Following the deadly mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, the Associated Press and other outlets erroneously reported that Nikolas Cruz, who is suspected of the killings, was a “confirmed” member of a white supremacist group. After Cruz, 19, reportedly confessed to killing 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on St. Valentines Day, Republic of Florida leader Jordan Jereb reportedly told the AP the suspect was a member of his group who participated in paramilitary drills.

AP tweeted on the day after the shooting, “Leader of white nationalist group has confirmed suspect in Florida school shooting was member of his organization.” Minutes later, AP tweeted again, editing “leader of white nationalist group has confirmed” to "leader of a white nationalist militia says” that Cruz was a member. In the second tweet, the attached story said that law enforcement told the news-gathering organization that he did not know of any ties between the white supremacist group and Cruz. 

Within minutes of its release, the first tweet was retweeted more than 40,000 times and liked by more than 50,000 users. In contrast, AP’s subsequent clarification was only retweeted 8,000 times and liked by less than 7,000 users. A Google News search on "Cruz Florida white nationalist" (not in quotes) showed on Feb. 16 that other news media had similar headlines. However, many have since been revised to reflect AP updates.

The AP was just one of the media hoodwinked. The ABC News’ story stated, “The suspect in the Florida school shooting was a member of a white nationalist group.” The Daily Beast reported Cruz was a member of a “white separatist paramilitary proto-fascist organization.” Fox News Channel also briefly posted the story, citing AP. The BBC also ran the story. The Denver Post ran a story citing AP: “Florida school shooting suspect belonged to white nationalist group.”

Jordan Jereb, who leads Republic of Florida, told the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Feb. 15 that Cruz had been involved in paramilitary drills in Tallahassee. Jereb told ADL that Cruz had carpooled "with other ROF members from south Florida" to participate in training. Under his name, someone posted at Gab, a social media site, with complaints over a “prank,” with the added claim that there had been a "misunderstanding" coupled with "a bunch of conflicting information." According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Leon County law enforcement could not find any information linking Cruz to ROF. "We are still doing some work but we have no known ties between the ROF, Jordan Jereb or the Broward shooter," Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Grady Jordan told the paper. The sheriff's office has arrested Jereb several times since 2014 and has been monitoring ROF's membership.

Politico published an article titled, “How white nationalists fooled the media about Florida shooter,” crediting “misrepresentations by a white nationalist leader and coordinated efforts by Internet trolls” for the erroneous reports. Politico reported, “On online forums and Twitter, trolls and white nationalists gloated at the disinformation they had sowed,” Politico reported. The Miami Herald said Jereb’s group is “known for seeking publicity.” Politico’s article hinted that ABC had been duped: “It's fair to ask whether AP and other media outlets unskeptically reported what they did because they wanted to believe it.”

Tom Blumer of the Media Research Center wrote that AP went to “great excuse-making lengths” after it “abandoned skepticism” when contacted by Jereb. “It's reasonable to ask if what supposedly fooled them was really narrative-fitting information that was too convenient to conscientiously check,” Blumer wrote.

Blumer wrote, “That the false air of certainty over Cruz's ties remained prevalent for so long is largely due to how the AP buried contrary information deep in one of its subsequent longer dispatches while deleting any reference to it without recognizing its erroneous original reporting in another,” Blumer wrote. 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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