Louise Mensch is among a number of bloggers offering a mix of true and inaccurate stories, forcing readers to discern for truth for themselves
The need for vigilance in recognise real journalism from fake news has become well established since Donald Trump was elected with help from bogus online stories.
But readers are now being confronted with an even tougher challenge: decoding the work of writers whose track records of faulty reporting are occasionally interrupted by stories that are actually true.
The trait has appeared among pro- and anti-Trump writers alike, as bloggers on each side of a chaotic political crisis mix information from knowledgeable insiders with wild allegations about their opponents.
Media experts told readers should remain on guard.
Even a blind swine finds a truffle once in a while, told Kathleen Culver, director of the University of Madison-Wisconsins Center for Journalism Ethics. Culver noted that the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer published authentic bombshells on the infidelity of former senator John Edwards in 2008 before resuming its less believable output.
The anti-Trump blogger Louise Mensch, who scooped mainstream reporters earlier this year, excited her followers over the weekend with a nonsensical 92 -word post claiming that a sealed indictment intended by the justice department to form the basis of Mr Trumps impeachment had already been granted against the president over his links to Russia.
Skeptics noted that criminal indictments are not granted; that impeachment is initiated by Congress , not an executive agency; and that Mensch appeared to have misunderstood the supremacy clause of the US constitution, which she incorrectly told meant Trump must be impeached before he could be prosecuted.
This new reality, in which purveyors of fake news occasionally report verified info, reminds us, once again, of how difficult it is to be news literate in our information ecosystem, told Jonathan Anzalone, a lecturer in journalism at New Yorks Stony Brook University.
Undeterred, Mensch bullishly said on Twitter on Monday that mainstream reporters know they are being scooped on the story of the century.
In a series of messages to the Guardian, Mensch denied that she had posted inaccurate tales. I believe in a free press. People both is possible and should write whatever they want, said Mensch.
The situation mirrors one, noted by BuzzFeed News, that now surrounds far-right bloggers supporting Trump, such as Mike Cernovich. Having consistently published false stories and championed ludicrous conspiracy theories such as the Pizzagate paedophilia myth, Cernovich was apparently rewarded by sources close to Trump with real disclosures.
Cernovich was first to report that Susan Rice, Barack Obamas national security adviser, was involved in unmasking their lists of Americans in transcripts of foreign communications intercepted by US intelligence. The report was later matched by Bloomberg News and has become a source of intense controversy among conservatives.
The primary challenge that Mensch and Cernovich pose is that they take strong political positions and have drawn a number of likeminded followers who want to believe the information that they share, regardless of its veracity, said Anzalone. Confirmation bias and motivated reasoning divert them from the search for facts.
The latest mistakes by Mensch, a former Conservative member of the UK parliament, were in keeping with past falsehoods she has posted online, including that the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, is financed by Russia, that the rightwing blogger Andrew Breitbart was assassinated at the order of Vladimir Putin, and that dozens of public figures are currently Russian agents.
Still, her weekend post caused a sensation among online readers urgently trying signs of Trumps imminent downfall. It was shared thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook, including by users with strong followings, such as the media prof Jeff Jarvis and the Blink-1 82 vocalist Tom DeLonge. Mensch was previously praised for her run on the topic by Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor who taught both Obama and the US supreme courts chief justice, John Roberts.
And Menschs post was difficult to dismiss outright because she and her co-author, Claude Taylor, had earlier reported a pair of details from the investigations into Trumps alleged links with Russia that were later confirmed by major mainstream news outlets.
On the eve of Novembers election, Mensch was first to report US officials had been granted a warrant by the secret foreign intelligence surveillance( Fisa) court is currently considering the linkages between Trumps campaign and Russia. Over the following months, her reporting was followed by outlets such as the Guardian, the BBC and the Washington Post.
Mensch told the Guardian that her reporting has been proven accurate in advance over and over again , not merely on the Fisa warrant story.
Taylor, a former official in Bill Clintons White House, reported on Twitter on 29 April that grand jurors were considering the FBIs findings on possible Trump-Russia links, and went on to specify that one grand jury was sitting in the eastern district of Virginia. CNN later reported that grand jury subpoenas from that jurisdiction had indeed been issued to associates of Michael Flynn, Trumps humiliation former national security adviser.
Yet Mensch promptly undermined this reporting with a entirely inaccurate follow-up. On 6 May, Mensch told readers she had confirmed independently that two mysterious-seeming federal court cases one in New York City, the other in eastern Virginia were nascent prosecutions related to Trump. Taylor promoted the post on his Twitter account, which has gained a cult following among some anti-Trump readers.
When informed by readers that publicly available dockets demonstrated there was nothing mysterious about the cases, and they had nothing to do with Trump the Virginia case concerned handguns seized by federal agents from a woman in Fairfax, while the New York case was an unrelated $10 m lawsuit Mensch seemed unfazed. A tweet linking to the discredited post remained pinned at the top of her Twitter account.
Taylor said in an email that independent or citizen journalists should be held accountable for how accurate their reporting turned out to be. Speaking only for myself, I do not expect to hit 100% in terms of accuracy but I do hope, when all is said and done, to be over 80% roughly stated, he said.
Paula Poindexter, an associate professor in journalism at the University of Texas, told: This is a reminder that theres a critical need for news literacy and critical thinking abilities, so people of all ages have the tools to distinguish between legitimate news and fake news and we can begin to restore the publics trust in the press again.
Such was impact of Menschs 6 May post that Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, employed it as the basis of an incendiary assert during a CNN interview on 10 May that a second grand jury looking into Trump-Russia connections was separately under way in New York.
When asked whether Markey had confirmed this to be true, an aide to the senator told the Guardian that he was simply referring though not by name to Menschs post and two related articles published by Palmer Report, a leftwing site whose record for accuracy has also come under fire.
A spokeswoman afterwards emailed to say that Markeys statements had been erroneous and that he apologized for causing disarray. Senator Markey believes it is of the utmost importance that solid facts and unimpeachable info are the foundation for all investigations into this matter, said the spokeswoman.
Read more: www.theguardian.com