Media Matters’ Brendan Karet (10/27/15) had a good catch today on how fake news enters the media food chain. His example started with Fox News‘ Sean Hannity (10/19/15) telling Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush that “the president said he’s going to bring in 250,000 refugees into this country.” The next day, Hannity (10/20/15) gave the same statistic to candidate Donald Trump:
This president has committed to nearly 250,000 coming to America. That tells me we’re—we have a pre-9/11 mindset again.
What was Hannity’s source for this remarkable claim? PolitiFact (10/26/15) looked into it, and could find only one possible source: the joke website Real News Right Now, which featured that story in September, along with reports like “Vatican City Conducts ‘Successful’ Nuclear Test” and “Joe the Plumber Caught Trying to Enter North Korea.”
The same day PolitiFact was pointing out that Hannity’s claim derived from a hoax website, Trump was offering it to NBC‘s Matt Lauer at a televised town hall (10/26/15) as a reason to be fearful about immigration:
We have a president that said 3,000, then it was 5,000, then it was 10,000—now he wants to bring in 250,000 people, who nobody even knows who they are, other than—and I watched the migration very carefully. They’re young, strong men. I keep saying “Where are the women, where are the children?” You don’t see that many women, you don’t see that many children. Now we’re going to take in 250,000 people, they’re coming from areas we don’t know. They have no papers, no documents—this could be the greatest Trojan horse, it probably isn’t. But this could be the greatest Trojan horse of all time.
This progression—from hoax site to Fox News to Donald Trump to NBC‘s mainstream audience—resembled the path taken by Fox‘s claim that hundreds of Cuban troops were secretly in Syria (FAIR Blog, 10/21/15). In that case, Fox seemed to manufacture its own disinformation, based on a flimsy claim by a right-wing think tank in Miami. Another GOP hopeful, Ted Cruz, delivered Fox‘s phantom fact to NBC News, telling Meet the Press‘s Chuck Todd (10/18/15), “There’re a couple hundred Cubans right now with a major Cuban general fighting in the Syrian civil war.”
It’s a problem when presidential candidates from a major political party are getting their information about the world from a news outlet that evidently can’t tell the difference between a sub-Onion hoax site and actual news. It’s an even bigger problem when those candidates bring those bogus claims onto supposedly reputable network TV—and the real journalists aren’t able to recognize that the politicians they’re interviewing are parroting garbage factoids from Fox‘s land of make-believe.