Sunday, February 6, 2011

Anatomy of a Rumor: New York Fracktivist
Caught With His Junk Showing

Is it possible to ever actually track a totally false rumor back to its point of creation, and to publicly point an accusing finger at the Original Rumor Monger

With Twitter, it turns out, sometimes you actually can. Especially if you get on top of the job way early, before things get confusing and deniable. Over this past weekend, I did just that — exposing a fellow New Yorker for his excess of partisan passion, for his surplus of groundless imagination, and for his completely flaccid sense of personal ethics. All of this led him to Get Caught, Right In the Midst of Actually Making Stuff Up.

It all started, while reading some tweets, when I saw this:
@catskillfishing @MsCalin @nrdc where did you hear this rumor about oscar natgas ad?Sat Feb 05 08:28:24 via web
Curious to see what Now-Famous Fake Pennsylvanian Josh Fox was asking about, I did some hunting around. The tweet Josh had hit the reply button to was this:
@MsCalin @nrdc Spending three million dollars for a 30 second ad on ABC the night of the Oscars is really going overboard to trash Gasland!Sat Feb 05 01:02:40 via web
Well, that's interesting. Tony Ritter, I had encountered previously. At one point in time, I tried to "follow" him on Twitter, but he just tweeted much too much — consistently against Upstate New Yorkers ever being allowed to produce their own shale gas — and most of it ranged between being either whacked out or freaked out. But what did Tony say, in answer to Josh?
@gaslandmovie  My guess is that the CEO's of $RRC, $COG ,$CHK, $NE and all the other execs you invited wish they has accepted your offer nowSat Feb 05 14:26:45 via TweetDeck
Hmmm... This seemed a little feeble. I mean, you're a Delaware River fishing expert, and a real estate agent, out there on Twitter practically every single day, tweeting non-stop about how all this shale gas hydrofracking is obviously already making the Rivers Run Black With Carcinogenic Ruin. And you've posted surprisingly well-informed detail — alleging that the natural gas industry is poised to commit Yet Another PR Blunder by spending [not just a lot of money, but] $3 million, and [not just for a bunch of ads, but] for one measly 30-second spot, to run [not just anywhere, but] on ABC during the night of the Oscar's, whether "Gasland" wins or loses. 

[Is it even true that ABC is hosting the Oscar's this year? Hold on... OMG! It's actually true! Feb. 27. Maybe this Tony actually knows what he's talking about, and he's genuinely onto something... But, on the other hand, what about the money? Checking... Advertising Age has already reported ABC was set to seek $1.7 million for a half-minute's commercial airtime on Oscar night — more than the last couple post-crash years, but, no, not $3 million.]

So here we have the maker of
"Gasland" — new-found hero to the High-Living Class of Scare-Brained Mythologists Who Must Have All Flunked Their Science Classes — publicly tweeting you back and asking for your original source of information. ('Cause, you know, Josh Fox could really use some actual, factual, verifiable information!) And all Tony's got, by way of reply, is some cryptic, badly worded guess — referencing the stock-trading symbols of a handful of major natural gas producers? (Tony doesn't like fracking, but he does like dabbling in the market, I gather.)

This, you know, cannot stand, man.

So, anyway, I kept poking around. Maybe the $3 Million Oscar's Night Natgas Ad Nugget was coming from @nrdc, or from @MsCalin? Or maybe it came from somewhere else, entirely? I searched it every way I could think of, but all the fingers kept pointing back to Tony. It's true these other anti-frack twits, together with @catskillfishing, were all contemporaneously busy tweeting their outrage about the pro-drilling advocacy groups having launched an obviously pre-planned Wave of Righteous Pissiness, Trailing All Across the Flogosphere during the period immediately after
"Gasland" made the cut for the Oscar's Best Documentary category.

(In general, the industry flacks were for-once-cleverly arguing that they wouldn't be compelled to protest so much, if the Academy simply maintained a Best Propaganda category — and stuck
"Gasland" in that pigeon hole, where it obviously belonged.)

