How Sloppy Reporting in the US Can Fuel Russian Disinformation

Russian State Media were Quick to Pick up on the Washington Times Reporting Fake News

Photo by mal3k/flickr.

Kremlin-owned Channel One Russia reported on Wednesday January 18 that anti-Trump protesters are being offered $2,500 a month to participate in demonstrations against the President-elect.

The report said that the findings were the result of a “large investigation” by the Washington Times and that they supported allegations made by the President-elect in the days after the election that protest participants had been paid. The host spoke over images of violent protests and screenshots of the Washington Times website.

On Tuesday the Washington Times did indeed publish a story alleging that a mysterious company called Demand Protest had taken out adverts in several U.S. cities, offering people the chance to “get paid fighting against Trump.” Employees would receive a $2,500 monthly retainer, along with full health, vision and dental insurance and an additional $50 per hour for every protest attended—so long as “operatives” took part in six anti-Trump events per year.

A screenshot of the Washington Times’ original headline and the updated headline that was later adjusted without a printed notice about the correction.

In an election cycle where fake news has been rampant, such a remarkable package from an unknown organization should have set alarm bells ringing. While the Washington Times tried to contact Demand Protest, their due diligence stopped there and the story was run as if it were a fact.

However, the plot thickened on Tuesday after Fox News tracked down a man called Dominic Tullipso, who claimed to be behind the Demand Protest site. When confronted live on air by Fox New host Tucker Carlson, Tullipso denied that his organization was fake, but added that he was amazed that it’s “pretty darn easy to say whatever the heck you want on national TV and have it passed off at truth…It’s pretty incredible to me how easy it was to get the coverage we get.” Tullipso ended by saying that he hopes Trump will release documents about the Roswell UFO incident.

Cached versions of the original Washington Times story show that the article and headline were changed in the early hours of Wednesday morning, in response to the Fox News interview.

The updated headline now clearly states that the Demand Protest adverts were a hoax, while the body of the article details Tullipso’s bizarre exchange with Carlson on Fox News. No retraction was issued, nor has it been made clear that the story has been changed dramatically since it was first published.

Screenshot of Channel One Russia reporting the Washington Times’ “large investigation” into “paid anti-Trump voters.”

Channel One did not reflect this update in their news broadcast this morning.

And while the Washington Times original article may have gone unnoticed in the United States, to millions of viewers in Russia a lie accidently spread by a U.S. paper has become a fact.

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