Tweeting Out Falsehoods Isn’t OK Just Because It Makes Trump Look Bad

One of the features of the emerging “Trump era” is that basically anyone can tweet out something incendiary about Trump, no matter how factually dubious, and be reasonably sure that it’ll garner vast amounts of likes and retweets.

Here’s the latest whopper, from Andrea Stone, a veteran journalist who is now director of Career Services at CUNY Journalism School.

Check out all those retweets and likes — wowzers. (32,686 RTs and 33,819 likes as of 12:00PM EST on February 3, 2017)

If we are to take the core claim of this tweet seriously, it should be the case that the recent U.S. Special Forces raid on a Yemen “terrorist compound” was operationally underway at 7:00 A.M EST on January 29, 2017, which is the time that Trump tweeted out his latest tirade about the New York Times:

Do facts matter? They clearly don’t matter much to Trump or his surrogates: we know that already. Almost nobody disputes it. But should facts matter to journalists, or at least people acting under the ostensible auspices of journalism, such as Andrea Stone?

According to a report by NPR:

By around 5 a.m. Sunday, the raiders were gone and the skies were clear, locals said. Abdullah al-Taissi, a tribal sheikh who lives in the village and confirmed much of Jawfi’s account, watched the attack from his house.

“Around 5 a.m. Sunday” would’ve been around 9:00 PM EST Saturday night (January 28) as there is an eight hour time difference between the U.S. East Coast and Yemen (Yemen is 8 hours ahead). That means, according to this NPR on-the-ground report, the raid would’ve been complete by around 9:00 PM EST on January 28. Trump then tweeted the aforementioned tweet at 7:00 AM EST on Sunday, January 29, a full 10 hours later. Put another way: Trump’s tweet came at 3:00 PM Yemen time, at which point the raid had been over for 10 hours.

All that being said: the Yemen raid looks to have been a complete horror show, resulting in the deaths of innocents, and the Trump administration should undoubtedly be held accountable for its execution (as should the Obama administration, which was involved in the planning.) But that’s got nothing to do with whether Andrea Stone’s tweet is accurate. By all accounts, it’s totally false.

I called Stone on Friday morning to ask if she had any citations for her claim. She replied that although she “saw a tweet” indicating that Trump wasn’t present in the Situation Room during the raid (apparently true) she could not provide any evidence that the raid was underway at the time of Trump’s tweet.

In other words, Stone had no evidence at all corroborating the central claim 0f her tweet.

Maybe this seems petty. But if we’re going to counter disinformation in the “Trump era,” of which there will be much, we can’t overlook stuff like this. The result of Stone’s tweet is that tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people now believe false information. Journalists discredit themselves and cede discursive ground to Trump when they mindlessly propagate falsehoods.

Update: Shortly after the publication of this post, Andrea Stone deleted her tweet, which is preserved here for posterity.

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