When I blogged for Skeptoid, I would often find a piece of conspiracy theory or psuedoscience and refute it point by point. One of my favorites was this piece from October 2013, where I tackled a 29-point listicle alleging that the west coast was being “fried” by radiation from the Fukushima meltdown.
It was and is not, and I was able to refute each of the bad faith claims made by the original piece. It’s exhausting to do, but useful in that it meets head on a favorite tactic of conspiracy theorists: the Gish Gallop. This is throwing out half-baked claim after half-baked claim in an endless succession and counting on the skeptic to eventually get tired of debunking them all and quit.
I don’t write much of these anymore, but wanted to come back to the format to answer a piece challenging the validity of anyone who thinks online conspiracy avatar QAnon is fake.
The piece, published on August 8th on Medium and called “Turn Them Off! #QAnon and the collapse of #FakeNews media,” was written by “Humanistic technophilosopher” Martin Geddes. It asks eight questions of readers to allow them to “decide for yourself which way the truth might lie.”
Geddes believes Q is not only real, but a “military operation by “white hats” against the corrupt and criminal “deep state”, being led by the NSA and Marines” with the goal of destroying the “credibility and power of the #FakeNews media.”
I do not think this is true, and am totally unconvinced by the “proofs” put forth by Q and his followers. But I am a reader, and decided to answer Geddes’ questions for myself.
1. Why has not a single one of these media organisations asked President Trump whether Q is legitimate, since this would immediately resolve the matter for everyone? How do you account for this journalistic lapse in elementary data gathering before publishing a story slurring such a large group of ordinary people?
In her August 1st press brefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was specifically asked by Daily Mail reporter David Martosko about the president’s support of QAnon. Sanders demured answering the question directly, didn’t take the opportunity to affirm (or deny) anything regarding Trump and Q, gave a boilerplate answer about condemning violence, and moved on as fast as she could.
Q supporters retconned her lack of an answer by claiming either that she’s not in on the plot, that it “wasn’t the right time” to answer, or that it “wasn’t the right question.” This is classic special pleading – the answer wasn’t the answer I wanted for a special reason only I know, so I’ll just keep asking the question.
And if Trump wanted to be asked about Q personally, he could always hold a solo press conference – he’s held one in the 18 months he’s been in office.
2. Why do they not cite or rebut Q’s drops, as would be normal journalistic practise in disproving something of factual debate? If they are self-evidently false, this should be trivially easy. Why do you think they refuse to engage on the facts, but offer emotive innuendo in its place?
It’s not a journalist’s job to “refute” anonymous posts on the internet. It falls to Q believers to prove they are true. This is how the burden of proof works.
There are few falsifiable claims in the Q drops to rebut (this is by design, since specific claims are easier to debunk than nonspecific ones) – and the claims that are falsifiable have not been proven true. Some of these are the specific claims Q made early on that Hillary Clinton had already been arrested, or the more recent claim that a deep state submarine fired a missile at Air Force One that was shot down by an F-16 with classified weapons.
How can a journalist prove something true when there’s no credible evidence that it even exists? It’s like demanding I prove the Easter Bunny didn’t wear a purple shirt last week – first you have to prove that the Easter Bunny is real.
3. Why is there no mention of the 45,000 sealed indictments (50x growth over normal), signifying impending mass arrests? This is a matter of public fact and record — as are the unprecedented CEO resignations (very few being rehired…) and politicians withdrawing from office. What’s your hypothesis for this omission?
The “45,000” sealed indictments is a hoax. I wrote about it extensively for Daily Dot, and found that the number is massively padded out with sealed court documents, wiretap requests, and magistrate judge cases; and that the much smaller number cited as a “normal” amount of sealed indictments isn’t presented in the correct context.
Beyond that, CEO’s resign or move to new companies all the time, and the higher number of Republicans leaving office is moire likely due to an unfavorable midterm election coming up than any vast conspiracy.
4. Why is there no concomitant coverage of the significant increases (5x over past) in arrests and convictions for human trafficking and child pornography, yet there are constant protestations that widespread “elite” paedophilia (aka “pizzagate”) is a “debunked” matter? The press coverage of the sensational NXIVM cult trial — implicating those close to the Clinton Foundation with child sex slavery — is spectacularly muted. How do you account for this silence, given what Q tells us?
These increases are not significant. An article from Reason from shortly after Trump’s inauguration points out that the supposed surge in “sex trafficking arrests” was mostly made up of arrests for consensual prostitution – with both sex workers and johns being arrested.
