New York Times media reporter Michael Grynbaum smeared conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh as a Florida shooting conspiracist in “Dubious Theories on Shooting In Florida Find an Audience,” in Wednesday’s Business Day.
The teenagers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who a week ago lost 17 of their classmates and school staff members in a mass shooting, have emerged as passionate advocates for reform, speaking openly of their anger in the hope of forcing a reckoning on guns.
Grynbaum opportunistically lumped Rush and former congressman Jack Kingston in with conspiracists making nutty claims about “false flags” and “crisis actors.”
But in certain right-wing corners of the web -- and, increasingly, from more mainstream voices like Rush Limbaugh and a commentator on CNN -- the students are being portrayed not as grief-ridden survivors but as pawns and conspiracists intent on exploiting a tragedy to undermine the nation’s laws.
In these baseless accounts, which by Tuesday had spread rapidly on social media, the students are described as “crisis actors,” who travel to the sites of shootings to instigate fury against guns. Or they are called F.B.I. plants, defending the bureau for its failure to catch the shooter. They have been portrayed as puppets being coached and manipulated by the Democratic Party, gun control activists, the so-called antifa movement and the left-wing billionaire George Soros.
Grynbaum gives no evidence of Limbaugh referring to the students as “crisis actors” or FBI plants, though it’s implied that Rush delivered a similar “baseless account.”
Grynbaum focused on Parkland student David Hogg, “a sensation among many liberals for his polished and compelling television interviews, in which he has called on lawmakers to enact tougher restrictions on guns....” Hogg actually called the N.R.A. “child murderers.”
He again falsely aggregated Limbaugh’s straightforward comments with conspiracists.
....Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist behind the site Infowars, suggested that the mass shooting was a “false flag” orchestrated by anti-gun groups. Mr. Limbaugh, on his radio program, said of the student activists on Monday: “Everything they’re doing is right out of the Democrat Party’s various playbooks. It has the same enemies: the N.R.A. and guns.”
To deny that the students are being political and fiercely anti-NRA is ludicrous, and the idea that all of this vigorous activism, including chartering buses, was undertaken and organized in a few days’ by unassisted 17-year-olds is dubious.
....In an on-air appearance, Jack Kingston, a former United States representative from Georgia and a regular CNN commentator, asked, “Do we really think -- and I say this sincerely -- do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?” (He was quickly rebuked by the anchor Alyson Camerota.)
(“Rebuked” in huffy but unconvincing fashion.)
Grynbaum conveniently lumped all deviations from the “Dismantle the N.R.A.!” norm as some kind of dangerous conspiracy.
Conspiracies, wild and raw online, are often pasteurized on their way into the mainstream. A subtler version of the theory appeared Tuesday on the website of Bill O’Reilly, the ousted Fox News host. Mr. O’Reilly stopped short of saying the students had been planted by anti-Trump forces. But, he wrote: “The national press believes it is their job to destroy the Trump administration by any means necessary. So if the media has to use kids to do that, they’ll use kids.”
Some of those who have been spreading the conspiracies are facing consequences.
Then he delivered the story of an aide to a Florida state representative who irresponsibly forwarded a conspiracy theory to a local reporter and was fired. Which again had nothing to do with Limbaugh’s obvious observations.