One of the big news stories of 2016 was the proliferation of fake news — and the willingness of people to accept it.
The Guardian even had a piece on what it is and how to spot it — despite having printed fake news itself.
But though social media is often blamed, it isn't the only culprit. Mainstream media in Hawaii and elsewhere contribute to the proliferation of fake news by unquestioningly reprinting press releases and running commentaries without checking facts.
Which is how we got The Garden Island's story about how Kauai Community Correction Center Warden Neal Wagatsuma “was found not liable on Tuesday of sexual humiliation and discrimination.”
To bolster this totally false contention, the article quoted a press release that had Attorney General Doug Chin as saying:
“The jury verdict exonerates Warden Wagatsuma and the state. This warden made efforts to rehabilitate inmates. The jury recognized this and ruled in his favor.”
Bullshit. Total spin. The only question before the jury was whether Carolyn Ritchie was fired from KCCC because she was a whistle blower, or for legitimate reasons. It decided the latter.
The jury made absolutely no ruling on the validity of the kinky, creepy “shame program” invented by Wagatsuma, who has no mental health training. It issued no verdict on whether the “violent films” that Wagatsuma admitted showing inmates were pornographic, or suitable for screening in a prison setting or effective in “discouraging male inmates from committing rape.”
And I'm willing to bet the barn that those trying to whitewash Wagatsuma's reputation provided TGI with the names of inmates willing to sing his praises. The paper has never demonstrated that it has the initiative to dig up such sources on its own.
The release quoted extensively in the article also falsely claims:
The jury’s verdict disposes all of the plaintiff’s claims against the warden and the state.
Uh, except for the class action suit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is set for oral arguments, and the larger whistle blower case.
The misnamed Hawaii Independent fell linto a similar trap when it relied entirely on a press release from the EPA to “report” on the agency's pesticide complaint against Syngenta. Will Caron dutifully rergugitated the press release without ever noting it was the source of his story.
As a result, Caron repeated details on the physical harm that exposure to chlorpyrifos can cause — without ever noting that none of the field workers actually exhibited or experienced any such symptoms.
Caron failed to report, because he never bothered to contact Syngenta, that the company was in negotiations with EPA on a $1.5 million cash settlement and supplemental environmental programs. When negotiations broke down, the value of the technical violations magically increased from $1.5 million to $4.8 million.
Caron also mistakenly reports that Kauai passed Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 “after a State/County-sponsored Joint Fact Finding (JFF) report did an exhaustive review of existing health and pesticide data.” Wrong. The JFF came out of Ordinance 960.
KHON similarly engaged in false reporting about the complaint, saying that “nearly a dozen workers got sick earlier this year.” In fact, none got sick.
EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi helped perpetuate this fake news by issuing a press release stating that “10 workers were taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.” In fact, the complaint itself states the workers were taken to the hospital "for observation." No one was actually treated.
And none of the reports noted that Earthjustice has been meddling in this incident from the state, continually pushing EPA to do more and take a tougher stance. Is it any surprise the EPA, in response to this pressure and string-pulling, is trying to hit Syngenta with one of the biggest fines ever in an ag-related incident?
It's so sad to discover that the EPA, which is supposed to be about protecting human and environmental health, is merely another political pawn.
One of the biggest perpetrators of fake news is Civil Beat, which regularly spins its own stories and engages in wildly lopsided coverage, while also allowing its “community voice” contributors to tell flat-out lies.
The most recent egregious example is the assault on the recent statewide pesticides initiative piece by Ashley Lukens, who runs the Center for Food Safety. As I've previously reported, Pierre Omidyar funds both Civil Beat and CFS, and Civil Beat has run CFS press releases as news.
In her commentary, Lukens falsely claims:
“We also know of the many schoolchildren sickened in various pesticide drift incidents at Waimea Canyon Middle School, including some sent to the emergency room."
In reality, not one school incident in the entire state has been linked to pesticide use by the seed companies or other farms. Instead, they've been caused by homeowner misuse of easily obtained products.
Ashley also falsely claims:
Children who live or go to school near genetically engineered crop test fields operated by the likes of Monsanto and Dow are at high risk of regular exposure to pesticides drifting onto them from spraying operations.
Chronic exposure is the expected outcome when a company sprays pesticides year-round, two of three days, up to 16 times a day, as is done for example by DuPont on Kauai. Exposure is all the more likely under windy conditions (spray drift) and when it’s still and hot (vapor drift). Although spraying is often officially prohibited under such conditions by on-label warnings, there is abundant evidence that it occurs, and occurs frequently, nonetheless.
But there is no evidence of any drift occurring — not even in tests conducted by the activists themselves, not even by the JFF report that Ashley lauds. Nor has there been any indication that spraying occurs when wind conditions prohibit it. So if there's no drift, there's no risk of either acute or chronic exposure.
Indeed, the state announced plans to step up blood monitoring of field workers — those most likely to be exposed to pesticides. Yet Ashley makes no mention of that in asserting the state is failing to protect those most at risk.
According to The Economist, DOA officials think that agri-chemical companies apply pesticides in the state “better than anybody ever has.” Then why, one might ask, have children in Waimea been sickened by pesticide drift from neighboring GE test fields?
Except no children in Waimea have been sickened by pesticide drift from neighboring GE fields.
I challenge Ashley to produce one speck of evidence to back up her claims.
But she won't. Because she can't. There is no drift. There is no sickening. There is no chronic exposure. Which means Ashley is, per usual, making stuff up.
We know that, and Civil Beat should, too, especially since it likes to claim it's an investigative news source.
So why does Civil Beat allow its contributors to perpetuate fake news?