Anyway, I couldn't resist. I jumped in with both thumbs:
@catskillfishing: Tony, are you getting found out for creating rumors? @gaslandmovie: "where did you hear this rumor about oscar natgas ad?"Sat Feb 05 17:23:12 via Twitter for Android
Like a nicely tied fly, listing carelessly on the Delaware slackwater, it didn't take long to bring in a bite.
@NYShaleGasNow  Somebody posted it - Variety, Ad Age, etc.  EID sent letter to Academy bashing Gasland pdf in NY Times I guess EID is upset.Sat Feb 05 17:36:01 via TweetDeck
Here we go.
@catskillfishing @NYShaleGasNow  EID: "Hollywood Elite" - now where have we heard this before? ;-)Sat Feb 05 17:58:30 via web
I was already familiar with all the links and pages Tony was furiously spitting out, like a man overboard. Yeah, yeah, yeah — righteous fury over the prospect of "Gasland" be-spoiling the Academy's hallowed genre of Best Documentary... I had already read that. Pretty good stuff. But where's this $3 million attack ad info coming from? 

Anyway, partly because I was busy helping my family set up for a Ground Hog's Weekend party — upstream within New York's Susquehanna River watershed, not the Delaware — and also partly because I philosophically believe y
ou can't push on a string, I was okay, just letting it go, at this point in time.

But then something interesting happened. One of Tony's fellow anti-frackers chimed in:
@NYShaleGasNow @catskillfishing Hey bubs, you're getting challenged here... What's the deal with this ad?Sat Feb 05 19:52:57 via Twitter for BlackBerry®
Again, I don't follow John L. Pratt, because he tweets too much for my taste. But I recognized his handle from the cabal of anti-frack regulars on Twitter. Tony wrote back to John like this:
@jlpratt4  On some BB via Variety, AdAge, etc.  Wouldn't surprise me if it's true since EID is in a tizzy with letter to Academy re: GaslandSat Feb 05 19:58:43 via TweetDeck
You know, this is not lookin' good for Tony. Like me, and like John, and like Josh, Tony's got the Whole Friggin' Internet at his Immediate Beck and Call. So why can't he just give us a short link already as to where he originally found out that Big Gas was gonna drop a $3 Million Piece of Network TV Persuasion on
"Gasland" the very night of the Oscar's? If you're like Josh Fox — and totally corrupted by the fact that you're already completely committed and completely invested in a certain persuasive but flawed version of reality — then you just say, "Forget about it. I'm sticking with all my errors and distortions. Because I've come to understand that the truth doesn't actually matter." 

