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Conspiracy theorists unleash ‘fire of hate’ over old headline in Las Vegas newspaper

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A Las Vegas newspaper is being attacked online for its coverage of the alleged murder of a retired police chief, either due to a misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt to mislead on social media.

Glenn Cook, the paper’s executive editor, said the “fire of hate” led the Las Vegas Review-Journal to investigate an email sent to protect one of its reporters.

On August 18, four days after 64-year-old former California police chief Andreas Probst was struck and killed by a hit-and-run motorist while riding his bike in Las Vegas, reporter Sabrina Schnurr gave an interview. his family. The resulting story was headlined: “Retired police chief killed in bike crash remembered for love of laughter, coffee.”

Then the story took a frightening turn. Video surfaced, apparently taken by a teenage passenger in the car that hit Probst, showing that it was no accident. The charges against the 17-year-old driver were changed to murder and judges ruled Wednesday that both teens will be tried as adults.

The video, described by Cook as a “snuff film,” began circulating online and the Review-Journal linked to an edited version of it last Saturday.

That’s when the attacks started. Someone made a social media post about the case, showing the headline of Schnoor’s August 18 article and suggesting that the Review-Journal had covered up the murder. Cook said he could not speak to the intentions of the person behind the post and whether they knew the original story was published before the video surfaced.

He said, “I can definitely say that the Internet mob made no effort to check the facts.” “The Internet mob was happy to spread the message, spread it, and add their own animosity to the stew.”

The flood of online hate escalated rapidly on Sunday morning when Elon Musk, owner of the former Twitter site now known as Has been done. Killers make fun of it on social media. Yet, where is the media outrage? Now you have started understanding the lie.”

A spokesman for Musk did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Some of the attacks were vulgar and anti-Semitic, seeking to harm journalists. Officers were informed of a specific threat, Cook said.

A year earlier, Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German was stabbed to death. One of the people Germann wrote about, Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, attacked the reporter on social media and was later charged.

At one point last weekend, Review-Journal editors changed the headline of an August 18 article in its Internet archive, replacing “bike accident” with “hit-and-run.”

Cook said he argues that replacing “bike crash” with “hit-and-run” is not changing anything factually. Unfortunately, he said, “this emboldened the trolls even more”.

Schnoor told the Poynter journalism website that she began feeling unsafe when people online began highlighting social media posts she made as a teenager. She has gone out of her apartment for a while. Cook said the newspaper has taken steps to protect him.

Schnoor said she was worried about the people around her, saying that while she was talking to her mother on Sunday, she heard her saying in a low voice to her father that there was someone at the door. .

“I could hear the fear in his voice,” she told Poynter. “There was no one there, but just for a moment my heart broke… the amount of work I had done and potentially people trying to find out where I lived, seeing my mother through my front door. Have to be afraid.”

JJ Mohammed, senior manager of digital security and free expression at PEN America, said online harassment of journalists, particularly women and minorities, is an ongoing problem. In a 2020 global study, 73% of female journalists said they had experienced online abuse.

Perhaps because of his experiences, the editors of the Las Vegas Review-Journal are better than editors at many organizations at responding to the safety of their journalists, Mohammed said.

Cook said, “This was a fabricated campaign to undermine trust in the media.” “There’s a growing number of people who are very angry about a lot of things but are especially angry at the media, which saw this as an opportunity.”

In a column Tuesday, Cook defended Schnurr and praised his work. She said she was the first local reporter to speak to Probst’s family to tell their story and that when a source contacted her to tell them about the video, she instructed that person on how to send it to police.

“I was concerned about making sure people understood that she was a person,” Cook said. “That she wasn’t the villain they made her out to be.”


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