Welcome back to Can't Handle the Truth, our Saturday column looking at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.
Let's start off this week in fake news with a bit of real news: On Thursday the New York Times ran one of its notorious anonymously-sourced stories about the White House. This one reported that President Donald Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Bob Mueller, but backed down when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit—a somewhat troubling near-miss for the integrity of American institutions. Whoever gave this information to the Times reportedly "spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation."
As I've noted in the past, this kind of reporting is common. It has a lot of downsides, but at the moment it's really the only way for the public to get information about what is happening inside a chaotic White House. All papers, including the Times, have gotten things wrong on occassion, so while you can generally trust what the Times prints, it's usually a smart idea to read other outlets as well and generally be aware if someone is credibly disputing the accounts of its sources.
With all that in mind, on Thursday night Fox News host and Trump fanboy Sean Hannity relayed the report of the Mueller attempted firing to his viewers as if it had been whispered by a middle schooler under the bleachers and could easily be dismissed. Just minutes later, after someone at Fox News checked with a source, Hannity updated his report, saying, OK, yes, Trump had attempted to fire Mueller, but who cares? Then he starts talking about a high-speed chase.
Watching this is enormously gratifying, particularly since Hannity is absolutely terrible at reporting himself. I'd like to say he learned his own mini-lesson here about making a claim before you fact-check it, but then again, I've never seen any evidence that Hannity learns lessons.
Predictably, the president has now called the Times story "fake news." So we're all forced to decide who we trust more: Fox News and the New York Times (and the Washington Post ) or the current United States president. While you mull that one over, here's some definite fake news.
R.I.P. Tide Pods
Did you see this tweet going around? I sure did.
The Tide Twitter account never posted anything like this, which shouldn't be hard to figure out since it's not a tweet per se but an image of a tweet without a date stamp or a display of the number of likes, retweets, and comments. Also worth noting: If I were a corporate lawyer, I would never let my PR department acknowledge that the company "can't risk lives over having clean clothes." That seems dangerously close to an acknowledgment of liability.
Anyway, it's fake. Tide Pods, the futuristic snack that's as gross as it is toxic, will never die. Pods are still selling like hotcakes, and teens are still eating them like hotcakes. America has voted with its dollars and once again we've said yes to over-packaged, overpriced versions of products that we were already perfectly happy using. That's probably because we're dumb, as evidenced by the fact that we eat detergent.
You have to fill out a consent form to have sex in Sweden
Remember that joke from Chapelle's Show about sex consent forms? And the same joke from South Park ? Haha, everyone does! But remembering is fun. Anyway, no, sex consent forms still aren't real anywhere.
This dumb and extremely fake Facebook post is from last week, but it kept floating around this week, possibly because there's a kernel of truth in it. Swedish lawmakers really are pushing for a law that could go into effect in July requiring one person to go "want to have sex?" and the other person to go "OK" before they have sex. This has prompted derisive stories from right-wing outlets like the Russian-propaganda-and-LOLs repository Sputnik News, along with a crop of other dumb blog posts about sex consent forms, or in the case of the photo in the Facebook post, consent cards.
Apparently, this story was so viral in Germany that the Swedish government had to explicitly state on its German website that no one has to get written consent to have sex in Sweden.
A photo depicts children in Afrin, Syria, injured by a Turkish attack
This week, the Turkish state media outlet Daily Sabah is making hay out of the fact that Salih Muslim Muhammad, a Kurdish political leader, retweeted a photo claiming to show four Kurdish children injured by a Turkish attack on the northwest Syrian region of Afrin. The photo was real, but was actually taken "after an air attack by [Syrian] regime forces in Douma district of Eastern Ghouta," according to the Turkish government. My own sleuthing confirms that the photo was online all the way back in 2014; it seems to be a sort of all-purpose device for soliciting pity about attacks in places as far from Syria as India, and I wasn't able to independently confirm that it's from Syria at all.
If you feel like you lack the proper context to understand what's going on in this particular fake news dispute, here's what you need to know: Starting last week, Afrin was being shelled by Turkish forces. Afrin is controlled by the US-backed YPG, a Kurdish group whose armed units were recently part of the ground invasion that all but finished off ISIS in its stronghold of Raqqa. The YPG's famous all-female affiliate celebrated that victory by emphasizing its links to the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, which the US has officially branded a terror group. Turkey has been at war with the PKK for about 30 years. Salih Muslim Muhammad, who retweeted the photo, has denied any connection to the PKK, but Turkey called him "a senior leader of PKK terror group's Syrian affiliate" in its report on his retweet.
Regardless of how much of that you parsed, just know that Turkey is generating a huge volume of propaganda in English via the Daily Sabah and the Anadolu Agency English News. At the same time, Turkey is carrying out a massive military campaign with the aim of creating a "safe zone" in the Afrin region of Syria, where a bunch of people associated with the US anti-ISIS campaign currently live. The US, for it's part, is "concerned" about all this new violence, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Mind you, this is happening at a time when no one from Syria is allowed to enter the US, and in fact, the US is probably about to kick a bunch of Syrians out when their special immigration status expires on March 31.
Oh, but that photo of the kids wasn't real.
Note: This will be the last "Can't Handle the Truth" column for a while. It will return in mid-April.
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