But this wasn't Josh. This was Tony.
Tony, Twitter timeline shows you're the source of this TV ad rumor. Must we wait 'til Oscars night for proof? @jlpratt4 @catskillfishingSat Feb 05 20:04:32 via Twitter for Android
Then he said this:
@NYShaleGasNow  Gee, I guess everybody will be watching the ad spot before Best Documentary now. And Andy, we're all waiting for proof.  :-oSat Feb 05 21:11:21 via TweetDeck
And this:
@NYShaleGasNow  We're all looking for "proof" Andy. Can NYShaleGasNow be of any assistance? All we are saying... is give us some truth.  :-)Sat Feb 05 22:13:40 via TweetDeck
So I wrote back:
Tony, you're so busted. You can't prove the source of your own rumor, then you're the rumor. @catskillfishing @jlpratt4Sat Feb 05 21:18:53 via Twitter for Android
He started asking for truce, but without first fessing up:
@NYShaleGasNow  Truce Andy.  Gasland OSCAR Pool!  1st Prize: Trip to Jonah Gas Fields with Dick Cheney  2nd: Gas Masks  3rd: Frack NovelitesSun Feb 06 00:54:38 via TweetDeck
And he was still showing a certain — how you say? — lack of remorse:
In the midst of our dispute, we inspired some Grumpy Collateral Chatter from an upstate hiker-slash-disabled veteran:
@catskillfishing @NYShaleGasNow ----You guys need to have a beer together......Un follow in process......Sun Feb 06 01:09:37 via web
And Tony tried to ease the pain with talk of the blues and beer. (Such a pleaser! No surprise that he sells real estate on the side.)
@HalfDomeOrBust  Shoot. Way ahead of you. I'm bring tunes from B.B. King, Stevie Ray and Chuck Berry. Andy - bring the Smithwick's! Cold!Sun Feb 06 01:12:15 via TweetDeck
Should liars be left off this easy? Well-meaning but clueless liars? I don't think so.
Tony, dude, we can disagree all you want, but you totally lose credibility when you start rumors like that. @catskillfishingSun Feb 06 00:51:08 via Twitter for Android
Then I added this:
@catskillfishing caught making stuff up: "Spending $3 million for a 30 second ad on ABC... is really going overboard to trash Gasland!"Sun Feb 06 02:16:39 via Twitter for Android
Then this happened:
@NYShaleGasNow  20 lashes!  Frack or Fiction? Andy, my man - don't fret. Gasland & Restrepo are the longshots. See: Feb 06 02:27:18 via TweetDeck
And this:
@catskillfishing @NYShaleGasNow @jlpratt4 Mea culpa. I don't know what I was thinking. Penalty: 50 laps in a flowback pit. Frack or fiction.Sun Feb 06 02:32:21 via web
Ohhh, so too bad! This is what it's like, then, in the end? If anybody ever goes to the trouble to look closely, you will find your righteous fracktivist turns out to be just another myth-maker, standing behind a curtain, making stuff up — because he thinks it's funny;
or because it's good for the cause; or because it makes some kind of weird sense within his wishful belief system; or because nobody really cares about the truth anymore; or because he's licensed, entitled, and special?  (All hallmarks of the Natural Born Liar.)

It reminded me of a prior frack-related Internet rumor — which, by the way, still has not yet died. Sometime late in 2010, Darling Hunky Indie Actor Mark Ruffalo (on Twitter as @Mruff221) bragged to GQ magazine — basking in the Counter-Cultural Glow of His Own Imaginary Idea — to the effect that he was on some kind of Official Terrorist Watch List, due to all his ceaselessly heroic, anti-frack activism. Later on, all that was exposed as a stretch, or an error, or a lie (depending on how you want to phrase it). But Ruffalo himself was afterwards incapable of quieting the tabloids, or the fawning choir, despite many tweets intended to set the record straight.
Remember when @Mruff221 claimed he was on a terrorist list -- and then tried to correct his own falsehood? @jlpratt4 @catskillfishingSun Feb 06 02:56:10 via Twitter for Android
And I also sent this:
Better let Josh Fox know before it becomes just another chapter in his rather extensive mythology. @jlpratt4 @catskillfishingSun Feb 06 03:12:37 via Twitter for Android
Late in the game, even Ruffalo took notice (probably because I had "mentioned" him in my tweet, which no doubt dings his phone), and he was good enough to give us a quote — a stern lecture on the dangers of using diesel to frack an oil well:
@NYShaleGasNow Nice diversion from the ugly news coming out on your industry. Using Diesel fuel to frack. Thought it was soapy water, bro?Sun Feb 06 03:48:03 via web
So, does that quiet the rumor then?


Of course, it doesn't matter. Josh and Mark and Tony are right about one thing: The truth doesn't actually matter. If you are a true believer, then you simply forgive pretty much everything coming from your own side, even if it's just flat-out wrong. It's just the way most human brains work.

In fact, even before it was clear that Tony Ritter was actually just making stuff up, Josh Fox was already busy spreading the rumor on his own Facebook page — drawing 44 likes and 98 comments as of the time of this writing. (Only one or two of the comments expressed any particular level of skepticism as to the original claim, which I suppose is to be expected if all you ever do is hear from your own fans.)

Then the rumor migrated to the Daily Show Forum, where fractivists were miffed to see domestic energy enthusiast T. Boone Pickens interviewed by Jon Stewart last week.

Round and round it goes. Where it winds up, nobody knows.

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