New York Times Magazine: How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside Down

IronRinn

Member
"At the height of the 2016 election, exaggerated reports of a juvenile sex crime brought a media maelstrom to Twin Falls — one the Idaho city still hasn't recovered from."

On a Tuesday morning in June 2016, Nathan Brown, a reporter for The Times-News, the local paper in Twin Falls, Idaho, strolled into the office and cleared off a spot for his coffee cup amid the documents and notebooks piled on his desk. Brown, 32, started his career at a paper in upstate New York, where he grew up, and looks the part of a local reporter, clad in a fresh oxford and khakis that tend to become disheveled over the course of his long days. His first order of business was an article about a City Council meeting from the night before, which he hadn't attended. Brown pulled up a recording of the proceedings and began punching out notes for his weekly article. Because most governing in Twin Falls is done by a city manager, these meetings tend to deal with trivial subjects like lawn-watering and potholes, but Brown could tell immediately that this one was different.

”We have been made aware of a situation," said the first speaker, an older man with a scraggly white beard who had hobbled up to the lectern. ”An alleged assault of a minor child and we can't get any information on it. Apparently, it's been indicated that the perpetrators were foreign Muslim youth that conducted this — I guess it was a rape." Brown recognized the man as Terry Edwards. About a year earlier, after The Times-News reported that Syrian refugees would very likely be resettled in Twin Falls, Edwards joined a movement to shut the resettlement program down. The group circulated a petition to put the proposal before voters. They failed to get enough signatures to force a referendum, but Brown was struck by how much support around town the movement attracted. In bars after work, he began to overhear conversations about the dangers of Islam. One night, he heard a man joke about dousing the entrance to the local mosque with pig's blood.

After he finished watching the video, Brown called the police chief, Craig Kingsbury, to get more information about the case. Kingsbury said that he couldn't discuss it and that the police reports were sealed because minors were involved. Brown made a couple phone calls: to the mayor and to his colleague at the paper who covers crime. He pieced together that 12 days earlier, three children had been discovered partly clothed inside a shared laundry room at the apartment complex where they lived. There were two boys, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old, and a 5-year-old girl. The 7-year-old boy was accused of attempting some kind of sex act with the 5-year-old, and the 10-year-old had used a cellphone borrowed from his older brother to record it. The girl was American and, like most people in Twin Falls, white. The boys were refugees; Brown wasn't sure from where. In his article about the meeting, Brown seems to anticipate that the police chief's inability to elaborate was not going to sit well with the people whose testimony he had just watched.
Photo
Nathan Brown, who covers politics for the local newspaper, the Times-News. Credit Harris Mizrahi for The New York Times

That weekend, Brown was on his way to see a movie when he received a Facebook message from Jim Dalos Jr., a 52-year-old known to Twin Falls journalists and police as Scanner Man. Dalos is disabled; he works six hours a week as a dishwasher at a pizzeria but spends most of his time in his apartment, sitting in a reclining chair and drinking Diet Pepsi out of a 52-ounce plastic mug, voraciously consuming news. He reads the local paper, old issues of which litter his living-room floor, and keeps the television blaring — usually Fox News. He got his nickname because he constantly monitors an old police scanner, a gift he received as a teenager from his father, and often calls in tips to the media based on what he hears. He also happens to live at the apartment complex, Fawnbrook, where the laundry-room incident occurred.

Dalos told Brown that he had seen the police around Fawnbrook and that the victim's mother told him that the boys had been arrested. He also pointed Brown to a couple of Facebook groups that were created in response to the crime. Brown scrolled through them on his cellphone and saw links flying back and forth with articles that said that the little girl had been gang raped at knife point, that the perpetrators were Syrian refugees and that their fathers had celebrated with them afterward by giving them high fives. The stories also claimed that the City Council and the police department were conspiring to bury the crime.

Over the weekend, Brown plowed through his daily packs of cigarettes as he watched hundreds, then thousands, of people joining the groups. Their panic appeared to be piqued by a mass shooting, the deadliest in American history, that had just occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The perpetrator had declared allegiance to ISIS. The commenters also posted stories that claimed refugees were responsible for a rash of rapes in Europe and that a similar phenomenon in the United States was imminent. ”My girl is blond and blue-eyed," one woman wrote. ”I am extremely worried about her safety."

The details of the Fawnbrook case, as it became known, were still unclear to Brown, but he was skeptical of what he was reading. For one thing, he knew from his own previous reporting that no Syrians had been resettled in Twin Falls after all. He woke up early on Monday to get a head start on clarifying things as much as possible in order to write a follow-up article. Before he got into the office, a friend texted him, telling him to check the Drudge Report. At the top, a headline screamed: ”REPORT: Syrian ‘Refugees' Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho."
Long but fascinating/disturbing read.
 

WedgeX

Banned
The rage machine has been churning since the 90s. Sadly the Internet has proved far more powerful than radio.
 
Never not weird seeing my hometown in the national news. The sad thing about this is that Twin Falls has a history of helping refugees. The College of Southern Idaho had a program to help refugees during the crisis in the Bosnian War. This fake news bullshit led to some people trying to shut that program down. I've been gone for 12 years though, so I don't know if that push succeeded or not.
 