The DOJ has a habit of lumping all trafficking cases together, be they sex trafficking or labor trafficking, so it’s hard to know exactly how many arrests have been made for each. Beyond that, many of the sources citing this supposed surge in arrests are not reliable, or clearly biased toward the president. As of now, 2017 numbers for human trafficking arrests don’t appear to be publicly available.
As for the NXVIM case, it was covered extensively when it first broke, and is still being covered by legitimate news outlets. Here’s an NY Magazine piece from August 8th about the group’s attempt to get a branch going in Mexico. And the link between that case and the Clintons appears to have been fabricated by notorious garbage site YourNewsWire.
5. Why are the dozens and dozens of strong links between Q and the Trump administration given no credence? (Here are 45 for you to begin with — this would easily get you beyond the standard of proof for a court case.) Q encourages people to think for themselves, whereas you are being told by the MSM what to believe and ignore the evidence in front of your own eyes. How do you make sense of this data not being presented to you?
They’re given no credence because they haven’t been proven true by their believers. Most are easily written off as coincidences, misuse of time stamps, wishful thinking, or confirmation bias.
Rather than throw out dozens of “proofs” with questionable value, Q believers should attempt to find one irrefutable piece of evidence, a smoking gun that proves without a doubt Q is real. It would have far more value than analyzing some typos in a tweet or closeups of an ear.
6. How come none of these organisations deemed #QAnon newsworthy before the Tampa rally, yet it is a movement that is suddenly threatening to the wellbeing of democracy and society? How do you account for this timing and the coordinated message using identical terminology? (Although apparently following Q is simultaneously “fringe” and “wildly popular”!)
This is a strawman argument. Nobody has said that QAnon “threatens the well-being of democracy” – or at least not anyone I’ve read. I certainly haven’t read every piece about it, so I’m willing to be proven wrong.
As for the timing of the Q stories, the phenomenon was covered extensively before the rally. I’ve been writing about it all year, and the first mainstream coverage of it hit in November, shortly after the first Q drops went up on 4chan.
But most people had still never heard of it, necessitating a variety of similar explainer pieces. That’s life when talking about conspiracy theories popular on 8chan, Reddit and Twitter – most Americans aren’t on these platforms.
7. These same organisations overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton for President, and wrongly predicted her win right up until the last minute. They have widespread and documented links to the Democratic party, both legitimate (as donors) and illegitimate (illegal and unethical relationships documented by Wikileaks). Are they dispassionate reporters of fact, or active players in the political game attempting to shape the narrative? How might it affect their reporting on Q?
There are many liberal members of the media. There are also many conservative members of the media. They weren’t covering QAnon with regularity, either. Fox News wasn’t talking about it. Popular conservative radio hosts weren’t talking about it – indeed, Rush Limbaugh seemed befuddled when a caller brought it up on the air. Breitbart wasn’t talking about it.
Maybe they’re all part of the conspiracy to make it look like nobody is covering Q, or maybe they just didn’t think there was anything to talk about.
Even now, many legitimate conservative journalists are writing Q off as a hoax and crankery.
8. Given that these media reports make many basic factual errors, are they credible journalism?
Conspiracy theorists often use minor errors or mistakes in early reporting as jumping-off points for bigger plots. This happens quite often with mass shootings, where unreliable witness testimony is ground through the mill of social media and turned into news, when it never actually was news – just unreliable witness testimony
In this last question, Geddes cites a very minor mistake made by the Guardian, claiming Q posts on Reddit along with 8chan, which he does not. Given how prolific the Q community on Reddit is, and how Q drops are immediately reposted on r/greatawakening, a reporter unfamiliar with every aspect of the conspiracy theory could easily make that mistake. It’s trivial, and in no way invalidates the rest of the piece.
Minor errors are part of journalism. Sometimes reporters get small things wrong in a big story. That’s what corrections are for.
I’ll finish this by asking Geddes a question, which any QAnon supporter is free to attempt to answer. After asking his questions, Geddes writes:
It will only take a single tweet from President Trump — flagged up by one of Q’s first messages — to end the debate. This single message would destroy all these yellow journalists, forever.
If a single tweet or statement from Trump would “end the debate” over Q’s veracity, why doesn’t he do it? He’s the president of the United States – he has the power to do almost anything he wants.
If Q is real, and really connected to Trump, why doesn’t he unseal the indictments and get “the Storm” going? What’s he waiting for?
If there’s an answer to this question that doesn’t depend entirely on special pleading, I’d love to hear it.