If you read through the world of left-wing clickbait Thursday afternoon, you may have seen a shocking story about a Jewish family chased out of town by anti-Semitic Breitbart readers because our site blamed them for shutting down a school’s Christmas play.
Scary stuff — except that version of the story is 100% fake news.
On Sunday, Katherine Rodriguez of Breitbart News wrote a balanced and, frankly, placid report about an elementary school in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County that cancelled a production of A Christmas Carol, drawing from local reports and one from Fox News. The story represented two claims about the reason for the cancellation: the school district’s statement said that the play — in which participation was mandatory — was taking up too much class time, whereas some parents told Fox News they believed a pair of parents complained about the famous line by “Tiny Tim,” “God bless us, everyone.”
In a report published Thursday morning at local outlet LancasterOnline, reporter Heather Stauffer wrote that a Jewish family had left the county “in fear after being blamed” for the cancellation. The headline on the story’s social shares blamed Fox News and Breitbart for their flight: “Jewish family flees Lancaster County after FOX, Breitbart blames them for canceled elementary school Christmas play.” As of this writing, the claim has been amplified as an established fact by PennLive, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mediaite, Slate, Crooks and Liars, Raw Story, Media Matters, TalkingPointsMemo, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and the Forward.
However, a fact check of this story has proven it false — and every one of these sites got scooped by the Anti-Defamation League, which is not a news outlet:
ADL investigated, and found that in actuality, the family left on vacation for winter break.
“News reports alleging that a Jewish family has ‘fled’ Lancaster County are untrue and damaging,” said Nancy Baron-Baer, ADL Regional Director. “We spoke with the family, who explained that they went on a previously-planned vacation for the holidays. Stories like this can sow fear in the Jewish community and beyond, and it is important to stop the spread of misinformation.”
The weakness of this story would have been immediately evident to a slightly critical editor at any of these publications. Rodriguez did not name the parents alleged to have made the complaint. She did not claim or in any way insinuate that those parents were Jewish.
According to the parents speaking to LancasterOnline, the parents only asked to excuse their child from participating. There is no apparent connection between their request and the alleged complaint that we reported. Who would conclude that a family objecting to the words “God bless” is Jewish rather than atheist?
By any plain reading, we gave absolutely no information that singled out this particular family — or any identifiable family — as the reason for the cancelled play. And we did not provide any information that could be used to identify them or facilitate any harassment.
Now, how can we have “blamed” a family we did not know of — or write about? The fake news crowd did not take a single second to consider that question, judging by their breathless outrage.
The supposed evidence of our misdeed is a single comment, out of over 1,200, which said someone should publish the address of the family responsible. We do not allow doxing in our comment section and delete such messages as we become aware of them, but again, there is no reason this particular family should have taken that comment as a threat against them.
Yet the outraged left-wing authors pushing the fake narrative have only this flimsy argument of guilt by association. Mark Joseph Stern of Slate makes his case by juxtaposing the aforementioned comment and others, as though they add up to a threat toward or identification of the family who spoke to LancasterOnline: “Several commenters posted the address of the school, and a self-professed white nationalist urged others to ‘take action.'”
The larger narrative behind these stories is “The Trump Effect” — the idea that minorities are under threat as President-Elect Donald Trump has emboldened nasty people to carry out acts of racism and hate. Since the election, stories of hate crimes by Trump supporters have made national headlines, without being caveated as claims — only later to be debunked as hoaxes. Over and over and over and over and over again. Yet left-wing reporters continue to promote this fear and paranoia, regardless of the facts.