The fascinating tale of how Fox News was tricked into publishing a fake Russian propaganda story
Researchers at The Atlantic Council have traced a false Fox News story all the way back to Russia and to a parody site. The think tank revealed that a story involving an attack in the Black Sea from a Russian warplane on a United States Navy destroyer was false.
According to The New York Times, a parody site reported a confrontation that occurred April 12, 2014 in which the Pentagon issued a comment about the USS Donald Cook. Three years later, the story came back but with a completely different version and aired on a Russian state-run news program.
The Russian story, however, rejoiced that the Russian warplane deployed an electronic weapon and disabled all of the operating systems aboard the ship. The story was false but it still spread quickly.
On the day following the actual incident, a Russian writer named Dmitri Sedov penned an op-ed meant to be satire that argued it was an electronic warfare attack and claimed crew members were panicked. It was framed as a letter from an American sailor named “Johnny” to his love “Mary” and filled with hyperbolic language.
“We thrice cried ‘hip-hip hurrah’ and prepared to show the Russians what awaits them if they raise their hand for the second half of Ukraine,” he wrote. He then claimed a drunk officer was crying out against the Russian warfare weapon.
In what seems to be an attempt to legitimize the fake post, a series of posts that looked like letters of the crew were put on Facebook in both English and Russian with links to the story.
By April 15, 2017, Rossiya-1 broadcast an updated a report of the 2014 incident claiming that as the plane approached the ship, “it switched on the equipment, and powerful radio-electronic waves deactivated the whole ship’s systems.” They sourced Facebook posts from the fake crew member.
Denials quickly came from the company who crafted the electronic warfare weapons, but it didn’t matter. “Vesti” ran the story and added another source, Frank Gorenc, a former commander of the United States Air Force in Europe. The quote, which was also denied by the Pentagon, said the weapon could paralyze American electronic equipment as well as aircraft and ships.
Once it was on a leading Russian news program, news organizations all over the world began to quote it. It wasn’t long before British tabloids picked it up, saying Russia possessed an “electronic bomb” capable of crippling the U.S. Navy.
That’s when Fox News got involved. According to The Times Refet Kaplan, the managing editor of FoxNews.com, said the story was considered “not as a serious report on Russia’s military capability, but as another example of Russian media hyperbole.” That isn’t what is in the headline, however. The only mention of the original story being fake was a reference to “propaganda” in the body of the article. Nothing more.
When The Times started poking around, the article was deleted. It’s still available on The Internet’s Way Back Machine.
While FoxNews.com removed the story, it wasn’t before it spread far and wide all over social media, particularly by anti-American outlets mocking the U.S.