Fake news is a problem. It was during the election cycle, and continues on now, affecting what people think and believe. It also does not come from just one side of the political aisle.
If you create false stories and share what you – and others – wish were true, even though it has no basis in fact, you’ll get clicks and cash. That is exactly what one young Republican (and Trump supporter) from Maryland did last fall. He deliberately created a false story of election rigging, made quick cash, and still doesn’t seem all that concerned about his actions.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Cameron Harris told his tale of deception.
It was early fall, and Donald J. Trump, behind in the polls, seemed to be preparing a rationale in case a winner like him somehow managed to lose. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a riled-up crowd in Columbus, Ohio.
A few weeks later, Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash, sat down at the kitchen table in his apartment to fill in the details Mr. Trump had left out. In a dubious art just coming into its prime, this bogus story would be his masterpiece.
Mr. Harris started by crafting the headline: “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.” It made sense, he figured, to locate this shocking discovery in the very city and state where Mr. Trump had highlighted his “rigged” meme.
“I had a theory when I sat down to write it,” recalled Mr. Harris, a 23-year-old former college quarterback and fraternity leader. “Given the severe distrust of the media among Trump supporters, anything that parroted Trump’s talking points people would click.
Harris preyed upon those already looking for a bit of truth to prop up their election fears. Knowing that perhaps some naive Evangelicals would lap up such a story, he bought a cheap domain and named his “news” site Christian Times Newspaper. Disgusting.
At his kitchen table that night in September, Mr. Harris wondered: Who might have found these fraudulent Clinton ballots? So he invented “Randall Prince, a Columbus-area electrical worker.” This Everyman, a “Trump supporter” whose name hinted at a sort of nobility, had entered a little-used back room at the warehouse and stumbled upon stacked boxes of ballots pre-marked for Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Harris decided.
A photograph, he thought, would help erase doubts about his yarn. With a quick Google image search for “ballot boxes,” he landed on a shot of a balding fellow standing behind black plastic boxes that helpfully had “Ballot Box” labels.
It was a photo from The Birmingham Mail, showing a British election 3,700 miles from Columbus — but no matter. In the caption, the balding Briton got a new name: “Mr. Prince, shown here, poses with his find, as election officials investigate.”
The fake news story, though debunked by election officials, the Ohio secretary of state, and admitted to by the hoaxer himself, is still up on several websites. A quick search shows it still appears on Pamela Geller’s site, as well as other random sites such as Ending The Fed, The Truthseeker, News Target, and Justice News Network. The picture used in the article on the now-defunct Christian Times Newspaper site still appears many places. This one is from The Truth Seeker.
Geller’s site does have a disclaimer above the story, but it only states the following:
UPDATE: Franklin County launches an investigation. The story may have been planted. If so, this is now a pattern and I believe a deliberate attempt by Democrats to muddy the waters, so that when real stories of voter fraud and malfeasance (of which there are many) break, they too will be waved off as hoaxes.
No, it was a deliberate attempt by a Republican and Trump supporter to make money off of election theft lies. It matters not the political party. Such actions are absolutely egregious.
“Even before I posted it, I knew it would take off,” Mr. Harris recalled.
He was correct. The ballot box story, promoted by a half-dozen Facebook pages Mr. Harris had created for the purpose, flew around the web, fueled by indignant comments from people who were certain that Mrs. Clinton was going to cheat Mr. Trump of victory and who welcomed the proof. It was eventually shared with six million people
According to Harris in the NYT interview, he made a total of $22,000 during the campaign cycle from ads placed on his site. He also wrote “stories” with headlines such as “Hillary Clinton Blames Racism for Cincinnati Gorilla’s Death” and “Early Morning Explosion in DC Allegedly Leaves Yet Another DNC Staffer Dead.” Sensationalism sells, especially in an era when voters crave juicy, shocking details to launch at their chosen candidate’s opponent.
As I mentioned earlier, it does not seem Harris cares all that much about what he did. He came out on top, at least as far as his bank account goes. His reputation? Well, that’s another story. He mentions that he would like to “build a political consulting business.” Good luck with that, Cameron.
Asked whether he felt any guilt at having spread lies about a presidential candidate, Mr. Harris grew thoughtful. But he took refuge in the notion that politics is by its nature replete with exaggerations, half-truths and outright whoppers, so he was hardly adding much to the sum total.
“Hardly anything a campaign or a candidate says is completely true,” he said
Cameron is young, ambitious, lazy, and already honing his skill of rationalizing. He projects this idea: If others are doing it, then I can, too! His social media reaction to the NYT story is somewhat apologetic, but lacks mature reflection. Instead, he seems more interested in leading a serious discussion about fake news, though he himself was a huge part of the problem.
— Cam Harris (@camharris_us) January 19, 2017
Harris will have plenty of time to reflect on his actions, since it was reported that he was fired from his day job on Wednesday.
Neither political side is innocent, though. Both act in similarly disgusting manners. In fact, the very site which interviewed Harris, The New York Times, is currently under fire for misrepresenting Governor Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy. The NYT ran what they wanted, and made it seem like Perry didn’t fully understand the role he had been nominated for by Trump. Their sole source for the story indicates he was taken out of context. Another gross attempt at swaying the truth to fit a desired narrative.
Unfortunately, we will continue to see more attempts to sway opinion by way of fabrication. No matter who is at fault, condemnation must be swift. More than ever, it seems, vigilance is a must.