The mainstream media was quick to jump on a claim that the Florida school shooter belonged to a white nationalist organization. In the process, the media revealed its bias.
On Thursday, the day after the tragic shooting, The Associated Press and ABC News, among many other outlets, reported that the Florida school shooter belonged to a white supremacist organization called the "Republic of Florida."
However, the claim was just too good to be true.
Hours after major news outlets published the claim, Florida law enforcement agencies said they had no evidence to confirm the shooter was associated with white supremacist organizations but was still investigating. They later said there was no connection between the shooter and ROF.
It turns out the claim originated from internet users on the group chat app Discord, which Politico noted "is popular with white nationalists and the alt-right." An ABC News reporter reached out to a member of a white nationalist group chat who later claimed the shooter was a member of ROF. The user then informed others, who encouraged him to disseminate disinformation about the shooter.
And the plan worked. Multiple internet pranksters communicated with two ABC News reporters claiming to be members of the ROF who knew the Florida shooter. The reporters ran with the claims despite minimal vetting.
The AP helped spread the claim. Thursday afternoon, the outlet tweeted: "BREAKING: Leader of white nationalist group has confirmed suspect in Florida school shooting was member of his organization." The tweet garnered tens of thousands of retweets before a correction.
The white nationalist trolls celebrated the "victory" in their group chat, according to Politico.
"Those 35 thousand people aren't going to change their minds," one person said.
"[T]hey are so hungry for a story that they'll just believe anything as long as its corroborated by a few people and seems legit," added another.
The writer's perspective: How did the media reveal its own biases?
Since President Donald Trump's rise to the White House, the media loves to highlight stories that paint Trump in a negative light, even if the stories are light on facts or a stretch.
And that's exactly what happened here.
None of the stories directly connected the Florida shooter or the ROF to Trump. But the media already connects white nationalism and white supremacist organizations to Trump's brand of politics. Trump's win has given those organizations a breath of fresh air, many people claim.
The reporters who originated the claim failed to properly vet their sources. If they would have, they would have discovered the claim was nothing but a lie — a prank — only meant to sow distrust in the media.
They jumped on the claim because it connected the shooter to a segment of society that many Americans believe Trump has empowered. In doing so, they completely ignored the truth.
One question: If the pranksters had claimed the shooter was an Islamic extremist, would the media have so quickly reported the claim without properly vetting it?
The answer is clear: No.