Haly

One day I realized that sadness is just another word for not enough coffee.
In college, Stranahan was a libertarian and even attended Ayn Rand’s funeral. But when he moved to California, he became a liberal, vehemently opposing the Iraq war and the presidency of George W. Bush. He voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Two years later, Stranahan interviewed Andrew Breitbart, a fellow Huffington Post alumnus, for an article he was writing about Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. They spoke for more than three hours, bonding over their shared love of Depeche Mode. Eventually, Breitbart became Stranahan’s mentor, converted him to conservatism and offered him a job. In 2011, Breitbart took Stranahan to the Conservative Political Action Conference and introduced him to Michele Bachmann, who, in Stranahan’s recollection, convinced him that she had uncovered disturbing details about Islam that no one in the establishment was willing to talk about. Stranahan says this conversation was the genesis of his concerns about the religion.
Talk to them they said. Find middle ground they said.
 

Dan

No longer boycotting the Wolfenstein franchise
Well that's actually a pretty clear example of a person changing through dialogue actually (just in case they changed for the worse).
Sounds more like he's attracted to compelling narratives and rebellious activity. He certainly doesn't seem to get invested in the actual roots of political ideology or facts.
 

Haly

One day I realized that sadness is just another word for not enough coffee.
Sounds more like he's attracted to compelling narratives and rebellious activity. He certainly doesn't seem to get invested in the actual roots of political ideology or facts.

Yeah no kidding:
Stranahan now works out of a trendy shared workspace in Washington, across the street from the White House. He quit his job at Breitbart, which he said was being mismanaged in Bannon's absence, to host a drive-time FM radio show with Sputnik, a state-run Russian news outlet. He told me that he jumped at the chance to transition to a Kremlin-funded outfit and, knowing that it would be controversial, spoke to every media outlet that inquired about it, in order to draw even more people to his work.
Actually I feel this is an actual example of the mythical fence sitting centrist that the center left believes we need to court in order to win back the government.

EDIT: Oh I remember this now. This was when Alex Jones basically admitted to making up bullshit and trying to go for an "i'm just an entertainer" defense in order to duck a lawsuit.
 

Link

The Autumn Wind
Never not weird seeing my hometown in the national news. The sad thing about this is that Twin Falls has a history of helping refugees. The College of Southern Idaho had a program to help refugees during the crisis in the Bosnian War. This fake news bullshit led to some people trying to shut that program down. I've been gone for 12 years though, so I don't know if that push succeeded or not.
And angry white people have had enough of it.

Whitelash is real and extremely dangerous.
 
Thank you OP for the article.

The next day, Camille Barigar, the mayor’s wife, arrived in her office at the college, where she ran the performing-arts center, and started listening to her voice mail. In a calm, measured voice, a man who sounded as if he was reading from a script went on for nearly four minutes. “I wonder, Miss Barigar, if your residence was posted online and your whereabouts identified, how you would feel if half a dozen Muslim men raped and sodomized you, Miss Barigar, and when you tried to scream, broke every tooth in your mouth,” he said. “And then I wonder how you’d feel if, when you went to the Twin Falls Police Department, they told you to run along, that this is simply cultural diversity.”
I'm sure this guy isn't fantasizing about raping and sodomizing her himself at all.

n college, Stranahan was a libertarian and even attended Ayn Rand’s funeral. But when he moved to California, he became a liberal, vehemently opposing the Iraq war and the presidency of George W. Bush. He voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Two years later, Stranahan interviewed Andrew Breitbart, a fellow Huffington Post alumnus, for an article he was writing about Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. They spoke for more than three hours, bonding over their shared love of Depeche Mode. Eventually, Breitbart became Stranahan’s mentor, converted him to conservatism and offered him a job. In 2011, Breitbart took Stranahan to the Conservative Political Action Conference and introduced him to Michele Bachmann, who, in Stranahan’s recollection, convinced him that she had uncovered disturbing details about Islam that no one in the establishment was willing to talk about. Stranahan says this conversation was the genesis of his concerns about the religion.
I will never understand this fully. A (supposedly) liberal dude just getting brainwashed to be conservative. And not just "normal" conservative, but batshit insane conservative.

Later, it turned out that fake Facebook accounts linked to the Russian government helped to spread stories about Twin Falls and even organized one of the rallies there. The event was also poorly attended but is the first known Russian attempt to spark a demonstration on American soil.
How shocking.

These people are just puppets to Russia and they don't even have a clue.

He expressed no contrition about the reporting he did in Twin Falls, though many of the conclusions that he drew on the radio and online have been debunked. Still, many of the outlets that covered Twin Falls made only minor tweaks to their stories or did nothing at all. Many of the falsehoods that were written about the Fawnbrook case still appear at the top of a Google search of the city.
Fuck those outlets. Seriously.

Fuck Google too. Take some responsibility over what your searches. Don't be evil.
 

Wilsongt

Member
Yeah no kidding:

Actually I feel this is an actual example of the mythical fence sitting centrist that the center left believes we need to court in order to win back the government.

