Welcome to Can't Handle the Truth, a weekly column looking back at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.
Are mistakes fake news? If so, that would make me somewhat guilty. Last week, I accidentally referred to Nancy Pelosi as "House Majority Leader" when she is actually the "House Minority Leader." This would be a lie if I were trying to convey to you a world in which the Democratic Party controls the House of Representatives. It would also be an insane, and very easily-disproven lie. But hey, your mileage may very. Maybe I am fake news.
I'm pretty forgiving about a typo, a misused word, a factual error that gets corrected, or even an inaccurate claim if it's unintentional (again, if it gets corrected). What concerns me more are hoaxes and lies, some of which are harmless, and some of which stand to benefit the liar if people believe them.
A letter shows that John McCain told a man with cancer to leave Arizona
Like me, Jessica Roy, a reporter at The Los Angeles Times also seems to have made a mistake. Just after the news broke on Thursday that Arizona Senator John McCain has a type of cancer called glioblastoma, Roy dropped a scathing indictment of McCain's healthcare policies on Twitter. "My friend's husband died of glioblastoma in AZ. They wrote a letter to McCain begging for his help. He advised them to move," she wrote.
That would be a pretty insane story if it were true, and, well, it may or may not be true. A version of the story was backed up by an Arizonan named Tashi Pratt-King (apparently the friend in question), a widow, whose late husband's battle with cancer is well-documented. But neither Pratt-King nor Roy can document the existence of the McCain letter, so, needless to say the tweet is bad journalism (and from the sound of it, a slight exaggeration), and Roy has since apologized.
Conspiracy theorist and Trump fanboy Mike Cernovich implied that Roy did this on purpose, probably to spread misinformation, but that might be because when Cernovich says something grossly untrue, and gets called on it, he just claims to believe his own lies. The circular logic is impenetrable.
A freak weather event got streamed on Facebook Live
Did you spend a few minutes watching a Facebook live stream of a crazy, cinematic storm in Wall, South Dakota on Thursday? It pretty much looked like the apocalypse, and according to Buzzfeed, 22 million people watched it.
But it turns out it was actually a five-second .gif of a storm, pieced together by a guy named Jonathan Wennstroem in 2015. Something called "Newsfeed" reposted it on Thursday, telling users it was one continuous event that lasted hours. And for their trouble, they earned 131,000 new likes for their page—all through the awesome, viral power of lying!
Health insurance is cheap and works like a 401-K
President Trump sat down with three New York Times reporters this week, and spoke expansively about the issues he's grappling with politically. One of them was health insurance. He explained how he wanted his plan to work, in contrast to the bizarre way he seems to believe current insurance plans work. Here's what he said:
So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you're 21 years old, you start working and you're paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you're 70, you get a nice plan. Here's something where you walk up and say, 'I want my insurance.' It's a very tough deal, but it is something that we're doing a good job of.
This bears no resemblance to any health insurance I've ever heard of, and I have no idea how he thinks pre-existing conditions factor into this explanation. But more importantly, the president is disastrously wrong about the sheer expense of insurance. He really does seem to think insurance premiums are a pittance, having said something very similar in May.
Insurance is, you're 20 years old, you just graduated from college, and you start paying $15 a month for the rest of your life and by the time you're 70, and you really need it, you're still paying the same amount and that's really insurance.
Trump keeps putting intense pressure on lawmakers to enact legislation that will raise health insurance costs. At the same time, he keeps saying it's cheap right now, even though it can cost up to 25 percent of our incomes. That's very likely something Trump's ardent supporters—who are largely affluent, not working class—don't know, or don't want to think about. Yet, Trump's remarks about insurance sat there on the New York Times website until the paper fact checked him the following day.
The Chupacabra Lives on a Mountain in Southern California
There's a brand new story from this week in The Daily Breeze about residents of Riverside, California spotting a creature called the Chupacabra ("goat-sucker" in Spanish). This creature, spotted near Box Springs Mountain, is supposedly bigger than a coyote, and has a "tail like a rat or a possum, with rippled pinkish skin, [and] teeth jutting both up and down out of its jaws."
Full disclosure: Riverside is my hometown. In fact, I grew up at the base of Box Springs Mountain. These are my people, and this was our favorite urban legend. It's nice to see some things never change.
Anyway, in real life, "chupacabras" are usually dogs with a skin disease. Very sad.
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