Media repeat, but don’t check, claims of armed neo-Nazis where Trayvon Martin was killed

A leader of a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement says his group has organized armed patrols of Sanford, Fla., the town where George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin.

“You can either be prepared or you can be blindsided,” NSM Commander Jeff Schoep told the Miami New Times for a Friday morning blog post, the first to report claims of armed patrols. “This way, if something were to touch off a race riot, we’d already be in the area.”

But are they actually patrolling the area? The New Times story didn’t include comment from local authorities or any other sources that could confirm this. Its story went online with the eye-popping headline, “Armed Neo-Nazis Now Patrolling Sanford, Say They Are ‘Prepared’ for Post-Trayvon Martin Violence.”

The story spread rapidly to other media outlets, including the New York Daily NewsGawkerThe Huffington PostRaw Story, the New York PostMediaiteThe BlazeThe Daily Beast, Drudge and the Daily Mail.

All of them repeated the information in the Miami New Times article: Heavily armed patrols of neo-Nazis are underway. None of the articles included a comment from local police or residents.

It appears the first person to think it might be a good idea to get a second source on the neo-Nazis’ claim was William A. Jacobson, an associate professor at Cornell Law School, who runs the Legal Insurrection blog. (I spotted his post thanks to an item on NewsBusters about how this story spread.)

Here’s the response Jacobson got from the Sanford Joint Information Center:

At this time the City of Sanford has not confirmed the presence of Neo-Nazis groups. … We have no indication of any such patrols at this point in Sanford. The only large gathering was the children and their parents at the Easter egg hunt.

Yet by that point, the story was all over the Web. After Jacobson’s post started to get attention, some outlets, including the Miami New Times, updated their posts.

The headline on the New Times piece now says it’s been updated, but it still includes the phrase, “Armed Neo-Nazis Now Patrolling Sanford.” Here’s the update that was added to the story, which is currently the most viewed and commented story on the site:

The Sanford Police Department says that it has no evidence of neo-Nazis in the area. “We have not seen any neo-Nazis on patrol nor have we had any reports of them,” says Sgt. David Morgenstern. He added that there had been no sign of the New Black Panther Party, either.

Other outlets that have updated their accounts include the Daily News, Mediaite and The Blaze. But there are still plenty of stories that make no mention of the important, contradictory information from police.

Contacted by email, Michael Miller, author of the New Times story, told me NSM leader Schoep still claims his volunteers are on the ground.

“To my knowledge, Schoep has not changed his story,” Miller said by email. “He has since told me that one of NSM’s patrols will meet with media in Sanford this afternoon. As I made clear in the article, Schoep claims there are only 10-20 NSM volunteers riding around Seminole County in several cars. He also says that, unlike on the Arizona-Mexico border, they are not brandishing weapons or flying Confederate flags.”

Why mention the Arizona-Mexico border patrols? Because in their articles, the New Times and others splashed photos of those heavily-armed patrols, helping to feed the impression that this was what was going on in Sanford.

Miller said his original report isn’t wrong just because police deny the presence of patrols. Responding to an email in which I called his piece incorrect, he wrote:

The fact that local law enforcement has not yet seen evidence of the Neo-Nazis does not mean that Schoep is lying or that the article is, as you put it, “incorrect.”

In a reply, I agreed that it’s possible there are patrols that haven’t been noticed by local police. I also pointed out that his piece didn’t make that element of uncertainty clear. Perhaps as a result, I wrote, this aspect “has been lost in all of the reports that followed your first story.”

Then there’s the question of whether the New Times, and all the outlets that piled on without adding any value, accurately portrayed what’s going on in Sanford. I’d point to the alarmist headline and the lead sentence from the New Times as answers:

Neo-Nazis are conducting heavily armed patrols in and around Sanford, Florida, and are “prepared” for violence in case of a race riot.

That doesn’t reflect the kind of context Miller offered in our email exchange. It sounds like exactly the kind of patrol you’d expect local authorities to notice.

Jacobson, the lawyer who unlike so many journalists thought to email Sanford officials for comment, had this to say about the story in his post:

I can’t say this is the worst example of rumor mongering and irresponsible conduct by bloggers and the mainstream media I have ever seen, but it’s a contender.

For The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Mediaite, and The Daily News to spread such thinly-sourced claims without verification at a time when racial tensions already are high is irresponsible in the extreme.

Let’s hope Gawker, HuffPost, The Daily Beast, New York Post and all the other websites will update their respective stories as soon as possible to reflect the comments from law enforcement.

Let’s also hope journalists ask good questions at today’s planned press event with the NSM patrol group, that they consult other sources to back up what the group claims, and that their stories accurately reflect what is and isn’t happening.

Update: Miami New Times editor Chuck Strouse replied in the comments of this post. He writes in part:

High-minded criticism, indeed. But wrong-headed and Luddite. We reported the claims of one group and updated the post as quickly as we got the information. It was couched as claims. (Our only mistake: the headline should have included “group claims.” The story clearly made this point.)

I replied to him in the comments. The short version: The story didn’t qualify Schoep’s comments, and before the headline and the lead were changed Monday, they definitively repeated his claims. You can see Strouse’s and my comments in full below. Feel free to chime in.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • JohnM

    Look up Dancing Israelis Duckworks just for starters!

