The headline on the Washington Post story was scary enough: “Lawmaker: Russian trolls trying to sow discord in NFL kneeling debate”.
The piece was one of many this week warning that foreigners were amplifying political controversies in the United States: “Russian Internet trolls are trying to gin up even more controversy over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, a senator said Wednesday – warning that the United States should expect such divisive efforts to escalate in the next election…”
The Post cited Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, a toothy, humorless, young Republican who looks like an escapee from a teen zombie movie. Lankford shocked the world this week by revealing that “Russian Internet trolls” were stoking the NFL kneeling debate.
Lankford made the revelation, the paper wrote, in a “hearing with the heads of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center.”
This was the rare sort of story that garnered enthusiastic coverage from both houses of our increasingly bicameral system of media.
Conservative outlets like Breitbart and Newsmax and Fox played up the “Russians stoked the kneeling controversy” angle because it was in their interest to suggest that domestic support for kneeling protests is less than what it appears.
They all liked the story so much, it seemed, that nobody bothered to check it.
Senator Lankford initially didn’t offer any specifics backing up his claim. Later, however, a spokesperson for the Senator’s office directed reporters to the work of “a Russian Twitter account calling itself ‘Boston Antifa’ that…