Fake news this week: The butt-pat that wasn’t

A photo (right) of Barack Obama was doctored to change the position of his hand (left).
A photo (right) of Barack Obama was doctored to change the position of his hand (left). INSTAGRAM/NBC

Here’s a roundup of things that didn’t happen this week, or at any other time:

Did Barack Obama guide Melania Trump gently on the back, or was it something more indiscreet?

Short answer: (a).

On Jan. 20, after Donald Trump was inaugurated, he and Melania Trump arrived at the White House. After waving to reporters, they went inside. The Obamas guided Melania through the doorway. It looked like this:


That evening, Jim Hoft, founder of the Gateway Pundit, (a right-wing news site that the Washington Post calls “an appallingly unreliable source of information”) told supporters, in the course of an f-bomb-laced tirade, that his site had been offered White House press credentials.

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“The reason was that I was telling the truth and the mainstream media was telling the fake f—ng news!,” he told the Deploraball, an inauguration-night rally for Trump supporters.

The following weekend (it’s not completely clear exactly when from the timestamps) this Instagram account published a doctored version of the video still. It looked like this:


As Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman points out, this is a terrible Photoshop job. You can still see the blur of where Obama’s arm actually was.

On Jan. 22, Gateway Pundit reported the butt-pat that never was as fact in a now-deleted post visible in Google’s cache.

Gateway Pundit has not responded to questions that Global News sent them by e-mail, the only way of contacting them that’s indicated on their site. (We asked whether Gateway Pundit realized the photo was doctored when they published it, why the story was taken down, and what the site’s correction policy was.)

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At about the same time, editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson tweeted out a copy of the original Instagram image. (Infowars founder Alex Jones also says he’s been offered White House press credentials, which he told viewers while apparently sitting in his car.)

WATCH: MSNBC host Ali Velshi offers his thoughts on Trump’s first week and the rise of fake news. 

Click to play video 'MSNBC host Ali Velshi offers his thoughts on Trump’s first week and the rise of fake news' MSNBC host Ali Velshi offers his thoughts on Trump’s first week and the rise of fake news
MSNBC host Ali Velshi offers his thoughts on Trump’s first week and the rise of fake news – Jan 27, 2017

READ: Fake news this week: Bikers for Trump aren’t cramming the highways, as far as we can tell

Flee to Canada, Maryland highway officials urge

This didn’t happen either, but it displays much better Photoshop-fu than the effort above.

READ: Fake news: A real-life Cruella de Vil didn’t skin dozens of Texas cats

Donald Trump hangs with Klansmen.

Does this count as fake news? Possibly not — it’s a project by British artist Alison Jackson. The image can be seen in context here.

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The ‘Trump’ figure is an impersonator who’s good enough to pass, more or less, at a distance in poor light. (The quality isn’t that much worse than the famous Rob Ford crack house photo.)

It signals another thing to watch for when filtering news.

READ: Fighting fake news: California lawmaker introduces bill to educate youth on false reports

Dozens of areas in Sweden are ‘no-go zones’.

There is a certain amount of violent crime in Malmö, a Swedish city; local police say it’s rooted in gang rivalries going back a decade or so. They also say it has nothing to do with an influx of refugees, which began a lot more recently than that, and that there are no ‘no-go zones,’ let alone a huge one covering the whole city.

Claims otherwise (like this one that paints Malmö as a flaming, ungovernable hellhole in need of martial law), Buzzfeed points out, are “now firmly tied to the influx of Middle Eastern refugees, and often invoked in anti-Muslim rhetoric.”

(‘No-go zones’ are a term coined in the early 1970s in Northern Ireland at the height of the sectarian conflict there, and described areas controlled by paramilitaries where police and soldiers couldn’t operate.)

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For what it’s worth, an EU survey showed that people actually living in Malmö felt fairly safe, compared to dozens of other European cities. (Zürich was the safest, and Athens the scariest.)
READ: Fake news this week: No, California didn’t legalize child prostitution

One of Donald Trump’s bodyguards at the inauguration was wearing fake prosthetic arms.

It wasn’t clear what the point would be of such an elaborate deception, though some speculated it would allow the bodyguard to hold an automatic rifle with his concealed real arms. (But wouldn’t a pair of fake arms get in the way during a real assassination attempt? Never mind.)

The rumour got started when one of Trump’s stone-faced bodyguards at the inauguration held his hands in the same rather odd position — right thumb and forefinger holding left little finger — for several minutes.

(Eventually he moved his hands, so so much for that theory.)

The idea seems to have started, so far as anybody can find the true starting point of an Internet meme, at, which describes itself as the “largest independent gaming website in the world.”

READ: Fake news this week: The Queen isn’t dead, and Donald Trump didn’t threaten war with Mexico

In fake news news:

  • The Washington Post reports on Czech efforts to counter fake news, which is flooding into the country from Russia. The Czech Republic will have parliamentary elections in October.
  • Germany will also have elections this fall. An EU task force predicts that German chancellor Angela Merkel will be targeted by increasingly intense fake news originating in Russia. France and the Netherlands are also likely targets. (In the Washington Post, German columnist Malte Lehming makes the case that a backlash among German voters may well re-elect Merkel.)
  • The French daily Le Monde has made a list of about 600 sites, mostly in France, which it categorizes as ‘unreliable.’ They plan to roll out an online tool in February to help readers quickly flag fake news.
  • RAND researcher Christopher Paul writes about what he calls a “firehose” of Russian propaganda, which he says has its roots in Soviet-era propaganda and disinformation programs. He sees ” … no commitment to consistency, though that may seem counterintuitive in relation to conventional wisdom about persuasion … propagandists may throw up a chaff cloud of alternative explanations, questions, theories, and accusations to simply obfuscate, cause distraction, and see which rumors about a real event can gain traction.”
  • Buzzfeed wonders why fake news sites haven’t made much headway in Britain, and floats a theory: aggressively partisan tabloids already occupy that space, or a similar one, and have for years. “The evidence suggests that rather than reading complete lies, British audiences appear to prefer stories that contain at least a kernel of truth, even if the facts are polluted or distorted,” writes Jim Waterson. “The more slanted the headline, the more the story was shared online. But completely fake material tended to flounder.”
  • The Columbia Journalism Review compares Russian digital propaganda efforts, which it says began during that country’s 2008 conflict with Georgia, with the ‘fail fast’ entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley.
  • The Federalist, an independent conservative site, dissects how this ponderous ode came to be presented as Donald Trump’s inauguration poem when it wasn’t. (There wasn’t one.) “This is exactly what we all suspected about “fake news” to begin with,” writes Robert Tracinski. “It usually begins with some small basis in fact, which is then distorted by a sloppy reading of those facts, blown out of proportion with a clickbait headline, and then repeated by a crowd on social media who are eager to promote anything that confirms their ideological prejudices.”
  • Wired looks at the slippery world of dubious think tanks with slick websites and respectable-sounding names, and how they feed into the fake news ecosystem.
  • And Vanity Fair predicts that it’s about to get far easier to fake video or audio of a specific person saying whatever you’d like them to say, and says that the technology to do it is becoming cheaper and more accessible. “What’s even scarier, actually, is where these technologies and ossified worldviews will be by the 2018 midterm election, or the presidential election in 2020,” Nick Bilton writes. “At that point, one suspects, there will not only be thousands of fake-news articles floating around the Internet, but also countless fake videos and fake audio clips, too. “