Conservative media, both fake news sites and more legitimate outlets have a few tropes and none of them as tried and true as wheeling out the Clinton’s to discuss their latest heinous act. For decades the Clinton’s have proved easy fodder for conservative tabloids, publications which are now largely operated online as click bait mills. The same sorts of stories that once appeared in publications like the National Enquirer spread false articles much faster than their check stand counterparts using the power of confirmation bias and the internet. The latest iteration of this decades old trend featured the Clinton’s daughter Chelsea and accused her of writing an anti-Trump children’s book.
All things considered the idea that Chelsea Clinton is writing an anti-Trump children’s book is pretty tame as far as politically motivated fake news is concerned. One of the sites that posted the Chelsea Clinton piece also posted something about “bodies found under Bill Clinton’s house”. These are the same sort of sites that were early traffickers in conspiracy narratives such as the one surrounding Seth Rich. It’s easy to laugh at how ridiculous these types of articles are and ridicule the people who might click on them, but unfortunately these narratives have staying power.
The Seth Rich narrative made it all the way to Sean Hannity, one of the most viewed nightly news broadcasts in the United States. Hannity eventually disavowed the conspiracy after some pressure from advertisers. It’s a fairly well known fact that retractions never get the same amount of attention as the sensationalist story that eventually leads to retraction. That’s probably especially true when the story is one about “Crooked Hillary” supposedly murdering a DNC staffer to cover up email leaks which were clearly crippling her campaign. The fact that the most popular newscast on the most popular network openly ran with that narrative for weeks is crazy, but it’s the state of America right now.
Narratives that begin on the internet and eventually make their way to mainstream newscasts are commonplace now. Some of them never take off, the stories saying Chelsea Clinton wrote an anti-Trump children’s book probably won’t go anywhere or amount to much. More believable fake news though starts on the same sites and eventually makes its way to pundits who appear on mainstream radio shows or as guests on television broadcasts looking to fill a midday panel. Once a more mainstream news outlet publishes a story the pressure is on for other outlets to follow suit and capitalize on the traffic that comes from being one of the first to report a story.
It happens all the time, especially in the age of internet media giants like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post who feel increased pressure to publish and get stories out there to gather traffic. Sometimes it’s a quick correction and everybody moves on. Sometimes the fake narrative gets some traction, like the fake news that was published soon after inauguration day that claimed Donald Trump removed the bust of MLK Jr from the Oval Office. That was not true, but it spread as fact regardless. Other times the narrative is far more damaging, like the one surrounding Seth Rich.
Ultimately the fake news about Chelsea Clinton’s anti-Trump children’s book probably won’t amount to much. Still though, these stories get clicks because people feel very real animosity towards specific political figures and the political class as a whole. To the extent that ridiculous fake news stories make it into the mainstream, that’s obviously problematic, but long before they come anywhere near a legitimate newsroom, these fake narratives have power because they are based on real feelings.
Feelings that fake news is designed to feed, all for a few dollars.