Truthers given undue media attention

Salon has published coverage critical of the Sandy Hook Truther’s claims. But earlier this week, a piece called “Give truthers a chance?” appeared. Why?

The story from a Salon partner site called the Weeklings argued that the 9/11 conspiracy theory should not be discounted in the same group as Sandy Hook trutherism.

Slate covers what happened.

Salon-Truthers: Online mag publishes, retracts 9/11 conspiracy story “Give Truthers a Chance?”.

There was this explanation from the editor:

“I’m pretty horrified,” Salon editor Kerry Lauerman told me about the publication of the piece. Lauerman hadn’t seen the article before I emailed him and he started seeing various critical tweets about it, and he says that it “went up without enough eyeballs.” The article was selected from the partner site because a junior editor saw that it was connected to the Sandy Hook truther coverage and got a little “overexcited” about it, Lauerman says.

Salon has since pulled the article from its site. Here is the retraction.

On Jan. 22, Salon republished an article from one of our content partners, the Weeklings, that was sympathetic to unfounded 9/11 conspiracies. The article slipped through our usual review process, and was clearly not up to our standards; we removed it as soon as it was brought to our attention by readers. Salon has a long history of debunking fringe conspiracists — around Sept. 11, and more recently, Sandy Hook — and are proud of those efforts. We regret this oversight.

Instead of keeping the original article up, they pulled it saying that having it up would do more harm than good. And that is likely true. There IS no place for baseless speculation that does nothing but foster distrust, feed ridiculous notions about the world and can lead people to made misinformed decisions. Not everyone reads the news critically (yes, stating the obvious) and many will simply look (and find) items that fit with their worldview. This piece would plug right into a conspiracy mindset. There is no sense to feed such a warped view of the world or encourage others to adopt one by giving it unintended credibility.

The Columbia Journalism review has this on the popularity of the idea:

Boosting the Sandy Hook truther myth : Columbia Journalism Review.

In the weeks since the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, fringe conspiracy theorists have suggested that the shooting rampage there was staged or even perpetrated by the government to advance an anti-gun agenda—claims so absurd that even Glenn Beck has denounced them as preposterous.

The fact that these theories have been circulating should not surprise us; tragedies frequently give rise to anti-government conspiracy myths (9/11, Waco, etc.). More surprising—and unfortunate—is how much attention some media outlets are devoting to these claims, which have not been endorsed by any prominent politicians or commentators. While the coverage to date has generally sought to marginalize these conspiracy-mongers, it risks drawing more attention to their false claims and propagating the myth further.

What should be done? The internet is rife with fringe ideas. The media would be best served NOT to give airtime to such off center people who espouse such baseless ideas. But when these ideas DO get out into the public sphere, and become popular, the media may have an obligation to debunk them. Does this work? Who knows. The horse is out of the barn. Next time, close the damn door.

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  1 comment for “Truthers given undue media attention

  1. Chris Howard
    January 24, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    The debunking won’t work for true believers, but I believe you’re right, the media is obligated to provide the best evidence. Unfortunately what we have now is six people at a table with a “moderator” and five of those people are woo peddlers, and one is the token skeptic. Fair and balanced?

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