The week in fake news: did a Muslim woman ignore a dying man in Paris?
There were about 10 million new articles published online since Monday, and a great number of them weren't fact checked before authors clicked publish. That's what Grapple is here for. As we continue to build a company to develop automated fact checking software, we will keep tabs on the most widely spread falsehoods and half-troths found on the web and social media this week.
1. The muslim woman who walked past a bloodied terror victim
Shortly after terrorists open fired on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, a photo of a woman started circulating online. The woman was black, slightly tearful, wearing a champagne-colored hijab. To her back was a bloodied man, lying on the ground as passerby attempted to resuscitate him.
The photograph, captured by Rex Images photographer Jamie Lorriman, became fodder for conservative sites looking to fill a narrative of Muslim people celebrating or at least ignoring terrorist attacks in western capitals.
Headline: "OUTRAGE over what Muslim woman did as walked she by dying victim on Paris sidewalk"
That headline comes from the hyper-conservative blog freedomdaily.com, but even some mainstream coverage failed in its treatment of this innocent and distraught bystander. Consider this headline, from the UK's Metro news site:
At least Metro gives the woman a chance to air her perspective on the photograph, but only after it resurrects the patently false suggestion that was plastered across other websites. There is plenty of context that entirely refutes the offhanded assessment of this unknown and innocent woman as a monster, or her behavior as casual.
Most notably, there were no accounts of screaming, hysterical masses after the shooting had stopped in Paris. Plenty of other photographs of the same area following the massacre, portray pedestrians talking on cell phones, while written accounts and interviews published in first-hand news sources describe an eerie calm settling over the city after initial panic.
Grapple's fix: Recognizing this missing context should cast skepticism on any account that portrays this woman, Muslim or not, as an outlier. It is important to remember that powerful photography considers not just what is visible, but what is not.
2. The U.S. naval 'armada' that approached North Korea
Psych! The Trump Administration, whether through some blunderbuss scenario, as cast by The New York Times, or through willful deception, pushed for nearly two weeks an ongoing story that the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, was steaming toward the Korean Peninsula along with an "armada" of battleships.
Publications as large as CBS News reported as recently as Monday that the naval ensemble was approaching the Korean Peninsula. It was not until the U.S. Navy published a photograph of the Carl-Vinson passing through the Sundha Straight, near Indonesia, that the mainstream press started examining its string of reports.
Perhaps more troubling in this episode is the fact that defense agencies, notably the Pentagon, never wavered in their messaging, that the Carl Vinson was to conduct training exercises near the coast of Australia before sailing to the Western Pacific. At no point did the U.S. Navy or The Pentagon issue reports saying that plans had changed, or that the Carl Vinson would ever approach North Korea ("Western Pacific" is an intentionally vague geographic term).
Grapple's fix: While the entirety of the professional news media had access to the original and most direct source, no one thought to ask for more specifics from either Trump or The Pentagon. Identifying these discrepencies in language between the presidents office and quotes originating from the defense department could have cued readers in on the reversal of course that came earlier this week.
3. Aaron Hernandez's death scored his family millions from the New England Patriots
After former NFL Tight End Aaron Hernandez was found hanged in his prison cell this week, rumors and shoddily reported news stories sprouted, purveying speculation that his death would allow his next of kin to collect the remainder of his contract from the New England Patriots.
Under Massachusetts law, Hernandez's suicide will render him innocent, as his 2015 murder conviction was still under appeal. But conflating the state's unique criminal statutes with contract law is a fatal mistake in this story, according to an analysis by The Boston Globe.
Hernandez had already lost a grievance over the termination of his contract, and that was before he was convicted at trial. His legal innocence or guilt was never the basis for the Patriots' decision to revoke his contract, so it would be unlikely that his death would have any bearing on civil litigation his family may bring to recoup his lost contract.
Grapple's fix: The error in some of these stories comes in the conflation of two separate legal proceedings, his civil arbitration with The Patriots and his legal status as a result of his post-appeal suicide. Identifying these differences will alert readers keen on skepticism to take a second look at the short-winded claims made by speculators and blowhard analysts.
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