Amid much ado about the effect fake news might have played in the 2016 election cycle, congressional candidate Clay Higgins thought he’d make a point about what he says are misrepresentations about his past propagated through news media by his competitor in the 3rd Congressional District runoff, Scott Angelle. So on Sunday evening under the status update “The lamestream media is at it again,” Higgins posted to Facebook a photo of what looked to be an article on The Advocate’s website accusing him of failing to pay $13.11 in late fees to Blockbuster Video back in the late ’80s.
“One of our [Facebook] supporters who has serious skills created the ‘Onion’ style satire and we thought it was very funny — which it is,” Higgins says of the post.
It should have been clear to just about any sensible person that the story, “Independent Investigation Exposes Clay Higgins to Have Outstanding Blockbuster Rental Fees from 1988,” was fake. It was bylined by Brian Angelle, who in real life is Scott Angelle’s brother and a frequent combatant on social media with Higgins supporters. Higgins is said to have rented and failed to pay the late fee on Police Academy II, Robocop and The Notebook, the latter of which wasn’t released until 2004 — 16 years after Late Fee-gate. Plus, The Notebook is a romantic drama, which Higgins would never — well, maybe he would. Who knows? And the “investigative report” accused Higgins of a transgression far more serious than ignoring some late fees: failing to rewind the VHS tapes when he returned them to the now-shuttered video-rental company.
By midday Monday, however, the post was removed, but not before several people who actually believed the story to be legitimate had taken to the comment section.
The former St. Landry Parish deputy and viral-video star says his campaign decided to pull the fake report down after being contacted by The Advocate, a legitimate newspaper that was understandably bent out of shape, and by the Angelle campaign.
“Apparently The Advocate can’t take a joke and the Angelle camp whined about it so we took it down,” Higgins says. “I’m learning that in this political realm the only people who can print fake news is Scott Angelle and The Advocate; at least ours was satirical and hilarious.”
[Editors' Note to Journalism Professors: When teaching a section on earned media, refer back to this article as a classic example.]