I’ve known for a while that liberals are trying to blame their electoral defeats on “fake news” propagated on Facebook and other venues. Having spent much of the last 14 years exposing fake news emanating from the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS News, CNN, and so on, I wasn’t impressed and devoted zero time to the subject.
But now, the liberals really have something to talk about: a man inspired by “fake news” about Hillary Clinton drew a gun at a Washington pizza place. Which caused CNN–not to mention the Obama administration–to go nuclear: “Fake news, real violence: ‘Pizzagate’ and the consequences of an Internet echo chamber.”
Millions of people have read about a crazy conspiracy theory called “Pizzagate.” An untold number of them actually believe it.
I follow the news closely, and I never heard of “Pizzagate” until this evening. As for how many believe it, you can judge for yourself.
One person apparently took matters into his own hands and showed up with guns to the pizza place that the conspiracy theorists say is at the center of the web.
No one was injured at Comet Ping Pong, the Washington restaurant, on Sunday afternoon, but the armed confrontation showed the offline, real-life consequences of online lies.
I am strongly opposed to lies, online or elsewhere, but what conclusions can one draw from the actions of a single, evidently deranged individual? Actual personal injury has occurred as a result of lies about Donald Trump, which were spread much more widely than the little-known “Pizzagate.”
The Obama administration promptly swung into action. The actions of one Edgar Maddison Welch have taken on cosmic significance:
On Monday afternoon White House press secretary Josh Earnest called the incident “deeply troubling.”
“I think there’s no denying the corrosive effect that some of these false reports have had on our political debate and that’s concerning in a political context,” Earnest said. “It’s deeply troubling that some of those false reports could lead to violence.”
So, what are the Democrats talking about?
Believers imagined a pedophilia ring supposedly being run out of the pizza shop that somehow involved Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta, among other Democrats.
Highly credible, much like the hundreds of stories to the effect that Donald Trump is a fascist. Well, to be fair, the fake news about Trump was worse. But seriously: are the Democrats trying to tell us that Hillary lost the election because someone circulated a rumor that she and her campaign manager were involved in a pedophile ring run out of a particular pizza shop in Washington, DC? I would gently suggest that the undisputed facts regarding Hillary’s incompetence, corruption and dishonesty are more than enough to explain her defeat.
So we have here a pizza-related “fake news” incident, the key aspect of which CNN fails to mention: Mr. Welch is, evidently, a paranoid schizophrenic.
Do the pizza-centric actions of a lone nut really tell us anything about “the internet echo chamber,” or “our political debate,” or why Hillary Clinton lost the election? My wife, who paid closer attention to cultural aspects of the 1980s than I did, points out that a strikingly similar episode arose out of a series of Domino Pizza commercials with the theme, “Avoid the Noid.”
Domino’s Pizza set an industry precedent that would prove critical to their success: they guaranteed that if a customer didn’t receive his pizza within 30 minutes of placing the order, it’d be free. Domino’s executives hired an external marketing firm, Group 243, to promote this new promise. The result? The “Noid.”
A troll-like creature, the Noid was outfitted in a skin-tight red onesie with rabbit-like ears and buck-teeth. … Its name, a play on “annoyed,” was an indication of its nature: many considered the Noid to be one of the most obnoxious mascots of all time.
That is a fair judgment. Here is an “Avoid the Noid” commercial:
Painfully stupid? Perhaps, but Domino’s sold an unbelievable number of pizzas. But here’s the catch: it turned out that there was a guy named Noid. And, being a paranoid schizophrenic, he thought the Domino’s commercials were aimed at him. Just like Edgar Maddison Welch, he took armed action:
[R]ight at the height of his popularity, the Noid endured perhaps the worst mascot PR in history.
On January 30, 1989, a man wielding a .357 magnum revolver stormed into a Domino’s in Atlanta, Georgia and took two employees hostage. For five hours, he engaged in a standoff with police, all the while ordering his hostages to make him pizzas. Before the police could negotiate with his demands ($100,000, a getaway car, and a copy of The Widow’s Son — a novel about Freemasons), the two employees escaped. In the ensuing chaos, the captor fired two gunshots into the establishment’s ceiling, was forcefully apprehended, and received charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, and theft by extortion.
The assailant, a 22-year-old named Kenneth Lamar Noid, was apparently upset about the chain’s new mascot. A police officer on the scene later revealed that Noid had “an ongoing feud in his mind with the owner of Domino’s Pizza about the Noid commercials,” and thought the advertisements had specifically made fun of him.
Things went reasonably well for Mr. Noid in the short run, but his story ended tragically:
A subsequent court hearing found Noid innocent by reason of insanity; a paranoid schizophrenic, he was found to have “acute psychological problems,” was turned over to the Department of Human Resources, and ended up in Georgia’s Mental Health Institute, where he spent three months. Years later, in 1995, unable to shake the idea that the Domino’s ad campaign had intentionally targeted him, Noid committed suicide in his Florida apartment.
Mr. Noid’s armed attack on a Domino’s pizza store was the end of the “Avoid the Noid” campaign:
Following the ordeal, Domino’s swiftly terminated the Noid campaign.
Here is the difference: no one tried to make political hay out of Mr. Noid’s craziness. No one said that Domino’s had spread “fake news” that inevitably and directly led to Noid’s attack on the pizza parlor. Everyone understood that poor Mr. Noid was crazy.
Not so today. Mr. Welch may be a lunatic, but the Democrats are determined to make something of their “fake news” narrative, and apparently he is the best they can do. So the White House Press Secretary deems his actions “deeply troubling.” Which they no doubt are to his family, but they have zero significance to the rest of us. Just like the fevered imaginings of Mr. Noid.
Is there such a thing as fake news? Of course. We have been battling it for well over a decade. For an example of fake news–propagated in this case by the Washington Post, colluding with the Democratic Party–go here, here, here and here. In this instance, the Post, an institution which cannot claim paranoid schizophrenia as a defense, deliberately published a false report in hopes of improving the Democratic Party’s chances of electoral success. Happily, the Post’s effort failed. The Post never answered the questions that we and our readers raised. Having published a single, inadequate correction, it went to ground and rode out the storm, unrepentant.
If you are looking for fake news, you don’t have to search the underbelly of the internet. Just check the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Associated Press, and you will find plenty of politically-motivated fake news. Unfortunately, the liberals’ fake news has had far greater impact over the years than rumors spread on Facebook and Reddit.