EDIT: Oh I remember this now. This was when Alex Jones basically admitted to making up bullshit and trying to go for an "i'm just an entertainer" defense in order to duck a lawsuit.

Someone getting paid that sweet, sweet Russian money.

Seems like a lot of people adore that kind of money in Washington, DC these past two years.

We all laughed at Mitt Romney in 2012 when he called Russia the US's biggest threat.
 

Dan

No longer boycotting the Wolfenstein franchise
I will never understand this fully. A (supposedly) liberal dude just getting brainwashed to be conservative. And not just "normal" conservative, but batshit insane conservative.
I think of them as political scenesters. They gravitate towards compelling, charismatic figures but are never in their core dedicated to the related principles.
 

DietRob

i've been begging for over 5 years.
Heard about this on nyt the daily

People are stupid which makes them easily persuaded to their own biases.
 
Talk to them they said. Find middle ground they said.

That's an interesting lesson to take out of someone successfully changing a mind through conversation.

Seriously though if freaking Breitbart can get converts through conversation it doesn't say anything impressive about your belief in your own world view that you don't think you can.
 

Ozigizo

Member
In college, Stranahan was a libertarian and even attended Ayn Rand’s funeral. But when he moved to California, he became a liberal, vehemently opposing the Iraq war and the presidency of George W. Bush. He voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Two years later, Stranahan interviewed Andrew Breitbart, a fellow Huffington Post alumnus, for an article he was writing about Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. They spoke for more than three hours, bonding over their shared love of Depeche Mode. Eventually, Breitbart became Stranahan’s mentor, converted him to conservatism and offered him a job.

When your morals and convictions are so weak that talking to Breitbart suddenly changes you in to a wacko conspiracy theorist.

I think him ever being liberal is a stretch. I somehow doubt he ever separated from the libertarian thinking.
 

Haly

One day I realized that sadness is just another word for not enough coffee.
That's an interesting lesson to take out of someone successfully changing a mind through conversation.

Seriously though if freaking Breitbart can get converts through conversation it doesn't say anything impressive about your belief in your own world view that you don't think you can.

Lol, yeah, okay sure:
Stranahan struck me as passionate about his stories; not about their veracity but about the freedom he and the critics of refugee resettlement should have to speculate as they wanted without being belittled by the fact-mongering mainstream. When I reached him by phone this June, he told me he was planning to travel back to Idaho for more reporting on Fawnbrook, now that he was no longer constrained by his editors at Breitbart. He told me that he believed that he had uncovered another dimension of his globalist theory related to Chobani's participation in the federal school-lunch program. He felt compelled to follow up on the earlier coverage, because he was frustrated that Alex Jones and others were forced to retract their stories and apologize under pressure. ”I don't like people getting shut up like that," he said. ”Even if their stories have problems, I don't like journalists getting shut down."
 
Probably the first and last time the city I live in will be GAF thread worthy.

Luckily I believe that most residents are still supportive of our large refugee population.
 

Haly

One day I realized that sadness is just another word for not enough coffee.
Be traded his Brietbert masters for Russian ones. Pretty much the same objective.

You know someone's fucked when they're out-Breitbarting Breitbart in the name of free speech. But yeah it's the power of conversation I'm missing I suppose. I should take a few lessons on rhetoric from the Kremlin.
 

Trojita

Rapid Response Threadmaker
Later, it turned out that fake Facebook accounts linked to the Russian government helped to spread stories about Twin Falls and even organized one of the rallies there. The event was also poorly attended but is the first known Russian attempt to spark a demonstration on American soil.

This needs to be its own news story.
 
Explain? Or is this just a variation on the “people become more conservative as they get older” trope.

I really don’t have any data to back it up, but I’ve seen family members become more conservative when they get married or have kids, anectodal and all that.
 
Holy fuck. Scary mixture of conspiracy theory and echo chambers.

How do you convince people of the truth when a) they never want to hear it and b) they immediately think its a conspiracy?

Can you even get through to these people?
 

Scirrocco

Member
That's an interesting lesson to take out of someone successfully changing a mind through conversation.

Seriously though if freaking Breitbart can get converts through conversation it doesn't say anything impressive about your belief in your own world view that you don't think you can.


Bullshit.

You're assuming that the people are being convinced are making their decisions based on what they are hearing impartially, but they don't. The human brain doesn't work like that. Its not an emotionless thinking machine, it's a poorly constructed mess of logic. Emotions, instincts and body chemistry. Appeals to fear almost always have an advantage over simple logic.
 

Permanently A

Junior Member
Holy fuck. Scary mixture of conspiracy theory and echo chambers.

How do you convince people of the truth when a) they never want to hear it and b) they immediately think its a conspiracy?

Can you even get through to these people?

No, cause in the same way you'll dismiss information from ConservativeFreedomEagle.net, they dismiss information from CNN and NYT. Its just a wildly different belief of what is real and what isn't.
 

SapientWolf

Trucker Sexologist
That's an interesting lesson to take out of someone successfully changing a mind through conversation.

Seriously though if freaking Breitbart can get converts through conversation it doesn't say anything impressive about your belief in your own world view that you don't think you can.
Breitbart never converted anyone. They just tell people what they want to hear.
 
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