The White House press secretary says the Trump administration probably won’t enforce federal marijuana laws in legalization states, and Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch wants to end national cannabis prohibition.
That’s according to a website called the Joint Blog and other media outlets that picked up its thinly-sourced recent reports.
Last week, the Joint Blog published a piece claiming that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told its D.C.-based reporter, Rebecka Brian, that it is “unlikely” the Trump administration will go after state cannabis laws.
But Spicer says that the report is fake.
“I have no clue where that came from,” he wrote in an email response to MassRoots’s query about the suspicious quote.
And we could find no evidence that alleged reporter Rebecka Brian actually exists; there are no Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profiles under that name, and a Google search yields only the posts from the Joint Blog and other outlets that picked it up.
On the night of President Trump’s announcement that he’d picked Gorsuch for the Supreme Court last month, the Joint Blog rushed to publish a post claiming it had talked to a former student of the judge’s at the University of Colorado, who reported that the SCOTUS nominee supports letting states implement legalization.
Just one problem: The student, “Michael Bli,” doesn’t exist either, at least according to the University of Colorado itself.
“We have no record of this person,” Youcef Bendiff of the CU registrar’s office told MassRoots in an email.
In response to questions about its reports, Joint Blog Editor-in-Chief Anthony Martinelli said that the reason no evidence seems to exist for the Colorado student or his D.C. correspondent being real is that the site agreed to use pseudonyms for both.
It is highly unusual for a journalist who breaks national news not to want the credit for his or her work, but Martinelli said that the real “Rebecka Brian” is “a graduate student and has a day job and fears a conflict.”
As for Spicer’s denial, Martinelli said, “I’m not really sure what to say about that. Either he’s lying/misremembering or my reporter is. I will look into it further and if I find any evidence the information provided to me was fabricated I will immediately retract the article.”
The Gorsuch and Spicer reports probably wouldn’t be impactful enough to warrant investigation if they had stayed solely on the Joint Blog alone. But mainstream journalists picked up the reporting and pushed it out to a wider audience.
David Downs, cannabis editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, cited both Joint Blog posts in editions of his daily e-mail newsletter. At least one of the pickups now lives on the Chronicle’s sister website, SFGATE.
Mona Zhang, a freelancer who has written for High Times, VICE and Adweek, and also has her own daily marijuana newsletter, included the Gorsuch report in a piece for Freedom Leaf.
Dylan Stableford at Yahoo News picked up the Gorsuch story, too.
While Downs, Zhang and Stableford didn’t go so far as to tell their readers that the reports were definitely true, the fact that they cited and linked to the Joint Blog’s posts undoubtedly played a role in spreading questionable information that some portion of their readers now believe as fact.
And with the clicks that their pickup reports generated, they helped the Joint Blog display its many banner ads to more people, giving it more revenue to support its future operations. (For this reason, MassRoots is not linking to any Joint Blog posts in this article, though you can easily locate the stories mentioned here via Google, if you must.)
Zhang told MassRoots that she is “alarmed” to find out the report she linked to might be fake, and raised questions about why the Joint Blog would push questionable information out at a time when there’s so much real cannabis news to cover.
“Did the publication decide that it needed to make something up for the clicks (and subsequent revenue)?” she asked. “Were they duped by an untrustworthy source?”
After receiving MassRoots’s queries about his site’s reporting, Martinelli edited both posts to add disclaimers about the fact that pseudonyms were used for sources, something not made clear to readers upon initial publication.
The Joint Blog itself got duped by another site’s fake news on at least one occasion, picking up a plainly false report that the federal government was paying people thousands of dollars a week to smoke marijuana and watch TV for a research study.
After it got called out for getting tricked, the site did not take down the original post and its (fake) headline: “Federal Study Will Pay You $3,000 Per Week to Consume Cannabis.”
The Joint Blog simply added a disclaimer that says the story is fake, right next to all those money-making ads.
The site’s About page says:
“We strive to publish nothing but 100% accurate information, and hyperlink our articles to the direct source of the story whenever possible. If we’ve published something that has errors in it, or something that isn’t factual, please let us know as soon as possible and we’ll quickly correct the mistake.”
According to the White House, the site might have some further corrections to make soon.
This post was originally published on February 13, 2017, it was updated on March 24, 2017.