One of the nation’s largest newspapers, USA Today, said on Wednesday it was comfortable publishing an op-ed written by Jerome Corsi, a prominent conspiracy theorist who serves as the DC bureau chief for the fringe outlet InfoWars.
“USA Today’s Opposing View shows readers more than one point of view on an issue,” a USA Today spokesperson told CNN in a statement. “Our signature debate format reinforces our reputation for fairness, which is one of our core values. Today’s Opposing View issue and author have caused much debate and feedback. The Opposing View on arming teachers has been updated with more information about author Jerome R. Corsi.”
While Corsi’s piece — which argued that qualified teachers and school staff should be armed so that would-be school shooters “can be neutralized before schoolchildren are senselessly murdered” — was relatively tame commentary that falls in line with the thinking of many Republicans, it was surprising the third largest US newspaper by circulation would lend its platform to someone as radical as him. A survey touted by USA Today on its website place its daily readership at more than three million.
Despite being one of the world’s leading conspiracy theorists, Corsi, who could not be reached for comment, was initially only described by USA Today as an author and “investigative journalist.” His connection to InfoWars was omitted from the newspaper’s print version of the column, and only after inquiries from media outlets was the online version of the story updated to say that he heads the DC bureau for the fringe website.
USA Today, however, didn’t explain what InfoWars exactly is to its readers. Bill Sternberg, the newspaper’s editorial page editor, told CNN, “The space available for taglines does not permit full biographies; readers who want to know more can do simple Google searches.”
During the Obama administration, Corsi was one of the chief proponents of the birther conspiracy, going as far as to publish a book titled, “Where’s the Birth Certificate?: The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President.” He previously wrote for the far-right, fringe outlet World Net Daily, before securing a spot as the DC bureau chief of InfoWars.
InfoWars is founded and operated by Alex Jones, another leading conspiracy theorist. Over the years, Jones has used InfoWars to peddle unfounded theories about a host of issues, including suggesting that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax staged by child actors and that the September 11 terrorist attacks were an inside job. Most recently, the outlet smeared student survivors of the Parkland shooting with baseless attacks, portraying them in one video as actors.
Such attacks have hurled InfoWars into the spotlight. For years, the outlet operated in the dark corners of the Internet, spreading conspiracy theories without facing much scrutiny. But as tech giants now grapple with how to prevent their platforms from being used to spread fake news and false information, InfoWars has found itself under pressure.
YouTube has given the outlet at least one formal strike against its largest account, warning that if it receives three strikes the social video company will ban it from its platform.
Asked about the standards for the USA Today opinion page, Sternberg told CNN in a statement, “Our basic standard is that the Opposing View be accurate (the authors are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts), and that the piece can’t incite violence or spew racist sentiments. Beyond that, it’s largely case by case.”
CNNMoney (New York) First published February 28, 2018: 4:30 PM ET