     I will not sit by and let one of God’s chosen people be ridiculed, continued blind followers pumped full of propaganda is what is called for here. I am equally offended at those who question the good intentions of the banking cartel, or the integrity of the 96% world media owned by Six Jewish Corporations. What is wrong with you people can’t you see this is all for your own good and safety? Who else would stand by America on projects like the USS Liberty? Better check the fine print of HR 347 this type of anti-Semitic protesting may now be a felony. America needs to adopt making it illegal to question the Holocaust like many other countries have done (that is if it is not already written in the health care pages they are still sifting through.). Goys protesting may find themselves on terrorist watch lists or end up doing more hard time than that AIPAC Patriot Pollard. One thing for certain Americans who get too vocal about the current state of politics are not going to be patted on the head and sent home like the Dancing Israelis. Try to sit back and enjoy the Talmudic prophecy being lived out. It is late in the game to criticize duel citizens turning America into RUINS.

  • JohnM

    If the rule of law was in place and this country was working as originally intended we would not be talking about this.
    The law is a romantic memory; a fairy tale at this point so twisted and corrupt it is no longer recognizable. 
    America is in RUINS.
    Everyday innocent, unsuspecting, and hopelessly naïve Whites are mugged, raped and murdered. The tsunami of violent African American crime gives validity to those who first opposed integration.   Our banks, media and government have been completely compromised by the Israelis’.   
    The White Race is under constant attack.  Our enemies have no qualms about uniting racially to advance their agenda. 
    I am of the opinion that White people must set aside their differences and unite now to survive.  White people should seek out a White group to support and join now!
    While I am not a member of the NSM nor do we have the same beliefs, I will acknowledge their courage and pray for their safety.  We are in this struggle together on the same battlefield with the same uniform.   For God, Race, and Nation.

  • Anonymous

    Headline should have the word “Claim” in it or not story at all. Sad.

  • Anonymous

    New York Daily News, Gawker, The Huffington Post, Raw Story, the New York Post, Mediaite, The Blaze, The Daily Beast, Drudge and the Daily Mail.”

    Not exactly the top tier of journalism here…

  • Robin Kemp

    This is what happens when newsrooms rely too heavily on remote-control journalism as a cost-saving measure. At least pick up a telephone and try to confirm what you read online.

  • Anonymous

    “Let’s hope Gawker, HuffPost, The Daily Beast, New York Post and all the
    other websites will update their respective stories as soon as possible
    to reflect the comments from law enforcement.”

    Fat chance. The progressive racist-under-every-rock crowd thinks the police denials are suspect. These people are demented. I wonder if they think 9/11 was some CIA/Zionist plot…

  • tigerweeds

    What? The media didn’t check things out before reporting it? Holy Crap..that is a shocker

  • Anonymous

    The admission by the editor of the Miami New Times that all someone has to do is contact his newspaper, make a claim, and have it accepted is truly pathetic. I assume that if I call Mr. Strouse and claim Martians are in my back yard have a cookout, he will immediately report it. Obviously the pro-Nazi group has learned that Strouse is the go-to guy for bogus stories. How did his once-respected newspaper earn this reputation? Strouse has a new age excuse: The Internet Made me Do It!

  • CraigSilverman

    Hi Chuck,

    I don’t see any place in the story where the statements from Schoep were couched. As you admit, the two most important parts of the story – the headline and lead – offered definitive statements.

    I see that you’ve now gone in and changed the headline and lead to add in the couching language you refer to in this comment. Glad to see it added, but it wasn’t there until I raised the issue. 

    So somehow my criticism is wrong-headed, yet on point enough to cause you to change the post and acknowledge this issue.

    You also call me a luddite, but the form iterative real-time journalism you advocate requires that thought and care be given to the airing of claims such as the ones you published without offering the necessary context and couching.

    “The Internet has allowed people to have a greater say in what news is important,” you write. “This requires greater flexibility in reporting and storytelling.”

    I completely agree. I have no objection to the approach; my concern was with the execution.

    As for why I chose to contact your journalist by email, I find that’s often the fastest way to get a hold of people, rather than trying them at their desk. I also sent him a message on Twitter to ensure he saw my email. 

    He was the person I wanted to talk to for my story, and I was grateful for his response.

    Thanks also for your comment.

  • F. Douglas

     What is Luddite, it seems to me, is to not check the claims of a supremacist group that says it is patrolling in Sanford. In this day and age, technology usually allows reporters to quickly track down authorities to check these claims out. (I checked by google and see that Strouse works for the Miami New Times) Inflammatory information like this should be double-checked before going into print, especially in such a high-profile case that’s at a boiling point.

    Or was that the intention, to rile things up?

  • Anonymous This is media about the Nazi Patrol that is apparently going on in Sanford. 

  • Chuck Strouse

    High-minded criticism, indeed. But wrong-headed and Luddite. We reported the claims of one group and updated the post as quickly as we got the information. It was couched as claims. (Our only mistake: the headline should have included “group claims.” The story clearly made this point.) Mr. Silverman, who himself didn’t bother to make a call to report this, should join the Internet age, in which posts such as ours develop and are updated. Hell, this so-called expert didn’t even bother to make a call himself to report this — except to send an email to our writer. The Internet has allowed people to have a greater say in what news is important. This requires greater flexibility in reporting and storytelling. And that is exactly what we did in this case.