NEWSGUARD NUTRITION LABEL
A site that seems like a traditional newspaper site, but is not actually associated with any newspaper or other newsgathering organization. It has published a number of fictional stories attacking leading Democratic politicians. Its founder, Jestin Coler, has been quoted as saying he launched the site and others like it to test the limits of fake viral content and to profit from it.
In November 2016, just after the U.S. presidential election, DenverGuardian.com published a story that received widespread pick-up on social media declaring that then-President Barack Obama was about to grant Hillary Clinton a “blanket pardon to her for any crimes committed in the past but have not yet been discovered.” The fact-checking organization Snopes investigated the story and the website and declared, “There was no truth to this story. The Denver Guardian is simply a fake news web site masquerading as the online arm of a (non-existent) big city newspaper. Like the Baltimore Gazette, the Denver Guardian is nothing more than a hastily thrown together web site with a bunch of non-working links and a fake street address, all created for the sole purpose of disseminating fabricated clickbait news stories.” 1
Another story posted by the site just before Election Day had reported, falsely, that an FBI agent who had been investigating Clinton’s emails had murdered his wife and then committed suicide in Walkerville, Maryland.
The Denver Post, a legitimate newspaper, subsequently reported:
- “The domain denverguardian.com was first registered in July 2016 and is hosted by GoDaddy.
- This story is the only story showing up under the “News” section and all other sections are turning up errors.
- There is no Walkerville, Maryland. There is a Walkersville, Maryland, but the city does not have a police department, making the quote from “Walkerville Police Chief Pat Frederick’’ null and void.
- The address listed for the newsroom is a tree in a parking lot next to a vacant bank building on Colfax. 2
National Public Radio interviewed the person who registered the website, Jestin Coler, who lives near Los Angeles. He explained that he operates DenverGuardian.com and some two dozen other news sites, most of which are fake, including NationalReport.net, USAToday.com.co and WashingtonPost.com.co, under parent company Disinfomedia. “The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction,” he said. Mr. Coler, a registered Democrat, said he earned between $10,000 and $30,000 a month from advertisements on his websites. 3
The DenverGuardian.com website now has its landing page at jestincoler.com, which features information provided by Jestin Coler (which first appeared on Nieman Reports) about his experiences in 2016. “I saw many players in the genre putting out viral stories surrounding the election and was assured by everyone in the media that Hillary had the election in hand. So I made the decision to run with the Denver Guardian. The site was up just five days, but a story published regarding the mysterious death of a fictional FBI agent investigating Hillary emails was viewed by roughly 1.6 million people, angering one NPR reporter enough to track me down and expose my identity. Soon after the election a narrative was born suggesting that fake news influenced the election, and I became a public face of the fake news industry as well as a scapegoat for both a failed presidential campaign and a shocked media, one that provided non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage of Trump but didn’t understand how he could have won.” 4