The Curious Fact Slipped Into the Debunking Article

And some unanswered questions

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 26, 2018

On October 24, 2018, the New York Times ran an article captioned "Debunking 5 Viral Images of the Migrant Caravan: A group of Hondurans heading toward the United States has been the subject of misinformation on social media". Notwithstanding the apparent purpose of that article to set the record straight about various images that have apparently been circulating on certain websites, that article contains a curious non sequitur that is likely as unrelated to the issue addressed as the images that are purportedly debunked.

Included in that article is the following:

Claim: Caravan members are receiving supplies and assistance from Democrats

Verdict: Mislabeled/unproven

Over the past several days, conspiracy theories have argued that the caravan was organized or supported by the American left.

One video showed groups of migrants receiving what appeared to be cash. The video, the origin of which is unknown, was posted on Twitter by President Trump and Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida. Mr. Gaetz suggested that the video contained evidence that the migrants had ties to George Soros, the liberal billionaire who is a fixture of right-wing conspiracy theories.

Mr. Gaetz made several errors in describing the video, including saying that it was shot in Honduras (it was shot in Guatemala), and later tweeted a partial explanation, saying he believed the video had been shot in Honduras because a Honduran official had sent it to him. The video was not deleted, and has been viewed millions of times.

On Monday, a pipe bomb was delivered to Mr. Soros's house.

Another series of images appeared to show migrants getting into trucks, and related posts insinuated that Democrats had funded the vehicles.

The images — which appear to have been taken from video filmed by Anne Laurent, a freelance journalist in Mexico who was covering the caravan story for ABC News — were shared to The Deplorable's and other right-wing Facebook pages with captions such as "Supporters of the DNC are donating money to create caravans." The images were also widely shared on Twitter, with tweets insinuating that Mr. Soros and other "globalist bankers and activists" were involved in helping transport the migrants.

There is no information tying the trucks to American groups or individuals. Open Society Foundations, the organization founded by Mr. Soros, has denied involvement.

The cited section reminds me of the "Moonwalking Bear (or Basketball) Awareness Test". In the middle of a series of facts, some of them proven, some of them not, is the statement about the pipe bomb being sent to Soros' house.

That fact is apparently true, and has been widely reported, including by, among others, the New York Times. The source of the bombs sent to Soros and others is not known for certain (though an arrest was made earlier today), but a second New York Times article contains the following interesting fact:

Some bomb technicians who studied photos of the device that circulated on social media suggested that the bomb sent to CNN had hallmarks of fake explosives — the kind more typically depicted on television and in movies, rather than devices capable of detonating.

A digital clock was taped to the middle of the pipe, a feature that experts say is typically shown on fictional bombs in an attempt to ratchet up dramatic tension, but unnecessary in real life.

In fact, bombmakers generally avoid attaching visible clocks to their devices to keep from tipping off their targets about when the bombs are set to explode.

With due respect to myself, pointing out this fact is almost as much a non sequitur as the fact that a bomb had been sent to George Soros is in the first New York Times article.

Both my colleague Dan Cadman and I have experience in counter-terrorism, a point that I alluded to in a September 2018 post. As I noted therein, well before September 11, 2001, Cadman and I appeared before the National Commission on Terrorism as experts in the subject as it related to immigration. Following September 11, such experts proliferated, but it was still a niche area at the time we testified.

The purpose of terrorism is to provoke a reaction. The specific reaction is dependent on the aims of the terrorist or the terrorist group. Sometimes, it is to recruit supporters, or inspire supporters. Sometimes, it is to dissuade the target of the attack, or those similarly situated. And sometimes it is both.

This is what distinguishes terrorism from common crime. Generally, although not always, the purpose of a common criminal act is the end of the criminal act. In larceny, for example, it is the taking and carrying away of the personal property of another with the intent to steal that property unlawfully. In other words, I want something you have and I take it. That is my reason for the crime.

In the case of the bomb sent to Soros (and bombs sent to many others), at this point law enforcement is not yet certain who did it or why. But sending a fake bomb (if it was a fake bomb) to terrorize is a difference of effect, not intent.

That said, there's nothing that links Gaetz's "suggest[ions]" to the other individuals who purportedly received such bombs, including (according to the New York Times) Hillary Clinton, John Brennan, Robert De Niro, Joe Biden, Maxine Waters, or Eric Holder. Regrettably, such so-called "fact-checking" is often as tendentious as the facts that are purportedly checked.

The first New York Times article as a whole points out another important point. We know from that article that "Anne Laurent, a freelance journalist in Mexico who was covering the caravan story for ABC News" took a picture of migrants in the caravan getting into a truck. Whose truck was it, and who paid for it? Those are questions that reporters usually ask, and it is unclear why Laurent failed to do so.

Also, regardless of whether the video was shot in Honduras or Guatemala of migrants in the caravan receiving what appears to be cash, are migrants receiving cash, and if so, from whom? Again, this is a question for reporters on the ground; it is just unclear whether those reporters were consulted.

The New York Times actually has reporters who are following the caravan (as this third article shows), but it is unclear whether those reporters were consulted by the author of the first article as to whether there were individuals riding in trucks on the way. I would note that a pickup truck is referenced in that third article, as is "a crowded truck" from which a migrant had fallen and died.

In a similar vein, the first article states that the claim "Mexican police officers have been injured by caravan members in bloody street fights" is " Mislabeled/unproven", although that article goes on to state: "Several Mexican police officers, along with migrants and journalists, have been injured in caravan-related incidents, according to reports citing United States and Mexican officials." What kind of injuries, and how severe? Again, these are questions for New York Times reporters on the scene.

The same is true of the claim "Caravan members are carrying dangerous diseases", which, again, is labeled "Mislabeled/unproven". That article states: "There are no known reports of diseases being carried by members of the Honduran caravan." That as good as far as it goes, but there is no indication that New York Times reporters questioned any medical professionals to determine the veracity of this fact.

Fact-checking is fine. Reporting, particularly unbiased reporting, is even better when it comes to informing the American people.