this shameful and unprofessional journalistic practice.”

I could almost hear him stomping his foot. He wouldn’t accept overwhelming evidence that the story was fabricated. He wouldn’t accept the word of the Broward County school superintendent that the two people in questions were students.

He had read it somewhere on wing nut media, and it had to be true.

This is what we’re up against.

Back in the day, I can remember having a good chuckle at headlines on tabloids like the National Enquirer as I stood in the grocery store checkout line. That was about as crazy as it got.

Now, there is a whole industry devoted to tin foil hats and deranged conspiracies. This might be a good time to remember that then-candidate Donald Trump helped further that when he told chief kook Alex Jones that his reputation is “amazing.”

The president also has regular attacks on individuals, the foundations of government, the media (of course) and, well, you know.

Separately, the nonsense is easy to dismiss. But then something like this happens and we can see how it all comes together. We can’t even take comfort (if comfort is to be found) that it’s all just Facebook babble, not when it reaches into the office of a Florida state representative and belittles two Parkland students who just lived through a horror.

There have always been people who believe 9/11 was an inside job and that we faked the moon landing, but usually they were contained in their own little bubble.

No more.

In their world, truth is whatever they want it to be. Facts are lies. Everything is a cover-up.

And the crazier it gets, the more likely they are to believe.

That’s no lie.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Reid Friedson, PhD

    February 21, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    Have you noticed most supporters of the Trump Ring including Rick Scott and Associates lie poorly and can’t even spell? Master spelling and basic logic, before attempting policy analysis ignorant cronies of corrupt racketeers and the National Russia Association (NRA).

    God bless our youth. How do you like the walk outs by students across FL? More direct actions by whistleblowers in Florida education are coming.

  • Troy E Ozarowicz

    February 21, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    This is not new, it just has a new format. You chuckled at the National Enquirer, but subscriptions showed how many did not.
    Remember Y2K? Or the devout who stood on a rock in Pennsylvania New Year’s Eve 2000 awaiting the rapture? How many bunkers are there well stocked for the “oncoming revolution”? Flat-earthers, anti-vaxers, Elvis/Cobain/Morrison sightings?
    Then we can get into conspiracy driving policy: zero-tolerance, drug-free school zones, red-lining, conversion therapy, the glass ceiling, airline security, bail protecting the community from crime, etc.
    Then the foolishness continues when we equate mean-ness with mental illness (if they’re white) or gang membership (is they’re not).
    None of these myths and conspiracies were born on the internet, Zuckerberg/Dorsey aren’t responsible for the idiocy of it’s users, and FL is not the only mass murder that was blamed on someone other than the killer.
    (Newtown happened, right?)

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