The Denver Guardian fake news dude is still defending his lies

Jestin Coler. (Full Frontal with Samantha Bee)

As you may know, people are willfully ignorant in how they read the news, and a bunch of unscrupulous hucksters have decided to take advantage of that by feeding false and inflammatory “news” into the internet.

One such person is Jestin Coler, who admits he created the disreputable and apparently (hopefully) defunct “Denver Guardian,” which spawned one of the most popular fake news items of the year. Now he gets the honor of being lightly flamed on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, which I’m sure was just an awful experience for someone who profits from attention.

Coler earlier was tracked down and interviewed by NPR. He said he was a Hillary voter making up to $30,000 a month off his literal web of lies, which includes everything from WashingtonPost.com.co to National Report and even International Report.

That Denver Guardian story, the one about the Clinton murder conspiracy, got a half-million views. The site also tried out an item about a Trump-affiliated skinhead, but most of the money was in “any sort of a gun-grabbing story, pro-abortion, anti-Obama or anti-Hillary — anti-Muslim anything, anti-Mexican or immigrant,” Coler said on Monday’s episode.

The interviewer, Michael Rubens noted that “some people, looking at what you’ve done, would say ‘You’re an asshole.'” He then temporarily departs the set. Good gag.

Coler defended himself by saying it was all a grand plan. “In 2013, late 2012, early 2013, I became very interested in what’s now referred to as the alt-right. We were trying to infiltrate these groups and see if they would fall for what we were writing, in order to publicly discredit them,” he said.

Later: “My point from the beginning was to kind of educate consumers of content on how to best identify these sort of fake vs. real.”

Sure, it’s plausible that this started as pranking — but it seems like that big reveal never arrived, at least not until actual journalists tracked the guy down. As Rubens put it, this whole scheme sounds a lot like teaching people not to do drugs by giving them drugs.

Or maybe Coler’s excuse was never really meant to placate people. Maybe it was just Coler doing what he does best: stirring up outrage. Worked on me.

Ultimately, Coler argued that his stories weren’t bad for the country, that his false news about Sharia law didn’t encourage Islamophobia and that it’s ultimately the responsibility of the news consumer to be responsible about what they read.

“This is something that has been decaying within news for quite some time,” he told his interviewer.

“You’re just the opportunistic infection, then,” Rubens responded.

To avoid fake news:
  • If it’s a shocking headline that might be true, read it before you push share.
  • Watch for tricks in the site’s URL. Hucksters often rip off a reputable news site by adding “.com.co” or other tricky tricks.
  • Click around the site. Do they have an about section? Are there authors listed? Can you find any trace of those authors elsewhere on the internet, such as LinkedIn?
  • If a public official is named in the story, does that person exist?
  • If the story links to other stories, click through and check whether they really do support the suspect story.
  • Google the news and see if any other sites are carrying it. Contrary to popular opinion, the mainstream media isn’t actually into covering up murders.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.