Paul Horner owns a fake news site created to look a lot like ABC News. On Thursday, he told the Washington Post that he believes he is one reason that Donald Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost the general election. The only problem with this assertion is that the people who did not vote for Clinton cited reasons other than those created from fake news sites as to why they didn’t support Clinton.
The 38-year-old creator of ABCNews.com.co (which was created to look similar to the real ABC News), told the Washington Post that his site is meant to be satire, but the stories Horner creates give little indication that they are, indeed, satire. The only indication that his site is placed inconspicuously at the bottom. Anyone who reads the byline of “Jimmy Rustling” will then realize that Horner’s site is satire or fake, and then move on.
The issue is that it seems a lot of people don’t bother to read further down to his byline, and many of his stories have gone viral as a result. One of those stories was posted on November 11, which went viral. The story of paid Trump protestors took flight and made the rounds of Facebook and Twitter. Horner told Washington Post that he created fake Craigslist ads and then wrote a “confessional” story about a protestor who was paid $3,500 to participate in an anti-Trump rally.
As a result of this, political leaders, professional pundits, and journalism professors criticized alternative news sites that deviate from traditional platforms. According to the Los Angeles Times, Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communications at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, created a list entitled, “False, misleading, clickbait-y, and satirical ‘news’ sources” as a way to help journalism students identify sites that engage in satire, fake news, and clickbait headlines that sensationalize real or fake news. The list went viral and included sites like InfoWars and The Onion. The list has since been removed for safety reasons.
Zimdars’s reason for creating the list was not to vilify alternative news sources, but to encourage her students to research every story to find the truth behind it. Her statement, which is still available for viewing, emphasizes this.
“Not all of these sources are always or inherently problematic, neither are all of them fake or false… They should be considered in conjunction with other news/info sources due to their tendency to rely on clickbait headlines or Facebook descriptions, etc.”
I posted a question on several left-leaning progressive Facebook groups, along with some anti-Clinton groups, asking why they believe Clinton lost and why they did not vote for her. The question was not meant to be a statistical or scientific poll, but to gauge why some people refused to vote for her. One top comment said, “Because I’m old enough to remember the 90s.”
Other commenters provided a laundry list of reasons as to why they did not vote for Clinton. Some of those reasons included lies she was caught in, the Clinton Foundation’s alleged pay-to-play scheme, which likely funded terrorists and oppressive regimes. Many of these reasons were issues that WikiLeaks helped reveal in its Podesta email trove.
One member of Bernie Sanders or Bust laid out Clinton’s failings in one long, succinct paragraph.
“Her war record, her corporate donors, her ‘public positions and private positions,’ her ‘dreams of free trade,’ her ‘willingness to compromise on Roe v Wade,’ her foreign policy record (Honduras, Haiti, Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel/Palestine), her ties to fossil fuel industrial complex and the military industrial complex, her disdain for everyday Americans, her telling environmentalists to ‘get a life’ while bragging about promoting fracking in developing countries, her calling young people of color ‘superpredators,’ who need to be ‘brought to heel.” And the rigged primary. Thank you gods she lost, maybe we’ll get an unrigged primary next cycle.”
The general theme throughout each response lays the responsibility for Clinton’s loss on Hillary, her campaign, and the DNC, not on any fake news site or fake news story. A member of the Bernie Believers group said that Clinton originally had his vote, but after “seeing what she was willing to do to win,” he chose to give his vote to another candidate.
Horner told the Washington Post that he believed people would fact check his fake news stories, but the 2016 election proved him wrong. He continues to publish fake news, however, now knowing that people will believe it on sight, without ensuring whether it is true or not. One could argue that Horner simply preyed upon the pre-existing anti-Clinton sentiments, but his assertion that he helped turn the tide against Clinton seems far-fetched at best.
Jonathan Alter of the Daily Beast writes that Clinton lost for seven critical reasons, none of which had anything to do with fake news stories. Those reasons were, in a nutshell, racism, misogyny, Trump’s appeal to the blue collar worker, rigged primaries, an inability to connect with rural America, a “missed pivot to jobs,” and the fact that people just didn’t like or trust her. His last point is perhaps the biggest reason why many left-leaning progressives refused to vote for her. As Alter called Clinton a “Velcro candidate.” Everything stuck to her.
“Her paid speeches to Wall Street, Clinton Foundation complications, and WikiLeaks staff indiscretions all blurred together with Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, and the emails to turn her into a caricature of a corrupt politician — a nominee who seemed as if she had something to hide even when she didn’t.”
Even though Alter does not believe Clinton had anything to hide, plenty of left-leaning progressives (as well as conservatives) did. The WikiLeaks Podesta emails, the contentious Democratic primaries, and the tone of her campaign turned off millions of potential voters.
With all this being said, it does bear repeating that the 2016 election season was rife with false, exaggerated, and outright fake news, perpetuated by both sides. The Mercury News reports that a fake CNN account on Twitter tweeted Florida exit poll numbers giving Donald Trump a 55 percent share of the vote. Although Trump did win the state, he did not win by that margin.
The news outlet names one of the worst offenders in this election season, YourNewsWire, which was a persistent purveyor of fake and outrageous news throughout the primaries and general election. And the Denver Guardian, another fake news site, played on the Clinton body count conspiracy that suggested Clinton had a direct role in the death of an FBI agent linked to the Clinton email scandal. Legitimate newspaper, the Denver Post, debunked the story.
The WikiLeaks Podesta email trove seems to have had more of an influence in the election than the fake news sites and stories that flew around the internet this election. While fake news sites were a bane on this election, they were not necessarily instrumental in some voters’ decisions to not vote for Hillary Clinton. In the left-leaning, pro-Bernie Sanders, pro-Jill Stein groups, those members overwhelmingly cited Clinton’s known past, rather than fake news stories as reason they did not vote for her.
[Featured Image by Matt Rourke/AP Images]