A Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theorist, a False Tweet and a Runaway Story

 

WASHINGTON — Jack Posobiec had his Twitter sights set on James B. Comey.

A pro-Trump activist notorious for his amateur sleuthing into red herrings like the “Pizzagate” hoax and a conspiracy theory involving the murder of a Democratic aide, Mr. Posobiec wrote on May 17 that Mr. Comey, the recently ousted F.B.I. director, had “said under oath that Trump did not ask him to halt any investigation.”

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It mattered little that Mr. Comey had said no such thing. The tweet quickly ricocheted through the ecosystem of fake news and disinformation on the far right, where Trump partisans like Mr. Posobiec have intensified their efforts to sow doubt about the legitimacy of expanding investigations into Trump associates’ ties to Russia.

But as the journey of that one tweet shows, misinformed, distorted and false stories are gaining traction far beyond the fringes of the internet. Just 14 words from Mr. Posobiec’s Twitter account would spread far enough to provide grist for a prime-time Fox News commentary and a Rush Limbaugh monologue that reached millions of listeners, forging an alternative first draft of history in corners of the conservative media where President Trump’s troubles are often explained away as fabrications by his journalist enemies.

In this fragmented media environment, the spread of false information is accelerated and amplified by a web of allied activist-journalists with large online followings, a White House that grants them access and, occasionally, a president who validates their work. The right-wing media machine that President Bill Clinton’s aides once referred to as “conspiracy commerce” is now far more mature, extensive and, in the internet age, tough to counter.

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