Shortly after the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport shooter was identified as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, an article was published by conservative website The Gateway Pundit alleging that CNN had altered a photo of the shooter “to make the shooter look more white,” as InfoWars and Prison Planet editor Paul Joseph Watson put it. The photo included with the article showed a side-by-side comparison of a picture of a Hispanic man, his skin tone considerably darker on one side.
Currently, Watson’s tweet has been shared over 11,000 times.
Why is CNN attempting to make the shooter look more white? Bizarre. pic.twitter.com/pJW9tFPZz8— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) January 6, 2017
But according to an article by The Daily Beast, neither photo was ever published by CNN, who hadn’t published a photo of the Fort Lauderdale shooter at all when the article was published – and, in fact, it’s not even the right Esteban Santiago.
If you haven’t been following the story, as reported by CNN, yesterday’s mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport, which claimed five lives and wounded another eight, was allegedly carried out by 26-year-old Esteban Santiago. Santiago, a resident of Anchorage, Alaska, was a former member of the Inactive Ready Reserve and Alaska Army National Guard. He had also served previously in the Puerto Rico National Guard and was deployed to Iraq from April 23, 2010, to February 19, 2011.
The man in the supposedly altered photo is Esteban Santiago, 39, of New York state. He is a registered sex offender in Florida, and the “altered” image was apparently pulled from the Florida sex offender registry. The registry photo, which matches the “unaltered” version, also lists the 39-year-old Santiago as white.
It remains unclear why the original writers were searching the Florida sex offender registry for Esteban Santiago shortly following the shooting, or why the photo was specifically presented as a CNN conspiracy.
The facts, however, didn’t prevent the story from rapidly taking off. The Gateway Pundit story had 2,500 shares within its first hour on Facebook; InfoWars followed shortly with their own article. The Gateway Pundit‘s Jim Hoft adopted some of President-Elect Donald Trump’s mannerisms in writing the story.
“It appears CNN doctored the photo to make the suspect look more white. Sad.”
Former Republican Florida Congressman Allen West, who represented Fort Lauderdale in his time in Congress, followed with his own tweet about it, and a link to an article on his website.
“WHOA: Anyone else notice what CNN did to Ft Lauderdale shooter’s photo?”
Prominent members of the alt-right on Twitter were quick to pick up and disseminate the false story. Media personality Tariq Nasheed tweeted that “there are reports that the identity of one of the Ft. Lauderdale shooting suspects is a white Hispanic named Esteban Santiago.” Nasheed’s tweet was quickly picked up by Twitter verified alt-right figure @BakedAlaska (Tim Treadstone) who sent out a screenshot with a reply that “Esteban Santiago is not white. He’s hispanic.”
Meanwhile, the myth busters over at Snopes noted that real photos of the alleged shooter had been published by CBS – in which the only resemblance was that both men appear Hispanic.
Snopes also noted that they were able to find no evidence of tampering in the photos from CBS, or those of any other outlet.
Hoft’s story on The Gateway Pundit apparently originated with a tweet from Twitter user @alphakangz, a 228-follower account which has only existed since November and seems mostly to consist of right-wing conspiracy theories, including the now-infamous “PizzaGate.” Hoft reached out to The Daily Beast shortly after their story was published to indicate that he had taken down his post, replacing it with “UPDATE — THIS MAY BE A DIFFERENT ESTEBAN SANTIAGO.”
But other versions of the story based on Hoft’s remain up and continue to circulate through social media, in spite of the fact that it is demonstrably false on multiple levels. CNN did not alter a picture of Fort Lauderdale shooter Esteban Santiago to make him “look more white,” had not posted any pictures of him at the time that they were accused of altering those photos, and the photo in question is not even a picture of the correct Esteban Santiago.
Update: It turns out that this isn’t the first time that The Gateway Pundit has thrown this accusation at CNN. Again according to Snopes, back in 2015, they published a near-identical story alleging that CNN had altered a photo of Umpqua shooter Chris Harper-Mercer to make him look white; that story was also proven false.
[Featured Image by Broward Sheriff’s Office/AP Images]