Hoaxes, Con Games and Fake News

As any con artist–or anyone who’s seen The Sting or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels–can tell you, the most important element of a successful scam is the buy-in.  Once you’ve got the mark emotionally invested, the rest is easy.  At that point, the mark actually wants the scam to be true–so no matter how many warning signs flash or how many holes appear in the story, he’ll do whatever heavy lifting it takes to maintain the illusion that everything is on the up-and-up.  Admitting otherwise is admitting to being a fool–and people’s brains just aren’t wired to accept that, not until there’s no other choice.

A good con artist is also very adept at spotting an opportunity, which brings us to our latest tale of media gullibility.  It seems that a cottage industry of peddling fake scandals about the Trump administration has appeared, and has found a long line of suckers willing to part with their money:

In the slightly more than four months since the presidential election, a burgeoning market for potentially damaging information about President Trump and his associates has emerged. Opportunists have begun dangling such would-be smoking guns — sometimes for a price — in front of journalists, amateur sleuths, and deep-pocketed political activists so eager to damage the Trump presidency that they can be blind to potential red flags.


Such forgeries escalate the phenomenon of “fake news,” the Facebook- and Twitter-friendly lies that tell readers what they want to believe and that are packaged to look like authentic journalism. In this case, evidence was deliberately fabricated that could make fictional allegations seem authentic. Such forged documents also feed the hunger of a growing audience on the left that seems willing to believe virtually any claim about Trump’s supposed bad deeds.

Yeah, I know–this comes from Buzzfeed, the same outfit that floated that Russian hooker/golden shower/kompromat malarkey, and believe me I feel dirty just typing that–so it’s best to exercise the sort of caution one might employ when purchasing authentic Native American beads from Elizabeth Warren.  But it’s interesting  nonetheless, given the media/activist complex’s willing suspension of disbelief when it comes to anything that might bring the administration down.  It’s a desperation that has made them exceedingly vulnerable to the sort of con detailed in the article, and focused their efforts on get-Trump-quick schemes instead of actual investigative journalism.

Granted, this isn’t a unique problem:  There were more than a few peddlers of Barack Obama birtherism (including our current president) and no shortage of conspiracy theories about all the mysterious deaths that surrounded the Clintons–but most of those remained at the fringe, largely because the news media  didn’t give them the credence to go mainstream.  They debunked false claims when they could and maintained a high standard of proof when it came to unverified claims–just like reporters are supposed to do.  But it does seem that when it comes to Republican presidents, those standards get dumped faster than a crazy ex-girlfriend in favor of a smear-first, ask-questions-later approach.  George W. Bush got the treatment when Dan Rather tried to get him with those fake-but-accurate documents related to his National Guard service–a story that, for all its shoddy reporting, would have gotten me laughed out of Journalism 101  back in college.  Donald Trump, meanwhile, is getting it in spades, with one phony scandal for practically each day he’s been in office.  Whether it’s troops deporting people across the Mexican border or not paying his taxes or sticking MLK’s bust in the White House broom closet, there’s nothing the media won’t run with if they think it’ll damage the administration somehow.

Is it any wonder that a con man would try to take advantage of that?

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Marc Giller

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