I was reading about the Pizzagate affair, where a 28 year-old, with an arrest record and substance-abuse problems, walked into a DC pizza place named Comet Ping Pong, and fired an AR-16 rifle several times. It was reported that he had driven up from North Carolina to ‘investigate’ rumors on the Internet that the restaurant was connected in some way to a pedophilia ring that was itself, somehow connected to Hillary Clinton and John Podesta.
As I read how vicious allegations were fabricated, amplified across the Internet, and then given such credence that a young man felt compelled to ‘investigate’ (not with a notepad but with a rifle), I was reminded of “Anatomy of a Rumor,” a post I had written about an incident 11 years ago. This was the beginning of the blogging era, and the rise of ‘amateurs’ giving their opinions on all topics. I was happily part of this movement. In addition to writing The Trademark Blog, I wrote for a group blog named “Between Lawyers”
This is what I remember about the post. In July 2005, John Roberts had been nominated to SCOTUS. The New York Times ran a background profile. There was something about the Times’ choice of photos, and some facts that it identified, that could put into the reader’s mind the ‘notion’ that the Times was hinting that Roberts was gay. Addicted to social media even then, I regularly read blogs by Wonkette, Ann Althouse (a law professor) and Powerline (one of whose writers was a conservative lawyer named Hinderacker), and I noticed a peculiar game of ‘telephone’ that started with the Times article. I suppose now you would call it ‘transmission of a meme.’ Professor Althouse made a note about the Times’ seeming implication and Wonkette made a joke about it as well. Some conservative blogs repeated but mischaracterized these two passing observations, and by the time Hinderacker got to it, he was claiming that ‘some Democrats’, who were ‘beneath contempt,’ had begun a smear campaign against Roberts. If you only read the Powerline story, then your take-away was that the Democrats who were ‘beneath contempt’ had begun a smear campaign against Roberts.
Unfortunately, the “Between Lawyers” blog and its archive have apparently gone to File Not Found land, but fortunately Professor Althouse still exists and you can read her account (she disagreed with the way I characterized her impression of the Times article but she agrees with the general point, which is that Hinderacker’s allegations simply wasn’t supported by reality)
Professor Althouse ends her post by asking about whether this was Powerline’s modus operandi.
As much as I hate linking to Powerline, I ask that you do the following. Read the Washington Post story. Read Powerline’s story on Pizzagate here. My thought is: a man, with an arrest record and a substance abuse problem, walked into a restaurant, with an AR-16, because he had read that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were part of a satanic pedophile ring. He fired the rifle. Yes, there are other horrible things in the world but children frequent this restaurant. This isn’t ok. What are we going to do?