“Pizzagate” is a conspiracy theory centered on the idea that former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta is trafficking children for prostitution out of Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington DC. Commenters on message boards at Reddit and 4chan cooked up the theory after leaked Clinton campaign emails revealed communications between Podesta and Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis, who fundraised for the campaign. There was no mention of children or prostitution in the emails, but Donald Trump-supporting sleuths determined any references to pizza must have been code referring to the supposed operation.
The conspiracy theory is not based in reality, and no mainstream media outlet has given it credence — until now. Ben Swann, news anchor at Atlanta’s own CBS affiliate, ran an “investigative” Reality Check segment on the subject Tuesday evening. Swann admitted multiple times that there is no actual evidence to support the theory, but he elected to air the segment anyway, highlighting much of the same “proof” Pizzagate truthers use to make their arguments.
Video of the segment was available on CBS 46’s website, but it has been taken down. Neither Swann nor CBS 46 vice president and general manager Mark Pimentel responded to requests for comment on the decision to remove the video. News director Frank Volpicella told The Daily Beast, “I will say Ben was meticulous with his fact-finding and sourcing on his Reality Check segment.” However, there is no indication in the report that Swann did anything beyond rehashing message board posts. He made no mention of attempting to contact Comet Ping Pong, anyone from the Clinton campaign, or law enforcement officials.
While there is no truth to Pizzagate, it has put lives in danger. In December, a North Carolina man who claimed to be investigating the conspiracy theory walked into Comet Ping Pong and fired at least one shot from a rifle. And so-called investigators have spread their attention elsewhere, sending death threats to Roberta’s Pizza in New York and East Side Pies in Austin. Swann’s report could introduce the theory to gullible individuals who were previously unaware, and it may embolden those who are already spreading it across the internet.
Media Matters notes Swann has a history of pushing conspiracy theories, including those that question facts surrounding the 2013 Sandy Hook, Conn., and 2012 Aurora, Colo., mass shootings as well as the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Before joining CBS 46, he worked for Russian propaganda outlet Russia Today.
• Meet Ben Swann, the Republican Pizzagate Truther Hosting Atlanta’s CBS Nightly News [TDB]
• CBS Atlanta Affiliate Gives Credibility To Debunked Pizzagate Conspiracy [MM]
• Internet Crazies Think This DC Pizzeria Is the Center of a Clinton Sex Ring [E]
• Pizzagate Conspiracy Theorist Fires Gun Inside D.C. Restaurant [E]
• The Absurd 'Pizzagate' Conspiracy Theory Has Spread to New York and Austin [E]