by William Skink
For National Public Radio listeners, weekend edition’s coverage of the growing #pizzagate scandal is probably the first they heard of claims that an organized pedophile network exists and is connected to politically influential people like John Podesta. And because of how NPR framed this story, it will probably be the last they hear of this scandal, unless a formal investigation is launched or more substantial evidence emerges.
Here is the opening confinement of the narrative:
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Just a few days before the election, a popular Washington, D.C. pizza joint became the victim of a political fake news attack. The restaurant received death threats and accusations. Before long, there were hundreds of those threats and frightening messages on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter directed not only to the restaurant and its owner, but also to the wait staff and other workers at the restaurant. James Alefantis is the owner of Comet Ping Pong. And we very much appreciate you coming in to talk to us. I know that you’ve had a couple of bad weeks here.
JAMES ALEFANTIS: It’s been a hard 14 days or so.
Linda Wertheimer depicts the owner of Comet Ping Pong as a victim of a political fake news attack. As the alleged victim, only Alefantis is given NPR’s platform to disseminate his version of how he became the target of this harassment. And instead of doing any journalistic due diligence, like conducting their own research, it’s obvious that Wertheimer is more than happy to defer to Alefantis’ “investigation”:
WERTHEIMER: You did some reporting on what was going on, right? You investigated. You went on the web yourself to see if you could find out why this was happening. Tell us what you found.
ALEFANTIS: Well, it started when I was receiving many direct messages on Instagram and comments on my Instagram page. And I realized that something had come up. It turned out that there was a worldwide conspiracy theory in – based inside of Reddit and was being sent out through YouTube and Facebook and other places and that’s sort of an insanely complicated, made-up, fictional lie-based story. This was a coordinated political attack.
WERTHEIMER: The story was that Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, were running a child molestation ring out of the back of your restaurant. Is that correct, more or less?
ALEFANTIS: Essentially, yes. There was – it was sort of based in a couple of things. Satanic rituals and human trafficking led by Hillary Clinton and John Podesta was the sort of basis of this insane story.
WERTHEIMER: It seems remarkable to me that anybody took that seriously at all. They look and sound completely and not very skillfully made-up.
ALEFANTIS: Basically, the sort of reality-based community thought this was this insane sort of joke or a made-up fiction. But within many of these conspiratorial online communities, they were at least taking this seriously. What’s wild additionally is that it seems as if it’s almost like a game to them, like a video game. And the players are actually real, and the tools that are used are based in social media.
So essentially, they would go into our social media accounts and they would take photographs that were on my Instagram of my friends’ children or of my associates’ children and post them around thousands and thousands of fake news sites and on Reddit and on YouTube and use these images of happily playing, innocent children as proof of some kind of human trafficking scheme led by the Clintons.
No where in the above quote is the actual origin of this story accurately identified: John Podesta’s emails.
It’s true that the initial motivation of the reddit/4chan sleuths pouring over the trove of emails dumped by Wikileaks was political. More specifically, they were looking for anything that could damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
During this email search–again, not even mentioned at all in the NPR interview–some food-related emails stood out as being suspicious. For a good breakdown of the most important data points, including examples of the emails that started this whole thing, I suggest reading this post by The Last American Vagabond. Here is some of the language from Podesta’s email archive:
“Hi John, The realtor found a handkerchief (I think it has a map that seems pizza-related. Is it yours? They can send it if you want. I know you’re busy, so feel free not to respond if it’s not yours or you don’t want it.”
“I consider ice cream, its purchase, and its consumption a rather serious business. We can’t just willy-nilly toss it out and about in casual references, especially linked with the word ‘free’.”
“Lo and behold, instead of pasta and wonderful sauces, it was a lovely, tempting assortment of cheeses, Yummy. I am awaiting the return of my children and grandchildren from their holiday travels so that we can demolish them.”
Emails like these obviously don’t prove anything nefarious is going on, they are just sort of off, enough that people began taking a look at Comet Ping Pong, Besta Pizza, and previously public Instagram accounts. Then other factors came into play, like Tony Podesta’s disturbing art collection, bizarre art performances with occult undertones, and other stories started getting pulled into this, like the attempted theft of 33 kids in Haiti.
There are a lot more data points being compiled, but for the average NPR listener, the weekend edition coverage’s depiction of this as too crazy to even contemplate will more than likely have the desired effect, which is to keep its audience from taking a look themselves and determining if this is all just feverish delusions from paranoid partisans who think the Clinton’s are evil incarnate, or something the authorities should be taking a serious look at.
The conclusion of the interview added another layer of threat, specifically the potential for James Alefantis to sue people for defamation:
WERTHEIMER: Well, is there anything you can do? I mean, have you had any sort of satisfaction from talking to the milliones de (ph) Washington lawyers who must be among your customers?
ALEFANTIS: We have talked to a few lawyers. It seems that there are not many outlets for people who have suffered this kind of attack and abuse. You’re allowed to sue for defamation, but that suit takes many years and is very grueling. Additionally, these chat rooms where these people are based are protected by a law that claims that they’re hosting sites, and therefore people can hide behind a screen name. So it’s very difficult to identify who the bully or – and harasser is.
In the case of Comet Ping Pong, we’re a beloved neighborhood institution. And so we’re very strong in a way. We have great community support. If this kind of attack were leveled at an individual or a less strong small business, it would be – I think could be potentially devastating to some of these people.
WERTHEIMER: James Alefantis. He runs a restaurant here in Washington. Thank you very much for telling us your story. I hope things get better for you.
This story is far from over. It will be very interesting to see where it goes next. Stay tuned…